A rising star of the alternative Arab music scene, Nouran Abutaleb, sings Oriental ethno jazz and Arab pop. The beautiful texture of her voice, soft and melodious, attracts a large audience to many of her live concerts.
Born in the Manial district of Cairo, Nouran Abu-Taleb grew up in a family of music lovers. Her father, Ossama Abutaleb, is a professor of theatre and drama at the Institute of Cinema.
"I attended many plays with my father. I really liked Lan Tasqot Al-Quds (Jerusalem Shall Not Fall), performed admirably in classical Arabic by Nour El-Sherif. It was my dad who taught me how to stand on stage and have a stage presence."
Abutaleb's mother, Nesrine Roushdi, is a soloist at the Cairo Opera House and teaches singing at the Cairo Conservatory. It was her who introduced the young Nouran to Arabic music and the many names who contributed to its growth, as well as to singers from other music genres.
“Already at the age of three I was singing classical Arabic music, at school parties and family gatherings. I really liked singing Hazihi Laylati (This is My Night) by Um Kalthoum. She is a diva who perfectly expresses various states of mind. At home, I could hear my mother singing in classical Arabic or humming opera tunes. I also heard Western classical music, especially Bach and Beethoven which my father particularly appreciates. So I was brought up in an atmosphere that fuses both Eastern and Western cultures. However, it was the Oriental repertoire that attracted me the most,” Abutaleb says with a soft smile.
Nouran Abutaleb after one of the concerts (Photo: Nouran Abutaleb's Facebook)
In the summer of 2018, Abutaleb decided to form her own band that would bring together several talented young musicians, namely Samer George (bass guitar), Hany Bedair (percussion), Mostafa Saïd (clarinet and flute), Ahmed Emry (qanoun) and George Nabil (keyboard). The same year, and for the first time, she participated in the Cairo Jazz Festival, in its 10th edition. She performed songs by Fayrouz, yet with jazzy arrangements by Samer George. With the latter she also formed a friendly duo.
In 2019, she collaborated with the Italian pianist Livio Minafra and the Austrian jazz band Birds Against Hurricanes, presenting covers of Fayrouz, Sayed Darwish and Um Kalthoum. She also took part in the Alexandrian Jazz Tales festival and performed with the Dutch band Under the Surface.
But then the coronavirus pandemic closed the doors of many cultural institutions, cancelling festivals. Nouran lost her chance to participate in the Jazz Festival in Carthage, which was scheduled to kick off 6 April and where she was planning to sing in duet with Jordanian Macadi Nahhas.
Abutaleb is passionate about singing in duets. “Working together enriches me immensely,” she says.
In October 2018, she sang a new music arrangement of Shababeek, a well known hit by Mohamed Mounir. “The arrangment was by Samer George. It's a more melancholic version. I posted the song on my Facebook page. Some time later, I was invited by Mounir to sing it with him during the WE Music Festival that was held online during the Covid-19 pandemic shutdown."
Abutaleb's stresses that her love of singing goes back to days when she lived with her parents in Kuwait, where her father taught at university.
“We went to Kuwait when I was 11 years old. At the time, I attended every talent show at the British School I attended. My teachers, all foreigners, admired my voice when I sang Fayrouz. The driver who accompanied me to school was Syrian; he only listened to Fayrouz in the car. It had a big impact on me. Fayrouz's songs have a special magic; they can be directed to the beloved as well as to the homeland,” she comments.
Back in Cairo, Abutaleb began studying with Iraqi oud virtuoso Nassir Shamma, at The House of Oud. She also took private lessons in opera singing and piano at the German University in Cairo, with German vocal coach Karl Kronthaler.
Then she joined music workshops led by famous musicians-composers Fathi Salama and Hazem Shahine. She continued taking vocal lessons to practice mouashahat and adwar, at the Arab Music Institute.
The talented young girl continued her training with eminent teachers at the conservatory, specialised in classical Arabic singing, and vocal jazz.
In 2014, she joined the GUC Music Ensemble.
“At GUC, I met great Egyptian musicians with whom I subsequently collaborated: Amr Salah, founder of the Eftikasat troupe and the Cairo Jazz Festival, Bassem Darwish of Cairo Steps, Hany Bedair of Nagham Masri and Rami Attalah. All of them taught music at GUC," says Abutaleb, who soon joined Amr Salah's quartet, playing and reviving songs from the 1920s and 1930s.
Nouran Abutaleb with Mohamed Mounir during the concert at the WE Online Music Festival (Photo: still from the concert)
In 2019, Abutaleb released Fawazir (Riddles). "Fawazir raises psychological, sentimental and confusing questions about life," she comments on the song.
In parallel to her music education, Abutaleb also studied international law, in English, at the University of Ain-Shams.
“I have always enjoyed reading the newspapers, following the news in the media. At school, I liked the written expression lessons. Studying law helps us understand the world around us, to know its responsibilities and rights and to understand the law and the system of the country where we live,” she comments.
In 2016, Abutaleb participated in an ELSA (European Law Students Association) moot court competition supported by Oxford University.
“The competition was done online, by correspondence. It was about freedom of expression and anti-terrorism. Ain Shams University was the winner in the grand finals,” she comments.
After graduating in 2017, Abutaleb worked at the law firm of Hossam Lotfi in Dokki, handling copyright cases. Then she moved to the United States office in Egypt, in charge of crime and drugs files.
"For me, music and law are complementary; one is at the service of the other. I think the artist must have an awareness, a responsibility towards the community. My songs are always about people,” Abutaleb notes.
Currently, Abutaleb is preparing eight songs for her first album titled Ya Negma (O star). The title song is inspired by the life of Vincent Van Gogh, with lyrics by Rana Gaber, set to music by Abutaleb and Samer George.
“I attended the movie The Passion of Van Gogh. I was very touched by Van Gogh's letters to his brother, Theo. They reveal a surprising and passionate part of the famed artist, while retaining a great deal of mystery,” she concludes.
Nouran Abutaleb's upcoming concert is on 18 September at the Cairo Opera House.
Nouran Abutaleb in front of the poster announcing her concert at the Cairo Opera House (Photo: Nouran Abutaleb's Facebook)
*This article was originally published in Al Ahram Hebdo, in French, 2 September edition.
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