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Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 18 November 2018

Syrian singer Ghaliaa Chaker hasn’t always had courage to sing, but now the Dubai stage beckons

Ghaliaa Chaker is about to perform live outside of her home city, Al Ain, for the first time

Syrian singer-songwriter Ghaliaa Chaker in her home in Al Ain. Photo by Reem Mohammed/The National
Syrian singer-songwriter Ghaliaa Chaker in her home in Al Ain. Photo by Reem Mohammed/The National

This time last year, Ghaliaa Chaker’s raspy vocals were only being heard within the walls of Al Ain.

The confidence the young Syrian singer has gained from being on stage, and the support she has received from her family, has allowed her to finally perform the songs she has penned over the past five years. And since the release of her debut single, Why, online in August, the 20-year-old singer has managed to catch the attention of the wider region with four eclectic songs encapsulating her varied musical palette.

Why is a straight-up torch song with Chaker’s lovelorn voice hovering above a skeletal piano backdrop. The follow-up was Kel El Kalam, released two weeks later. It had Chaker switching both styles and language in a mournful Syrian folk song.

Listeners were further surprised with Chaker dropping the elegiac Praying/Je Prie, a glacial ode to forgiveness and redemption sung in English and French. The song was accompanied by a music video shot on Jebel Hafeet.

Her radio-friendly Arabic power-ballad Shou Bidak was her September release, cementing Chaker as a real singer-songwriting talent. With the music world sitting up and taking notice, it’s fitting that Chaker’s songs have been added to radio playlists in Lebanon, and she has been receiving fan mail from as close to home as Abu Dhabi and as far as Berlin.

Not bad for someone who is yet to play a full gig of original songs. On Friday night, Chaker is set to change that when she plays her debut live show as an original singer-songwriter as part of the local music showcase series, The Beat DXB, held at The Fridge.

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The Dubai gig is a graduation of sorts. It’s proof that Chaker has outgrown the cultural confines of the Garden City, and it is confirmation that what was once a hobby is now a serious endeavour.

“Al Ain will always be in my heart,” she says pointedly. “I was raised here and lived here all my life. I never had this urge or pressure to be somewhere else. It has nature and this chilled vibe, it’s a cool place to be creative and just do your own thing.”

Born in Syria, Chaker arrived in Al Ain as a one-year-old after her father found a job in building management. Her family remained in the city over the course of two decades – one of her brothers runs a restaurant there and Chaker completed her high school years in the city before enrolling in the Al Ain Campus of Abu Dhabi University.

After almost a decade of practising different instruments such as the piano and guitar, it was four years ago that Chaker began considering her vocal ability. “I remember watching these talent shows with my dad and he told me that I had a good voice and I should sing,” she recalls. “I didn’t have the courage at that stage, but he kept reminding me and motivating me and it began from there.”

Chaker began performing in talent shows and cultural showcases in and around Al Ain. It was during this time that she also began penning her own songs. However, she says that this was the year to release her first, original single because, she says, she “felt ready”.

Her tracks Why and Kel El Alam, both down-tempo, are laced with a welcome ruggedness that can only come with experience. These songs don’t sound so much fresh as they do lived. Their release to world signalled the end of the process as well as the beginning of a new chapter for the artist.

Chaker knows the Dubai music scene is competitive and that all eyes and ears will be on the much discussed singer from Al Ain when she takes to the stage this Friday. She also acknowledges that the fact she wears a hijab while performing could attract extra attention.

“It is sad that some people – and they are Muslims themselves – view the hijab as something that cannot allow us to achieve whatever we want,” she says. “I know many people who have conquered whatever they wanted to, and while wearing the hijab. So I don’t know what the people who say these things are talking about.”

Chaker performs as part of The Beat DXB on Friday night. Doors open at 7pm, from Dh20 at the door, The Fridge, Alserkal Avenue, Dubai, www.thefridgedubai.com.