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Saturday, 19 June 2021

'Zahrat Al-Madaen': Egyptian sextet releases cover of Fairuz's iconic song about Jerusalem

Produced by Zahra Ramy, the cover of 'Most Splendid of Cities' also features Marwa Abu Zeid, Rabab Nagy, Mohamed Khalaf, Mohamed Fahim, and Ramy Refaat

Ati Metwaly , Wednesday 9 Jun 2021
Zahrat El Madaen
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“For you, city of prayer, I pray.
For you, most splendid of dwellings, flower among cities,
Jerusalem, city of prayer, I pray.
Our eyes turn towards you every day...”

So say the lyrics of the new cover of ‘Most Splendid of Cities’ (Zahrat Al-Madaen) performed by six Egyptian singers: Zahra Ramy, Marwa Abu Zeid, Rabab Nagy, Mohamed Khalaf, Mohamed Fahim, and Ramy Refaat.

The song was posted by the known Egyptian radio presenter, singer, and actress Zahra Ramy — who also produced the cover — on 4 June on her YouTube channel, followed by a release on her Facebook page on 8 June.

Originally performed by Lebanese diva Fairuz, ‘Most Splendid of Cities’ comes from her 1967 album titled ‘Jerusalem in My Heart’. The album consists of many songs dedicated to Jerusalem, representing one of the many works that Fairuz presented in support of the Holy City and the struggles it has been going through over the past decades.

In the hands of the Egyptian musicians, the music video focuses on the touching lyrics and music, supporting it with simple yet creatively effective visuals that shed light on each performer individually. The video was created by Mohamed El-Fakharany to the cover music vision of Mohamed Khalaf.   

Considered by many as an Arab national anthem, the song was composed by the Rahbani brothers with lyrics by Said Akl — a Lebanese poet, writer, and playwright that was considered “the last classical poet” of his country.

Though talking about Jerusalem in specific, Fairuz's performance moves beyond Palestine, as she navigates between the Holy City's pains, the fight of its people, and the singer's emotions entwined with her own Lebanese nationalistic struggles.

In their turn, the Egyptian singers accentuated those emotions, allowing the music to elucidate the pains with colourful harmonies embedded in six voices and delicate instrumental accompaniment.

In their rendition, the sextet takes the iconic song into theatrical and brighter expressive levels though. Without undermining the song's main message, they embellish it with a sense of hope. As such, while the new cover pays tribute to trubbled Palestine it also brings to the fore new creative sensations, giving yet another testimony to the musical continuity of the Arab anthem and the composition's timeless malleability and appeal.

Not only is ‘Most Splendid of Cities’ considered among the greatest creative works calling for Palestinian nationalism, it has also become one of the iconic compositions of the Arab region, as it has been covered by many known singers.

Following its release in the 1960s, Fairuz has been honored with the Key to the Holy City, awarded by the Jerusalem Cultural Committee. Throughout her whole career, Fairuz continued to sing in support of occupied Palestine. Five decades after ‘Most Splendid of Cities’ she released ‘Until When, God?’ (Eella Matta Ya Rabbou), which saw light in 2018 following the heightened tensions between Israel and Palestine over the US Embassy’s move to Jerusalem.

The newest cover of ‘Most Splendid of Cities’ comes in response to last month’s Israeli aggression on Gaza, one that has been deemed the most serious since 2014, as Israel struck Gaza with artillery and air strikes in response to rocket attacks on Israeli towns from the strip, which is controlled by Hamas.

At least 254 people were killed in Gaza, with over 1,900 wounded, according to Palestinian health authorities, while the death toll in Israel stood at 13, before an Egypt-sponsored ceasefire between Israel and Palestinian factions went into effect after 11 days of fighting.

Many Arab and international artists expressed their solidarity with the Palestinian people. By the end of May, over 600 musicians worldwide signed an open letter expressing their support for Palestinian people and their rights.

The international signatories include names such as rock band ‘Rage Against the Machine’ (USA), Julian Casablancas (USA), hip hop duo ‘Run the Jewels’ (USA), hip hop band ‘the Roots’ (USA), Serj Tankian (USA/Armenia), Patti Smith (USA), and Roger Waters (UK).

Among the signatories were also Egyptian musicians, such as Dina El-Wedidi, Wegz, Nadah El-Shazly, Maurice Louca, Youssra El-Hawary, among others.

Zahrat El Madaen

A graduate of the English Department of the Faculty of Arts of Cairo University, Ramy landed her first job in broadcasting in 2010.

Known mainly for hosting morning programmes for children, she began her broadcasting career at the station ‘Radio Hits 88.2’, of which she was also a co-founder. She then moved to Nogoum FM before shifting to NRJ Egypt in 2020, where she hosts the 'Wake Up with NRJ' segment between 7am and 10am.

Apart from her career in broadcasting, Ramy is also a singer; she participated in numerous concerts, including those by ‘Ayamna El-Helwa’. Most recently she formed her own band, ‘Mixer’.

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