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Free as the wind: The story of Egyptian singer, songwriter Noha Fekry

Egyptian jazz and Arabic art-rock singer and songwriter Noha Fekry holds a special place on the local artistic scene after leaving a career in development to devote herself entirely to music

Nevine Lamei, Wednesday 13 Jan 2021
Noha Fekry
Noha Fekry (Photo: Noha Fekry Facebook)
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Over the past years, Noha Fekry voice’s melodious texture has attracted light onto her performances.

From one concert to another, Fekry performs at El-Sawy Culturewheel, the Room Art Space, the Jesuit Cultural Center, and numerous other venues. Her vocal agility attract her audience with beautiful expressions throughout her interpretation and rendition.

One of Fekry's recent remarkable concerts was at the Cairo Jazz Festival in November 2020, where she was accompanied on guitar by Croatian musician Elvis Stanic, Egyptian pianist Amr Salah and a number of other Egyptian musician. The concert proved to bring a special delight to the audience.

Fekry comments on her inclinations to jazz saying: “Jazz is about life. It is about freedom; it is a very rich music which incorporates many influences from all around the world. The festival attracts young people, stimulates them to explore music that appeals to emotion and crosses borders.”

During the festival’s closing night, she performed well-known Arabic songs from the repertoire of Mohamad Abdel-Mottaleb, Fairouz and the Rahbani brothers, as well as Brazilian Like by French pianist Michel Petrucciani with Arabic lyrics by Fekry (hence its Arabic title 'Lei' - Why) and Don't Rush Me composed by Fekry.

Indeed, jazz has become very close to Fekry's heart. In 2015, during the Cairo Jazz Festival's 5th edition, she collaborated with renowned Lebanese musician Ziad Rahbani. 

Born in Cairo’s Heliopolis, Fekry studied at the Armenian Catholic Sisters School.

“In the past, Heliopolis was much calmer. I liked playing in the street with the neighbors. I learned to ride a bike on my own. I was walking in the wind feeling complete freedom and thinking of nothing,” Fekry recalls her early years in the neighborhood.

She still remembers a few nuns who have influenced her greatly, stressing on Sister Serena, “our teacher of the Christian religion. She was very different from the others, smiling, full of enthusiasm. She often told us personal stories, which aroused our admiration. Around Christmas time, she would encourage us to sing Christmas carols. Sister Serena appreciated my voice and noticed my talent.”

Young Noha’s household has a passion for music. Her paternal grandfather, Fouad Yacoub played on the lute. “He had a very beautiful voice. He used to organise cultural meetings at his home in Shubra. He invited singers and musicians of the time to participate in them, including Shadia and Nagat El Saghira.”

Noha Fekry's father, Engineer Fekry Fouad, is also a self-taught musician that plays the piano, accordion, harmonica and organ.

Her home was filled with music coming from Fairouz and the Rahbani brothers, alongside some classical Arabic songs from black and white films. In her teenage years, she developed admiration for Whitney Houston and pop music. "Whitney Houston has a very unique and powerful voice,” Fekry explains.

“My father is the leader of the Evangelical Church choir in the Faggala district of Cairo. The ensemble always prepared Christmas and Easter repertoires,” Fekry says.

And it was thanks to this musical training that she was able to participate in a series of albums under the title of Rambo wa Temtem, which features choral songs for children.

“I was five years old when I gave my first concert. My mom tells me that I excelled in my little solo and that I had a strong personality on stage,” Fekry shares.

"I love all kinds of music, and the music I play is influenced by many sub genres that I often listen to, such as classical, Arabic or Western music, opera, alternative music, jazz, pop, rock, etc. I love Fairouz, Om Kalthoum, Abdel-Mottaleb, etc. At the beginning of my career, I didn't want to restrict myself to a particular musical colour, but rather give myself time to find what I really like. I let myself be carried away by the music, instinctively, by the broad fabric of jazz, by ambient rock, experimental rock, and art rock, with great freedom. They all influence me. I am like any human being who fully lives their moods, shifting from being calm to energetic, and back to pensive, and shifting between musical expressions.”

She mentions tenor Sobhi Bidair, her her first vocal teacher, and piano teacher Rashad Fahim.

Among Fekry's first music activities was participation in the Cairo Celebration Choir, founded and managed by composer and conductor Nayer Nagui.

Alongside her music career, Fekry graduated from the Faculty of Economics and Political Science at Cairo University.

"Before choosing to study economics, I was interested in the media; I liked communication and culture, but also psychology. I hadn't planned on engaging in music yet. My parents wanted me to finish college first before I thought of anything else. Everything seemed well calculated.”

After graduating, Fekry worked at the international organisation before deciding to dedicate herself completely to music.

“A lot of people were surprised when I made the decision to quit everything to pursue a career in music, but nothing beats practicing what you love. Music gives me pleasure, frees me, allows me to express myself fully. It is all magic.”

The first band she joined was The Riff Band. It was with this band that she took her first steps in the professional world, singing classic jazz standards from the Great American Songbook and nostalgic Big Band-style tunes.

"I continued to sing with The Riff Band until 2016. I got to know the members of the troupe, by pure chance, while attending one of their concerts,” the singer reveals.

Later she founded her own jazz quartet, joined by Mina Nashaat on saxophone, Ehab Badr on bass guitar, and Rami Attallah on piano. The group presented jazzy rearrangements of songs by Fairouz, Leila Mourad, Abdel-Wahab, Abdel-Halim, Abdel-Mottaleb, and others. Noha Fekry Jazz group came just one year after Fekry and Attallah released their first album titled A Conversation.

In 2017, Fekry founded her musical group Janan.

Janan’s repertoire brings together mainly Arabic pop-art rock with songs written by Fekry. 

"The word Janan means the essence of things; it is the core of the heart, a name that goes hand in hand with the music.” she adds.

Currently, Fekry is working on her second album with Janan while continuing to give live performances across stages in Cairo and Alexandria.

*This article was originally published in Al Ahram Hebdo, in French, 15 December 2020 edition. Additional edit: Ahram Online.

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