Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 22 July 2019

Mum’s the word for Ragheb Alama as he reworks tribute song

The Lebanese crooner opens up about his deeply personal new track and upcoming album

Ragheb Alama sings as part of the MOE Fashion Live runway shows. Mall of the Emirates
Ragheb Alama sings as part of the MOE Fashion Live runway shows. Mall of the Emirates

It is not unusual for musicians to say that a song is close to their hearts, but Ragheb Alama really means it. The Lebanese pop star’s career spans more than three decades and is full of songs that were inspired by those nearest and dearest to him, including the 1997 hit El Hob Khaled, which was about his elder son.

Similarly, Betzakar Ya Emmi, is a heartfelt paean to his mother who died about 20 years ago. The song, which is accompanied by a black and white music video, was first released 17 years ago, but a reworked version came out last week. While the new track retains the melodic shape of the original, the studio technology now available has given it a more modern sound.

“I have been singing this song for a long time in honour of my mother,” Alama tells The National, moments before a performance in Dubai, recently. “But I wanted to present it in a new and fresh way, and reintroduce it to a new generation of fans. It is also a way for them to get to know me and the people who inspired me.”

An enduring career

Despite rising to prominence during the 1980s, Alama, 56, has been able to reach a younger audience while holding on to his original fanbase – a feat that allows the singer to remain relevant both on and off the stage. He continues to headline major festivals across the region, in addition to selling out European tours, while Alama also endeared himself to a wider audience after he appeared as a judge on Arab Idol from 2011 to 2013.

Alama says he enjoyed the experience of working on television, but he doesn’t miss it. “It is really a different way of working,” he says. “I was busy all the time during that period, because I was also doing music as well. Now I feel I have more control of my time and that is very important to me.”

One of his most memorable moments on the show came during the 2013 season, when Palestinian performer Mohammed Assaf took the title. He was given the nickname “The Rocket” by Alama, after the judge praised Assaf’s explosive talent.

Despite leaving Arab Idol six years ago, Alama takes a diplomatic approach when asked if the level of talent on the show has waned over the years. “Everyone has their own journey,” he says. “But at the same time, you can’t discount the effect that these kind of shows have on the artistic world. I think they are more positive. More young people are becoming interested in music and the arts and they are more inspired.”

A new album is on the way

Alama has not been short of inspiration of late.

With a substantial back catalogue of hits, which include Ya Rayt and Nasini El Donya, he could have easily continued to perform live shows without the need to write new material. However, the artist has continued to release new music consistently.

He says the positive reaction these songs have received from his fans – particularly the ballad Redelli Kelmati, the video for which has been watched on YouTube more than four million times – has helped him to determine the direction for an upcoming album.

“I have been in the studio and working on the next project,” says Alama. “I still think the album is an important form. But doing these singles also helps, as it shows what people’s tastes are. I am glad they still enjoy what I am doing after all these years.”

Updated: April 8, 2019 08:57 AM