x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 17 January 2018

The Mawazine Sessions, part 2: The Egyptian pop star Sherine

The crowd favourite Sherine is up for new challenges after signing with a new record company. As she tells Saeed Saeed, the Egyptian revolution continues to affect the country’s music scene.

Sherine performing during the Jerash Festival in the ancient city of Jerash in Jordan last summer. Reuters
Sherine performing during the Jerash Festival in the ancient city of Jerash in Jordan last summer. Reuters

The Egyptian pop star Sherine is clearly under the weather. The long pauses between each question stem from an equal mix of consideration and staring down a potential dizzy spell.

But a soft chuckle is never too far away. “You will have to forgive me,” she says. “I don’t know what happened but I have been trying to take it easy and rest my voice as much as possible.”

We are at the Mawazine Festival in Morocco, a few hours before Sherine’s headlining performance. It would have been understandable if she cancelled the meet, but she is the rare Arab pop star at ease with the media, for -better or worse.

Her personal life has been the subject of continuous tabloid coverage, almost overshadowing six albums of consistently polished Arab pop and signature ballads.

However, the public perception of the 32-year-old took an upward turn since she appeared in last year’s inaugural season of The Voice. Being the only woman on a four-person coaching panel – including the alpha-male singers Assi El Helani and Samer Al Rebaï – the Egyptian singer took a few episodes to get over initial nerves. By the season’s end Sherine emerged as feisty, confident and with a keen ear.

She expresses delight at the viewer reaction to the programme.

“It has been brilliant,” she says. “It definitely helped my career as I do feel people’s thoughts about me have changed.

“They can now view me as a performer as opposed to hearing other things about me. That’s the thing about such a programme – every night they can see you as you really are and as a result it has also helped my performance. I do feel closer and more connected to the crowd.”

Born in Cairo, Sherine – full name Sherine Abdel Wahhab – grew up in a middle-class family that encouraged her singing abilities.

Studying music was another matter. Dropping out of the Egyptian Music Institute, Sherine decided to cut her teeth on the live circuit.

Snapped up by the major label Rotana, the singer went to top the charts repeatedly with a string of hit singles including Ma Btefrahsh (It Doesn’t Matter) and Keteer Ben’sha.

Bringing up these milestones elicits a mixed reaction from Sherine. She explains that she would have cherished those successes even more if she could have performed in front of her home crowd in -Cairo.

Her homeland’s revolution and its continued ramifications, she states, has basically flatlined the local concert scene.

“It makes me very angry, to be honest with you,” she says. “What is happening in Egypt now I don’t wish on any Arab nation.

“There is nothing really happening now when it comes to concerts. I rarely play in Egypt and that is sad, as there is no one prepared to invest in such an environment.”

And the artists still need to get paid. She admits this was partly why she accepted the offer to join The Voice.

“But to be honest, the monetary gain is not as big as you imagine,” she says. “The trade-off is that you are on in front of a big audience every night across the region and presented in a great way.

“There are other channels that are smaller but offering artists more money to be on their talent show. At the end of the day, all these channels should be praised as they are giving us work.”

As well as performing sporadic shows across the Middle East and the Gulf – she was in the UAE in March as headliner of the du World Music Festival – Sherine has been busy behind the scenes.

Recently she signed a new deal with Nile Radio’s Nogoum Records which is set to release her next album after Ramadan.

As well as her Tarab-style ballads and pop numbers, Sherine expresses interest in widening her sound.

She says the revolution granted more artistic license to Egyptian musicians, and edgier producers are now sought.

“You feel that people are more free emotionally to express themselves. And not only that, it’s also what the people want as well,” she says.

“With each new work you are trying to show what you are thinking but sometimes you do need help with that. If I can find people who think like me or we share a great chemistry, then I would love to work with them.”

As for her dream collaboration, Sherine’s preference is something more polished and traditional.

“Celine Dion,” she beams.

“Her voice is truly a miracle. I don’t understand English but her voice just entrances me. I am so happy to listen to her while I am at home relaxing or reading a book. I would love to be that kind of artist, who can cross cultures and touches people who may not understand what I am saying. If you can do that, then it is a great sign that you are doing it right.”

Back on TV

Sherine confirms she will return as coach on season two of The Voice later this year.

“I am looking forward to it,” she says. “Yes, it is hard work, but the pay-off is amazing, as we saw on the first season.”

Sherine says the bonds between her fellow mentors – Iraq’s Kadim Al Sahir, Tunisia’s Samer El Rebaï and Lebanon’s Assi El Helani – remain strong despite clear differences in character.

“I am the youngest so l feel very respectful towards them. I make sure I knock before entering their rooms,” she says. “Kadim is very shy and quiet while Samer can be very direct.”

Next week on the Mawazine sessions: the Algerian singer Cheb Mami


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