Tunisian diva Ghalia Benali’s latest concert in Cairo: ‘Time to sit down and listen to ourselves’

Amira Noshokaty , Friday 22 Apr 2022

As free as the curlew bird that greets her and her audience every time she sings on stage, Tunisian diva Ghalia Benali broke from the typical time constrains of songs, chanting only long poems of her choice during her latest concert in Cairo.

Ghalia Benali
Photo by Karim Haiwan, courtesy of Ghalia Benali

Last Tuesday, the Tunisian music Icon, Ghalia Benali owned the stage with her enchanting voice at the fountain theatre in the premises of Cairo Opera House.

Depicting profound verses of Sufi Pillars such as Ibn Arabi, Jalal El-Din El-Rumi, and Al-Qousi, she gracefully waltzed with her enchanting voice through the trails of Sufi idioms, tracing the meaning behind all creation and emphasising the importance of the art of listening.

“The idea is that I want to break free from the style of songs and their obligatory timeframe; you see my latest song was almost 15 minutes long, as if it is little short poems set together,” Ghalia Benali told Ahram Online. She emphasised the mood she was trying to set that would enable the audience to join her in a collective state of tranquillity that would enable them to practice the art of “listening.”

During the concert, the soft tunes of the music she composed herself were skilfully manifested by only three talented musicians plaing the violin, Oud and percussions.

Accompanying the music, Benali chanted the night away wandering between Sufi gems like Qalbi Yohadethoni, (“My Heart Tells Me”), by Sufi icon Ibn Al Fared, philosophical Roba‎yat (“Quartets”) of vernacular poetry pillar Salah Jaheen, Aho Dah Elli Sar (“And This Is What Happened”) of iconic music composer Sayed Darwish, Al Atlal (“The Ruins”) of Um Kalthoum, Ya Msafer Wahdak (“You Who Is Traveling By Yourself”), by renowned composer Abdel Wahab, and concluded with Lamoni Elli Gharo Menni (“I Was Blamed By Those Who Were Jealous”) a famous Tunisian classic song.

“In this performance, I am sitting and inviting everybody to sit and listen, to listen to yourself actually, with a minimum of musicians. I want the audience’s full attention to the words; I want every music element to be heard individually. I wanted this to be something that we are all listening to. I am listening to the musicians, to the audience, seated together in this vast space,” she added.

Winner of the 2008 Music Award for the best world music song, presented by the independent British Organisation, titled “We Are Listening.” Having composed and sung over 100 songs, Benali was named the ambassador of the Arab Culture in 2009 for Europe after her release of first album titled “Ghalia Benali Sings Om Kalthoum.”

Born in Belgium, raised in Tunisia and having studied graphic designing in Belgium, Ghalia Benali has always carried her heritage along with her, creating a little haven where East greets West. An established singer, music composer, graphic designer, writer and editor, Benali has always perceived herself as more of a storyteller.

Dressed in vintage attire, chanting authentic classic poems that resonates with the audience’s rich Arabic and Egyptian, this woman’s voice and thoughts inspire audiences to connect to their origins and celebrate their gift of humanity.

In 2020, when the world was in a state of pause due to COVID-19, Benali released her ninth album Azan ("A Call To Prayer") in which she clarifies that the initial meaning in classical Arabic of the album’s title is more about practicing the art of listening.

The album is a melange between spiritual lyrics woven with 17th century music by icon Marin Marais. With only two classical music instruments: Viola da gamba, and contrabass.

In 2021, Benali was part of musical troupes featuring Arab, Turkish and Iranian artists who released the music Album titled “In the footsteps of Rumi,” where she chanted, in Arabic, the poetry of the Sufi pillar Jalal Al-Din Al-Rumi (1207-1273 AD) who founded the Mawlawia Sufi Sect.

Aiming to give back to the country she loves dearly, Benali latest art project is Egyptian Movie, a documentary film capturing the identity of “her Egypt” as she traces back what is left of the golden era of Egypt’s classic movies.

To watch the theme song from Egyptian Movie, exclusively for Ahram Online, click here.

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