What complements a gentle breeze that shyly drifts through the air on a Cairene summer night? Many answers suffice, but for the lucky audience who took their seats at Cairo’s El-Genaina Theatre on Sunday 4 September, it was none other than Lebanese singer and songwriter Tania Saleh who lulled their hearts.
Taking the stage for two hours, Saleh delivered an array of her most cherished songs spanning her four albums to date: Tania Saleh (2002), Wehde (2011), Live at DRM (2012) and most recently Shwayit Souwar (A Few Images, 2015).
Saleh’s Cairo concert came one day following her vibrant participation in this year’s Bibliotheca Alexandrina International Summer Festival.
The diva opened the night with a powerful rendition of L’Jilou L’Jadidou (The New Generation) from her debut album Tania Saleh (2002).
Co-written and co-composed by Saleh and Issam Hajj Ali, the song was written in the aftermath of the Lebanese civil war (1975-1990) as a manifestation of how “history was simply repeating itself with the same old sectarian beliefs and the same old corrupt politicians in control,” writes Saleh on her SoundCloud account.
Its lyrics, translated by Saleh and published on SoundCloud, proclaim:
“The roof that has united us
/Locked us within its walls
/We spent all the love we had
/No good feelings to recall /To those who live in the suburbs/
And to those in the middle
/Neither your shouting nor my weeping
/Will ever solve this riddle /We’re history repeating itself
/We’re the new generation.”
Saleh then went on to sing Hiya La Touhibouka (She Doesn’t Love You), originally written as a poem by late iconic Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish and set to music by Saleh in her latest album A Few Images, 2015, which she dedicated to Arab women.
Lebanese singer Tania Saleh performs at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina on 3 September. (Photo: Butheina Shalan)
"Arab men might be at war, but Arab women are at peace. A woman in this part of the world is hard working, full of hope, love and positive energy. This album is dedicated to her," wrote Saleh on her website.
Also from her latest album, Saleh delivered Kel Ma Trouh (Every Time You Go) and Hal Oyoun (Those Eyes).
Speaking to Sunday’s audience, Saleh said it was a very close friend of hers who inspired her to work on this album.
“We were preparing for a concert in Beirut and she encouraged me to make new songs to mesmerise the audience,” Saleh explained.
Gladly accepting the challenge, Saleh proceeded to write the album until it eventually saw the light. Saleh extended her gratitude to this friend, who was among Sunday’s audience at El-Genaina and who turned out to be the established Lebanese journalist and talk show host Giselle Khoury.
Saleh also revisited songs from her second album Wehde (2011), delivering Rah El Hob (Love is Gone), Ayya Shi (Anything can Happen), Ma Elna Shi (Not a Word Was Spoken) and her masterwork Omar Wa Ali (Omar & Ali).
With Omar being a common name for Sunnis, and Ali for Shiites, the song is a brilliant take on the Shia-Sunni schism in the Muslim world.
The lyrics go: “Hey Omar, Ali's calling
/Stand on your feet and salute him
/He's come a long long way
/Stand up for once, it's no big deal /Hey Ali, Omar's calling
/He's standing with his hand extended
/Move one step closer, Ali
/Move and kiss him between the eyes...”
Saleh also delivered her widely-acclaimed Ya Salwa Laysh Aam Tebki (Salwa, Why are you Crying?) from her debut album Tania Saleh, before moving on to Yimken Law (If Only), which she wrote for Lebanese filmmaker Nadine Labaky’s 2011 film Where Do We Go Now?
Saleh would later release Yimkin Law along with the other songs she wrote for the film in her third album Tania Saleh: Live at DRM.
Tania Saleh and Hazem Shaheen
Egyptian oud master and singer Hazem Shaheen and Lebanese singer Tania Saleh share the stage at El-Genaina Theatre on 4 September. (Photo: Nourhan Tewfik)
The highlight of the night arrived when Saleh shared the stage with Egyptian oud master, singer and composer Hazem Shaheen, who is also the founder and lead singer of Egyptian band Eskenderella.
With Shaheen on the oud, the duo sang five songs together, two of which were selected from Eskenderella’s own budding repertoire: the first was Eini Fi Einik (Look Me in the Eye), originally written as a poem by Egyptian poet Ahmed Haddad; and Khalik Faker Masr Gamila (Always Remember Egypt is Beautiful) written as a poem by Egypt’s ‘father of poets’ Fouad Haddad, and both set to music by Shaheen himself.
Together they also revisited Saleh’s Bala Ma Nsammih (Let’s Not Name Him), composed by great Lebanese oud master, musician and singer Charbel Rouhana and released in her debut album Tania Saleh (2002).
The duo also celebrated the great musicianship of prominent composer, singer and playwright Ziad Rahbani by performing Ismaa Ya Reda (Listen to Me Reda), originally sung by late Lebanese singer Joseph Sakr in Rahbani’s 1970 play Bel nesbe la boukra shou? (What About Tomorrow?).
The twosome concluded their performance together with a song titled Reda from Saleh’s latest album, at which point Shaheen left the stage to Saleh, who continued to enthral her audience for another half-hour.
Just before concluding her concert, Saleh delivered an ode to Egyptian singer Mohamed Mounir by singing Ya Hammam (Oh Pigeons). Hers was a brilliant reimagining of Mounir’s song thanks to a novel and fresh musical arrangement.
Tania Saleh and Hazem Shaheen
Lebanese singer Tania Saleh performs at Bibliotheca Alexandrina on 3 September. (Photo: Butheina Shalan)
It was with her pièce de résistance Hashishet Albi (The Hash of my Heart), another song she wrote and sang for Nadine Labaky’s Where Do We Go Now?, that Saleh closed the mesmeric concert.
According to a brief description provided by Saleh on her SoundCloud account, "hashishet albi" (literally “the hash of my heart”) is a Lebanese expression meaning "the love of my life."
The lyrics, translated by Saleh and published on SoundCloud, go:
“Break the patty, dice it, cut it and grind it
Make it soft, make it smooth, mix the fix, c’mon
Made of the best harvest
A chunk is worth a diamond
Blonde or brown, it makes no difference, c’mon
Hash it and don’t be stingy
He’s the hash of my heart
He’s drowning and needs a buoy.”
For more arts and culture news and updates, follow Ahram Online Arts and Culture on Twitter at @AhramOnlineArts and on Facebook at Ahram Online: Arts & Culture