x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Angham loves mix of pop and poetry

The Middle East's best-selling female singer tells why she admires the Prince of Poets programme.

Angham performs for a packed house at the Al Raha Theatre in Abu Dhabi.
Angham performs for a packed house at the Al Raha Theatre in Abu Dhabi.

ABU DHABI // Angham is grateful for Prince of Poets. The Egyptian singer, who has four times been named the best-selling female pop artist of the Middle East, said the programme had helped to remind the Arab world of the importance of verse. "The language of classical Arabic and poetry needed someone to rescue it and return it to its former glory and that is what the programme did," she says. For more than 20 years, Angham has been wowing fans, and last Thursday night was no exception. Performing live on Prince of Poets at the Raha Beach Theatre in Abu Dhabi, she played to a packed house.

"The idea of the programme is very important and fairly new. In the Arab world, poetry is very important between Arabs and it is in their lives, maybe more so here than in Egypt, but the idea was good and it appealed to me. "I like that there are new poets that come out in the competition and this is something very important." The music industry, too, is witnessing a rebirth of sorts, she says. But the singer is not worried about any challengers to her status as the queen of pop music. Indeed, she welcomes fellow musicians who are keen to develop new variations of traditional Arab pop music.

"The generation that is coming up now is more concerned with improving the quality of music, so maybe the time we are living in now is better than the one that passed for music." However, Angham says she pushes herself to improve and stay ahead of the trends. "I am constantly changing and staying on top of everything that's new. I deal with new artists for lyrics and music distribution and arrangement."

Angham seems to have a knack for successfully charting untested waters. In 1996, she released to critical acclaim the single Shay Daa (Something Got Lost), which she sang in a Gulf dialect. The remarkable success of that song was a first for a non-Gulf Arab. A Gulf dialect version of her latest album has also been released. "It might be because I have sung in the Gulf dialect when I was younger and the Gulf love art that is original. It's hard to say why people like you. Alhamdulillah [thank God] they like me, but I can't say the reasons why."

One of the few artists today who is contributing to the evolution of modern Egyptian music, Angham was among the first to blend classical and modern arrangements in her songs. Her contributions have not gone unnoticed, and last year Angham was nominated in the Best Album category at the World Music Awards, alongside singers such as Egypt's Amr Diab and Lebanon's Nancy Ajram. "I am very happy it went well. I always hope that it will be successful, but how well it has succeeded I could never have imagined."

Her career has brought her to the UAE many times, a place she is happy to visit because the people here "have big hearts and are very kind". "The thing I like most about the UAE is that the locals have a culture and they have still held on to their culture in the way they dress, their way of life, how they live. When I come here, I love to go shopping, too. It's the best place to shop in the world."

While she has enjoyed considerable success on the musical stage, her private life has, at times, been turbulent. A mother of two, she is twice divorced. "Of course, it has been hard being in the public eye while going through such difficult times. But in the end, I am human. Even if I am famous and people know everything about me, I go through the same things as every person and all the hardships of life, but my problem is that I am known everywhere and the spotlight is constantly on me.

"People always want to know my news and what is happening in my life. "Music is my way to express myself and my trials in life can be seen through my music and especially in my last few albums." Angham, who was born in Alexandria but lives in Cairo, relies heavily on the support of her family to maintain the balance between work and home. "Maybe as an artist, my position is sometimes different with all the travelling I need to do, but I have my mum in my life to help me and take care of my children when I travel. If I didn't have work and didn't need to travel, then I would be home with my children."

Angham, a graduate of the Cairo Conservatory of Music, considers herself lucky to still be enjoying commercial success after nearly two decades in the business. "I feel blessed that I am still able to continue doing what I love." @Email:mswan@thenational.ae