The TV show Sola has been coaxing intimacy out of Arab stars since its debut last year.
Assala Nasri at home with humanity and art
Sola, an innovative Arab talk show hosted by the popular Syrian songbird Assala Nasri, has been making waves since its debut last year.
Think of a musical version of The Oprah Winfrey Show. Nasri's guests discuss a variety of topics, ranging from their professional careers to what makes them tick.
The 80-minute programme works because Nasri really makes them feel at home. The well-furnished studio is in fact Nasri's summer home in Egypt. This mixture of comfort and off-the-cuff banter results in many Arab musicians revealing a more personal side; a far cry from the carefully cultivated image peddled to the media.
In an Arab music world dominated by plastic pop stars, Nasri stands out for her old-school approach.
Songs with catchy phrases are not her forte. Nasri's almost operatic songs unfurl and linger; they don't aim to give you a sugar high. Performing since the age of 4, Nasri began her career singing children's and patriotic songs before releasing her classic debut album Law Ta'rafou (If You Knew).
Powered by the hits Samehtak Ketir and Ya Sabra Yana, the then 22-year-old established herself as one of the Arab world's leading classical singers, maintaining that status through more than a dozen albums. In 2011, Nasri turned heads by composing her first song Ah Law Hal Korsy Behki (If Only this Throne Could Speak), a stirring missive against the current Syrian president Bashar Al Assad.
Nasri says the emotional, almost confessional nature of her music made the leap to the host chair less daunting. However, she claims she is not interested in probing her guests. She has wider ambitions for the programme and hopes it will provide comfort to Arab viewers suffering from the political strife rocking the region.
"It is a show that I hope entertains and gives people a break," she explains. "When I decided to do Sola it is because I want people to live for an hour or an hour and a half without thinking about what's happening right now."
Nasri says shooting the programme offers her some relief from the disturbing news coming from her country on an almost daily basis. "I am one of the people who I guess is more affected by what is happening there than others," she says.
"When I finish the shooting I go home and turn on all the news channels in English and Arabic to find the truth."
As well as featuring some of the leading Arabic pop stars (Wael Kfoury and Wael Jassar), season two finds Sola going beyond its regional borders with international guests including the Japanese jazz pianist Keiko Matsui and the Turkish multi-instrumentalist Aytaç Dogan. This eclectic array of artists is what Nasri finds most satisfying.
"This is what I am really proud of," she says. "You know, there is music and performance but it is also about the stories and these characters. It is one of the most fulfilling projects of my career."
With present public discussions in the Arab world focusing mostly on politics and war, Nasri hopes Sola's artistic exchanges inject some of the culture sorely missing in public Arab discourse.
"I am aware of what is happening and this is why I just want people who are depressed by what's happening to hear and see something discussing humanity and art," she says. "A lot of our humanity and our honour has been killed off and we are now trying to revive them. I am doing my best that I can, just like others are, by doing a show that discusses those things."
With the third season currently being shot and scheduled to broadcast later in the year, Sola is set to continue offering new talking points for some time yet.
Sola can be seen Thursday at 10pm on OSN Yahala HD. This week's episode features the Egyptian singer Hossam Habib. For details visit www.osn.com