Dressed in black, with a glittery turban atop her head, Macadi Nahhas performed a medley of Egyptian and Arab songs on 3 September at Left Bank Café in Zamalek, Cairo.
Nahhas kicked off the night with an acapella cover of a song by Lebanese legend Fairouz, which silences the bustling Left Bank café. The singer keeps her hazel eyes half-shut for almost the entire song, as if daydreaming the melody on the soft summer’s night.
By the end of the first song, members of the audience were shaking their heads in appreciation - a performer’s favourite paradox.
On Monday 3 September, Nahhas played with Egyptian musicians, marking the first time she has performed without her Jordanian band. Returning to Egypt after a performance at Al-Genaina theatre in 2010, Nahhas played her usual line-up of original and cover songs, along with an assortment of Egyptian folkloric songs by Sayyed Darwish and El-Sheikh Imam.
Macadi’s music does not stick to one genre; using her powerful voice, she borrows from other genres to ultimately create a contemporary sound, with roots in Arabic classics.
The night before the performance, Ahram Online spoke to the talented, soft-spoken Nahhas about her life and music, which she described as being inseparable.
For Nahhas, music is an identity. “Singing is the best way to express myself, who I am, as Macadi.”
The musician also dabbles in puppetry, fashion and jewellery design, but since her childhood, she knew she wanted to sing above all else. She studied music at the Beirut Music Conservatory, and started singing in small gigs across her homeland, Jordan, until she worked her way up and gained popularity.
Lebanese sensation Fairouz has always been her muse, but she also drew inspiration from poets and musicians from across the Arab world. Surrounded by her father's political and poetic endeavours, the singer now reflects a layered background of culture and art. She grew up listening to Oum Kalthoum, Sayyed Darwish, Marcel Khalife, she reminisces.
Through the years, Macadi grew attuned to different styles of music, such as jazz and classical music, as well as the more contemporary directions. Performing on stages across the world, from the neighbouring Beirut, to Dubai in the Gulf, to the cultural hub of Montreal (Nahhas mentions that travelling is one of her favourite things about her job) she learned from global artists. Her music, while reflecting her Arab heritage, bears influences from many other cultures.
Nahhas says her second favourite place to perform is Jordan, where she feels utterly at home, and the audience sing along like a chorus of familiar faces. At the top of her list of favourite stages was Cairo. She performed here in the summer of 2010, during the Hay festival, organised yearly by Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafy at Al-Genaina theatre.
“I was pleasantly surprised that people knew me and were familiar with my songs,” she said.
Popularity comes easy for the Nahhas, with her commanding voice and an ability to grab an audience’s attention. But one of the struggles Nahhas faces in her music career is finding producers for her songs. "These days commercial, mainstream music dominates the Arabic music scene." She explains that the underground music scene in the Arab world sometimes lacks financial support.
Nahas says that she does not write songs; she dreams them. "I put my head on the pillow, and sometimes fall asleep, and then something starts nagging in my ear,” she says, as she stirs her cappuccino.
“I hear a melody in my ears, and lyrics too! I get out of bed and write them right away,” she says with a smile of amusement. “It’s something magical.”
She sometimes finds prospective song ideas on social media or in books; words are supremely important for Nahhas. The singer does not like flat lyrics; she likes to sing words that stir the audience's feelings, inspire emotion, and trigger a personal interpretation. "Storytelling is another important thing, you have to tell something through the song," she says. "I like the song to reveal a story, an idea. It’s never just a song."
Nahhas associates herself with a league of experimental Jordanian artists, including Jadal, Aziz Maraka, Tarek Al-Nasser. She reveals that there is an underground music movement in Jordan, and there is an audience for modern music that has accumulated over the past decade.
The contemporary Jordanian music scene is only about 10 years old, says Nahhas. But it was born out of "a need for young musicians, a whole generation demanded new and more modern music," Nahhas says.
She explains that the fact that Jordanian music scene has recently flourished is due in part to the increasing audience that grew bored of traditional, old-is-gold music, and sought more current tunes that better matched their identities and lifestyles. In the meantime, many Jordanians studied music and arts abroad, and returned to establish their own cultural centres that promoted local talents. Exposure to the world's musical arena through social media also spurred a movement of indigenous music, she explained.
In the upcoming months, the Jordanian will take her contemporary Arabic pop tunes on a US and Canada tour, including a performance at Montreal’s Festival du Monde Arabe (Festival of the Arab World).
Through creating music, Nahhas discovers where she stands in the world, and why she's here at all. For the Jordanian singer, music is life.