Swedish-Syrian Faia Younan sings of the Levant's warmth in Egypt

Nourhan Tewfik , Wednesday 3 Aug 2016

Younan performed at the Cairo Opera House on 2 August and is scheduled to hold a second concert Thursday, 4 August, at Bibliotheca Alexandrina's open-air theatre

Faia Younan
Swedish-Syrian singer Faia Younan performs at the Cairo Opera House open-air theatre on Tuesday 2 August. (Photo: Ahram Online)

“Sleep my sweetheart, now fall asleep
Pain has departed our home
If they ask about us, we will say
Just now our little bird has had his bath
Sleep my sweetheart, now fall asleep

Here is your beautiful and comfortable cradle
In this warm cradle lies a little baby
If they ask about us, we will say
Just now the little prince has fallen asleep
Sleep my sweetheart, now fall asleep

When you sleep you will see
A sweet dream 
Enormous swarms of doves
Flying in the meadows

When I catch a glimpse of your little mouth
Smiling happily
I will pray my little baby
'God, grant him more dreams'
Sleep my sweetheart, now fall asleep,”

Thus the Swedish-Syrian Faia Younan who sang to a packed open air theatre of the Cairo Opera House on Tuesday, 2 August.

The lyrics are from Younan’s widely acclaimed single Nam Ya Habibi (Sleep, my Sweetheart), written by poet Mowaffaq Nader, set to music by Mohanad Nasr, and dedicated “to our country’s children,” Younan told the Cairene audience.

“You see, nowadays, mothers [in Syria] put their kids to sleep not knowing if this will be their last cradle song. This lullaby is therefore dedicated to our beloved country’s children who deserve to wake up every morning full of happiness and joy,” she said.

Throughout the course of the night, Younan performed an array of songs from her own budding repertory, as well as fine selections from the rich Arabic music library, particularly the musical repertoires of Egypt and the Levant, her beautiful voice giving a cool breeze to a hot August night.  

Younan was accompanied by musicians Hani Bedair on percussion, Sherif Kamel on qanoun, Ahmed Nazmy on bass, and Rayan Habre on piano.  

Opening the night, Younan delivered a hypnotic cover of late Lebanese composer, singer and songwriter Zaki Nassif’s masterpiece Ahwak (I Love You), which was adapted into a number of musical pieces by different musicians, including Lebanese musical icon Fairouz. Younan also revisited another of Nassif’s hits, Ya Ashiqata El-Wardi (Flowers’ Lover), later in the night.

Addressing the audience during Tuesday’s concert, Younan expressed her happiness to be in Egypt, adding that “the Egyptian audience is never easily impressed, which renders tonight’s performance a huge responsibility.”

“Tonight, we shall sing together and attempt to be happy, because our grief-stricken countries, and first and foremost my beloved Syria, deserve this happiness.”

Faia Younan
Swedish-Syrian singer Faia Younan performs at the Cairo Opera House open-air theatre on Tuesday 2 August. (Photo: Ahram Online)

Younan, who on several occasions was compared to Lebanese legend Fairouz, predictably paid ode to the celebrated singer by performing some of her best-known songs, including Ehkeeli Aan Baladi (Tell me about my Homeland) and El-Bint El-Chalabiya (Barefoot Girl).

Younan also delivered a rendition of Eshar Baad Eshar (Stay the Night), composed by Egypt's late prominent musician Mohamed Abdel-Wahab for Fairouz, adding “I cannot be in Egypt and not remember Abdel-Wahab,” Younan told the audience.

From the Arabic music library, Younan chose a vibrant collection of songs, both old and contemporary, including Lamma Bada Yatathanna (When She Begins to Sway), a famous ancient muwashash, a genre of classical Arabic music that came to light in Al-Andalus [southern Spain].

The lyrics of this muwashah proclaim, “When the gossamer nymph appears/My beloved’s beauty drives me to distraction/Surrender Surrender/When I am enraptured by a glimpse/ My beloved’s beauty is a tender branch caught by the breeze/Surrender Surrender.”

Other selections from the Arabic music library included Egyptian singer Fayza Ahmed’s classic Yama El Amar Aal Bab (Oh Mother, the Moon is at my Door) which she sung for the 1957 Egyptian film Tamr Henna, her voice accompanying one of belly dancing icon Naima Akef’s performances in the film.

Equally captivating was Younan’s rendition of the traditional Iraqi song Talaa Men Bayt Abouha (She’s Leaving Her Father’s House) by the great Iraqi singer Nazem Al-Ghazali.

Egyptian master and 'Fanan Al-Shaab' (The People’s Artist) Sayed Darwish was also star of the night, as Younan performed his magnum opus Aho Dah Eli Sar (This is What Happened).

Moreover, Younan’s renditions of famous songs expanded to include contemporary singles, including Ghani Lal Hob (Sing for Love) by famed Lebanese singer Majida El-Roumi.

Originally from Aleppo, Syria, Younan also paid homage to her beloved country through songs from the Levant’s musical heritage. “I’m from Syria and cannot not sing for Al-Sham."

Her ode to the Levant comprised renditions of Ya Mayla Aal Ghoson (Oh You Leaning Against the Tree Branch) and Zayano El-Marja (Adorn the Greensward).

Perhaps the most-anticipated moment of the night arrived when Younan performed another single from her still growing musical repertory, titled Ohebbou Yadayka (I Love Your Hands).

Faia Younan
Swedish-Syrian singer Faia Younan performs at the Cairo Opera House open-air theatre on Tuesday 2 August. (Photo: Ahram Online)

Ohebbou Yadayka was released as a video clip in June 2015 and quickly proved a hit on YouTube with over 3 million views.

Closing the night, Younan delivered a poignant performance of Mawteni (My Homeland), which in the past years has come to be associated with war-torn Syria.

The song was originally performed in the closing of Younan’s 2014 groundbreaking YouTube video To Our Countries, which introduced her to the Arab audience for the first time. In this video, Faya, along with her sister Rihan, addressed the war-ravaged countries of the Arab world, combining spoken word and music and revisiting famous Arab songs that tugged at the region’s heartstrings.

The song was originally written by Palestinian poet Ibrahim Touqan in 1934 and reportedly inspired Palestinian masses during the 1936-1939 Arab Revolt against British rule in Mandatory Palestine.

Today, performing the song is considered an act of solidarity with the ongoing Palestinian resistance against Israeli occupation. Moreover, the song has transcended geographical specificity, and now acts as a metaphor for the grievances and aspirations shared by all Arab peoples. In 2004, the song was selected as Iraq’s new national anthem, and over the past years it has also come to be associated with war-battered Yemen.

Mawteni’s lyrics wonder, “My homeland, am I ever going to see you?/Am I ever going to see you safe, prosperous, triumphant and dignified?/I shall, I shall see you safe, prosperous, triumphant and dignified!/I shall see you!”

Seconds after stepping off stage, Younan, urged by the audience, gave an encore, performing Egyptian singer Mohamed Mounir’s classic Alli Soutak (Raise Your Voice), the soundtrack of Youssef Chahine’s 1997 masterpiece Al-Maseer (Destiny), to the cheers of the audience.

Granted, the juxtaposition of Mawteni and Alli Soutak was inexplicably powerful, for the first queries whether we will live to see our beloved nations prosperous, triumphant and dignified, while the second is laden with hope and urges us not to succumb to our tribulations.

Younan will conclude her Egyptian tour with a concert at Bibliotheca Alexandrina on Thursday 4 August as part of this 14th Bibliotheca Alexandrina International Summer Festival,

Thursday 4 August, 8.30pm
Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Open Air Theatre, Alexandria

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