A connoisseur of love: Tunisian diva Ghalia Benali enthralls at Cairo's historic citadel
Nourhan Tewfik , Saturday 20 Aug 2016
Benali performed to a full house on 18 August as part of this year's Citadel Festival for Music and Singing

“In the Arabic language, ‘love’ has tens of synonyms, including hobb, wid, ishq, kalaf, shaghaf, jawa, tadaloh, hayam, sababa, wajd, shajw, danaf, shawq, bilbal, tabarieeh, haneen, gharam, walah, etc. But the most intense state of love is that of tatayom...,” reads a post on Nahw Wa Sarf, a newly-launched Facebook page that celebrates the Arabic language and seeks to disseminate knowledge about it.

This list of synonyms for love came to mind at Tunisian diva Ghalia Benali’s concert at Cairo's historical Citadel on 18 August.

The concert, part of the 25th Citadel Festival for Music and Singing which opened on 17 August and runs until 2 September, was a two-hour long journey through the diva’s most cherished renditions and her inimitable music fusion of elements from Arabic classical styles, Sufi chants, Tunisian folk and jazz.

Dressed in beautiful traditional attire, now a marker of the Tunisian diva, Benali walked onto the stage, performing graceful dance moves to the accompaniment of sounds of the bass, violin, percussion, piano and qanoun.

For the next two hours, Benali delivered a selection of covers for songs from the rich Arabic music library, as well as songs from her own music repertoire.

She sang of love, her enthralling voice giving each of the aforementioned synonyms its deserved awe, and leaving connoisseurs of music with much to relish.

Opening the night with Fi Deen Al-Hob ("In the Religion of Love"), Benali went on to perform a selection of songs that tugged at the different states of love, starting with Odeeno Bi Deen Al-Hob ("I Follow the Religion of Love"), originally written as a poem by 12th century Sufi mystic and poet Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi.

Benali also revisited Qalbi Yuhaddithuni ("My Heart Tells Me") by 13th century Egyptian Sufi poet Sheikh Umar Ibn Al-Farid, whose opening lines assert: “My heart tells me that you are my destroyer
/ My soul is your hostage, whether you know it or not/ 
I have not fulfilled the obligation of your love if I am someone/
 who does not die in it out of grief, but I am someone who does.”

The night’s programme also comprised Hayamatni ("She Enchanted Me"); Um Kulthoum’s masterpiece Shams Al-Assil ("Sunset"), written by Egyptian poet Bayram El-Tunsi and set to music by iconic composer Riad El-Sonbati; and Ana Hurra ("I’m Free"), written by Egypt’s Father of Poets Fouad Haddad.


The highlight of the night was Benali’s hypnotic cover of legendary singer Abdel-Halim Hafez's Qareat Al-Fingan ("The Fortune Teller") originally written as a poem by famed Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani, and whose opening lines proclaim: “She sat with fear in her eyes/ Contemplating the upturned cup/ She said "Do not be sad, my son/ You are destined to fall in love/ My son, Who sacrifices himself for his beloved/ Is a martyr.”

Benali also performed a new song titled Ibn Zeid Al-Maghraby, to lyrics by Ossama Saadaoui, “a Palestinian-Syrian refugee who is sending his greetings to you tonight,” Benali told the audience.

“He told me that if I perform his song tonight, he’ll feel that his soul is in Cairo,” she added.

Benali closed the night with her much cherished cover for Lamouni ("They Blamed Me") originally sung by the famed Tunisian singer, oud player and composer Lotfi Bushnaq. Lamouni’s opening lines declare, “People who are jealous of me , blamed me/and told me why do you like her?/I answered who are ignoring my taste/Take my eye, and try to see through it.”

Besides her Cairo concert, Benali performed in both Alexandria and Damanhour earlier in August as part of this year's Cairo Opera House summer festival.

Launched in 1989 under the leadership of conductor and composer Sherif Mohie Eldin, the Citadel Festival for Music and Singing is an annual cultural event bringing a selection of local and regional musicians to entertain audiences during Cairo’s hot summer nights at the historic venue.

This year’s edition opened with Les Petits Chats band and will close with a concert by Eman El-Bahr Darwish.

The festival has taken place every year except for 2013.

Throughout its history, the festival has hosted several regional and international musicians.

The festival is under the directorship of the Cairo Opera's artistic house, and brings local and regional music to the historic location, inviting diverse audiences to attend the open air events.

All events take place at Mahka Theatre at the Saladin Citadel in Cairo. Check the full programme of this year's editionhere.


For more arts and culture news and updates, follow Ahram Online Arts and Culture on Twitter at@AhramOnlineArtsand on Facebook atAhram Online: Arts & Culture