‘I like to share the richness of cultures’: Egyptian mezzo soprano Farrah El-Dibany

Amira Doss, Saturday 8 Apr 2023

The Egyptian mezzo-soprano Farrah El-Dibany reveals to Al-Ahram Hebdo the impact of her dual culture on her career as a singer, and talks about her future projects.

Farrah El-Dibany
Farrah El-Dibany. Ahram.Hebdo


Al-Ahram Hebdo (AH): You have just participated in the concert "Under the Stars of Al-Ula" in Saudi Arabia, celebrating the Francophonie (March 2023). Can you tell us about this experience?

Farrah El-Dibany (FD): I have always wanted to sing at Al-Ula and at the splendid Maraya hall. It was a wonderful experience to sing there, let alone celebrate the month of the Francophonie in Al-Ula. However, this is my second appearance in Saudi Arabia. I gave three concerts at the National Museum in Riyadh in January this year. Those events were organised in collaboration with the Saudi Ministry of Culture.

The ceremony "Under the Stars of Al-Ula" dedicated to the Francophonie was also broadcast on TV5. I sang my own version of the song My Love with two verses in French and the rest in Arabic. As soon as I started singing in Arabic, I felt the energy in the room. The audience became very enthusiastic and attentive. Then, I did a little interview on stage with the two French and Saudi presenters. I expressed my admiration for this concert hall, this architectural work located in the middle of the desert. Next to me was the star Enrico Macias who spoke about me to the public, trying with a few words in Arabic to reveal his feelings, "Farrah, the daughter of Egypt, and I the son of Algeria, we dream to see peace take place in the world. And Farrah, which means joy, is, as her name says, a real source of joy for us.” These words really touched me.

AH: You embody a certain image of Egypt abroad, that of a glorious, elegant and diversified Egypt. How do you promote this image?

FD: Indeed, I lived my childhood and my adolescence by forging in me, over the years, a multicultural, cosmopolitan Egypt. All these values are part of me instinctively and I feel proud of my origins. And no matter where I am, I want to express that I am Egyptian. I like to share this wealth of cultures. I sing in about ten languages.

AH: Did your dual culture and especially the languages you speak facilitate your integration abroad?

FD: From a young age in Alexandria, I was prepared for this fate. The idea is not to lose your own identity by settling in the West. The more the person manages to preserve his own identity, the more he manages to integrate into the new society. People with identity issues find it difficult to fit in. I am proud of my identity. 

When I left to Germany for my university studies, I already spoke German. I was so integrated that people thought I was German. Even in France, people don't believe that I've been there for only six years. But, on every occasion, I want to take stock of who I am and where I come from, this Egyptian side that constitutes my identity and of which I am proud. I do it in many ways: whether through the Egyptian songs that I perform on stage, or by seizing any opportunity to talk about my country, or by trying to promote tourism, the culinary arts, which are little known abroad.

AH: You sung La Marseillaise following the re-election of President Emmanuel Macron. How was this choice made?

FD: Everything happened at the last minute, nothing was planned in advance. I heard the news the day before. It was the idea of a French producer who knows me and who was in charge of organising the re-election ceremony. He spoke about it with the French President, Emmanuel Macron, who really appreciated my participation. I had less than 24 hours to train vocally for La Marseillaise.

I could not imagine the magnitude, nor the large number of the audience that was present that day at the Champ-de-Mars, nor the TV channels that broadcast the event live. It was a historic moment for the country, and for me. Following the performance, President Macron thanked me for accepting to take the stage, which really moved me. I later sang during the World Cup, in the finals between France and Argentina.

AH: From success to success in recent years in Europe. What are your future projects?

FD: Right now, I want to expand my presence abroad as much as possible by singing in countries I haven't been to yet. I have plans for Albania, New York, Seoul, London, Jordan, Lebanon, and India. I receive requests from quite varied regions and audiences. After holding concerts in Bahrain, Dubai and Riyadh, I want to explore new audiences. 

In France, I have just presented two important concerts at the Olympia, this emblematic theater in which the diva Um Kalthoum had sung. The purpose of these concerts was to collect donations for the people of Syria and Turkey, recently affected by earthquakes. 

AH: Tell us about the humanitarian causes that you support?

FD: Over the past years I have supported UNHCR campaigns to help refugees. I sang at the main headquarters of UNESCO during the celebration ceremony of its 75th anniversary, in the presence of President El-Sisi and more than 30 heads of state. Another campaign that I have supported and that touches me deeply is the Save The Children initiative, in collaboration with the Hady Bady institution, which works to motivate children to read in Arabic. With UN Woman and Vodafone, I supported a campaign to help women find decent work opportunities. Recently at the Cairo Opera, I held a charity concert for the Kheir we Baraka association.

AH: What state of mind are you in when you are on stage?

FD: I transform into several characters. I experience several feelings and everything happens inside me. As if I become another person for these few moments. I feel that I have a lot of energy to transmit to the public and that I want to share with them all that I feel. Being on stage is above all a moment of sharing. I live this moment to the fullest and I mentally prepare myself for it beforehand. Once on stage, I forget my whole life, I forget everything that exists and will ever exist. As if time stood still and this is the only moment to live.

AH: To wrap up, how would you describe Farrah El-Dibany?

FD: I am an independent, emotional, sensitive, but also strong woman. I advocate justice and I am direct. I share this sense of freedom of the soul with Carmen. But Carmen is really free from everything; I respect certain constraints and social norms. I've had a revolutionary side since I was a teenager, but I'm also very rational and mature.

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