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Macadi Nahhas's new album touches the Arab soul

The Jordanian singer Macadi Nahhas, who has spent 15 years performing traditional Arabic songs, talks to us about her new album.
Macadi Nahhas is currently touring the region to promote her fourth album. Courtesy Macadi Nahhas
Macadi Nahhas is currently touring the region to promote her fourth album. Courtesy Macadi Nahhas

A graduate of the Beirut Music Conservatory, the 35-year-old classical singer Macadi Nahhas released her first album of traditional Iraqi songs, Kan Ya Ma Kan, in 2002, accompanied by the Iraqi National Symphony Orchestra. Nahhas is currently touring the region promoting her fourth album.

Your latest album revisits many of your greatest hits. Tell us about it.

This new album is a tribute to my father, who died last year. I never had the chance to say: "Thank you for supporting me." It's sad that we're always late in saying thank you. My new album contains all of the songs that appeared on the first album, as well as popular songs from my second album, KhilKhal. Both albums have been out of print for at least five years.

When the first album was released, no one knew if I was Iraqi or Jordanian or Lebanese. Even now, I tell them all the time: I'm an Arab artist. You don't have to put me under any country, just listen to the music.

Why is it that these old songs still elicit such strong emotions in listeners?

The music comes from the people, and it really reflects who we are. As much as you go local, you go global. It reflects their identity, their way of thinking and loving and how people express themselves.

When I sing Syrian songs, or even Iraqi, Jordanian or Palestinian ones, people relate because it's one heritage. There are different vocabularies and melodies but the stories are all the same.

What's your process for adapting songs?

I don't change the actual song but I add some vocals or a composition that doesn't hurt its heart. I keep the soul and spirit intact; at least, I hope I don't ruin it. I look at where the music is going and where we can take it. These songs often have the same melody and the singers use the old styles of singing, so I use modern music and represent it with my voice, a new arrangement and lots of spirit.

Sometimes people come up to me and tell me: "We couldn't understand it when we used to hear it sung by the original singer or band." But after I had sung it, they would say: "OK, now we get it."

Any ideas for the next album?

I'd like to do something a little jazzy on the next album. Now, I'm working on a mawwal [a composition sung in colloquial Arabic before the start of the song]. It's the kind of song the people in the desert sing. This song will be a fusion of classical traditional music, a flautist and a hip-hop group called Katiba Khamsa - they are Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.

I've always liked hip-hop and rappers. They have their own mood and a big presence. I consider myself to be a shy person - I do my singing and disappear backstage. But music is about opening doors and horizons. As an artist I don't want to be stuck in one frame.

What makes Oriental alternative artists different from commercial Arabic music?

Mainstream music is nice. I listen to it but not all the time. You need to have a change of scene and relax, to hear something deeper that is more related to our private lives.

Mainstream doesn't fulfil what people need from music or the performing arts, so they search for something a little different or completely different - something that's more cultural. This is especially true now, with social media such as YouTube allowing people to search for artists. At my concerts I always sing to a full house - it is a sign that people are thirsty for this kind of music.

In the forthcoming months, Macadi Nahhas will take her contemporary Arabic pop tunes on a tour of the US and Canada, including a performance at Montreal's Festival du Monde Arabe (Festival of the Arab World).

Updated: September 26, 2012 04:00 AM



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