Like mother like daughter: 'Excited' Mai Kamal turns to jazz after opera experience

Eslam Omar , Tuesday 11 Jun 2019

The daughter of iconic Egyptian singer Afaf Radi has dedicated herself to singing, giving a number of performances recently where she merged jazz standards with Arabic covers

Mai Kamal

Young Egyptian talent Mai Kamal has expressed excitement over her entry into the world of jazz singing after her previous forays in opera performance.

After being busy with her advertising career and indulging her passion for travel in recent years, Kamal recently became fully dedicated to singing for the first time in her life, performing Jazz standards and Arabic covers at several venues, including the AUC’s Ewart Hall, Bibliotheca Alexandrina, Cairo Jazz Club's 610, and Room Art Space in downtown Cairo.

Mai is the only daughter of iconic Egyptian singer Afaf Radi, who inspired a generation with her popular kids’ songs and a huge collection of patriotic and romantic songs, theatre musicals and movies, and who proved exceptionally talented in her various endeavours.

The lovely young Mai spoke to Ahram Online on Monday in her first-ever newspaper interview to speak about her influences, passion and future plans.

In love with the opera

"This is the first time in my life that I am fully dedicated to singing, and it really makes me happy and content. I really look forward to more exposure and a lot of activities including many performances at several venues," she said.

Following in her mother’s footsteps, she started her singing career at operatic concerts after spending three years studying at the Cairo Opera House, performing in a number of shows like Mozart's Le Nozze di Figaro, Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème and Georges Bizet’s Carmen.

"I initially started learning opera singing to expand my vocal range, and I was just experimenting before I found myself totally falling in love with the opera. Learning opera gave me experience in essential singing, breathing and performing techniques. I will continue learning as it is a continuous process," she said enthusiastically.

Passion for jazz

Mai recently founded her own jazz band, staging performances where she sings covers of popular standards like Bessame Mucho, Sway, Amado Mio, Hallelujah, and Autumn Leaves, alongside – and sometimes merged with – traditional Arabic tunes like Lama Bada Yatathanna, Fairouz's Badou Zarif and Soad Massi's Gher Enta.

Mai Kamal was featured with the Cairo Big Band Society band in addition to other performances with prominent bassist Samer George

"My passion for singing originally started with jazz and Western music. I worked on developing my jazz performing techniques after the opera experience. When I started performing cover gigs, I found the crowd very welcoming and their feedback really pushes me forward to do more activities, unlike the opera crowd, which is less interactive. It's a new experience that really makes me excited after the very positive feedback."

Plans for original music

Mai plans to continue to perform covers for a while before she starts working on her first original album, which she hopes will reflect her eclectic tastes.

"My oriental singing style is in the vein of composer Ziad Rahbani; it is the kind of singing that merges the characteristics of the opera and oriental music. I plan to sing in Arabic but I will take my time experimenting and gaining experience in performing through covers before I start searching for my own original Arabic songs."

Mai owes her mother a lot and has looked up to her as a role model, saying she considers herself “exceptionally lucky” to have her in her life.

"My mother has always been my one true inspiration and instructor on the personal level and in singing. I am exceptionally lucky to have such a great instructor involved in my life.

"She advises me on how to deal with life and people in the music scene and she helps me every day to improve my technique, as she is an expert in both opera and oriental singing. This support started when I was very young. My father, God bless his soul, supported my singing and the atmosphere in our house has always been artistic, even to this day," she said.

Afaf Radi

At her next concert at Room Art Space in downtown Cairo on Thursday, she will be accompanied by Samo El-Taweel (drums), Phillip Anwar (keyboard), Motaaz Kamel (lead guitar), Hossam Fouda (saxophone) and Cherife Ramez (bass).

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