Chords of gold: Young star Reem Ezzeldin shares her magnetic qualities with Cairo audience

Ati Metwaly , Tuesday 18 Jul 2023

The warm summer evening drew a huge audience into the American University in Cairo's Tahrir Campus, with listeners eager to enjoy Reem Ezzeldin’s unique vocals performing familiar favourites from the Arab repertoire as well as a few original songs.

Reem Ezzeldin
Reem Ezzeldin in concert at American University in Cairo, Tahrir Campus, 11 JUly 2023 (Photos: Inas Gohar)


In a concert that took place on Tuesday 11 July, Ezzedin was accompanied by Ahmed Hassan (violin), Yasser Hasheesh (guitar), Ahmed Ewis (double bass), and Hany Bedair (percussion), a formation she established in September last year. The concert opened with Shaghalony by Abdel Halim Hafez, followed by 12 songs including four original compositions.

Classics such as Ya Lalaly and Ya Tair Ya Tayer (by Mohamed Mounir), En Kont Ghaly (Aida El-Ayoubi), Batwanes Beek (Warda), Nassam Alayna El-Hawa (Fairuz), Moghram (Jad Nakhle), among others, immediately riveted the listeners who could be seen singing along.

Born in 1987, Ezzeldin’s musical talent started to manifest at a very early age, as she often performed to family and friends, always finding unconditional encouragement from her mother Zeinab Montasser, a highly responsive theatre critic. Ezzeldin’s voice was often featured in school concerts and on special occasions gathering young people.

However, while the adolescent’s appearances multiplied within the cosy surroundings, she was in the process of qualifying to be a dentist. As a student, she won first prize at a music competition organised for all medical schools in Egypt. After graduating, she had a long medical career but her passion for singing never left her.

Ezzeldin credits the late artist Mohsen Farouk (1961-2017) with having a huge influence on her development. Having heard her voice, he took the up-and-coming singer under his wing and gave her academic direction. “He is my mentor,” she refers to the late singer and academic. “He was the first musician to recognise my talent. He opened my eyes to the beauty of Mohamed Abdel Wahab, whose works are in my repertoire. It is due to Mohsen Farouk that I stood on stage for the first time.” She recalls Farouk’s 2009 concert at the Cairo Opera’s Open-air Theatre, in which he featured her. She then continued performing alongside the singer at many venues all across Egypt, including the Cairo and Alexandria operas.

In 2012, Ezzeldin won the first prize at a singing competition organised by the Ministry of Culture and joined The Voice, successfully completing the first stage of the competition. Meanwhile she established herself in Ayamna El-Helwa, an ensemble founded and led by maestro Mohamed Osman. It was while part of this ensemble that Ezzeldin performed works by Angham, Fairouz, Leila Mourad and Abdel Wahab, among others. She made a great impression on the audience during episodes of the TV show Sahibet Al-Saada.

While performing with Ayamna El-Helwa for over a decade (2011-2022), in 2020, during the Covid-19 shut down of cultural activities, Ezzeldin appeared in an online Laila Mourad tribute concert with the Canadian-Arabic Orchestra.

Through the years, while being exposed to the best Arabic music, Ezzeldin built her own original repertoire, with songs written for her by various composers. As her reservoir of music continued to expand, Ezzeldin started thinking about her own independent career.

“After all this experience with Mohsen Farouk, Ayamna El-Helwa and other formations, I felt ready to start my own band. I needed to present my own vision of familiar songs, as well as originals that were piling up. Whatever the composition, I just wanted to present them in an attractive format, one that would resonate with young listeners, and rekindle the fancy of the older generation.”

Pushed by passion and perseverance, in September 2022, together with the band she formed, Ezzeldin gave her first concert at Cairo’s Room Art Space & Cafe. The audience was more than the small space could accommodate, and so she also moved to bigger venues where she began attracting a large fan base, accompanying her performances with song releases on social media with ever higher follower counts.

Indeed the speed at which Ezzeldin’s independent career is progressing is truly impressive. She is fully convinced that she can offer something unique and beautiful to her audience, which was undoubtedly the case at the AUC concert. In today’s Arabic music scene, we are treated to countless arrangements of varying quality, Ezzeldin’s shone a completely unique light on her choice of songs.

For example, her highly original take on Mahmoud El-Esseily’s Heya (She) - performed at AUC - benefits greatly from her soft voice (as opposed El-Esseily’s hoarseness) bringing a new sensitivity to the composition. This is especially apparent in the song’s melismatic passages, gently caressed by Ezzeldin’s voice and demonstrating her brilliant technique. Moreover, El-Esseily’s 2018 hit features accordion, guitars and percussion, while Ezzeldin’s formation takes the music in a more tender and joyful direction.

The examples of successful arrangements by Hassan and Hasheesh are important factors that turn well known compositions into new creative offerings. This formula enables every generation to enjoy the music, and especially attracts younger listeners to older Arab gems in a revisited format.

But Ezzeldin also has a number of original songs, a repertoire that she began working on a decade ago. It includes pieces performed at the AUC, such as Menein Ma Arouh (Wherever I Go), with music by Ahmed Al-Atabany arranged by Mohamed Al-Ashi and lyrics by Abdul Hamid Al-Habbak, and Lafet Bina El Layali (Nights Took Us Round and Round) by the same composer, arranged by Osama Abdel Hadi with lyrics by Mohie Eldin Ahmed, as well as Helm Be’id (Distant Dream) with music by Ahmed Abdel Wahab arranged by Mostafa Negm and lyrics by Salma Rasheed.

Ezzeldin is particularly fond of her original works: “They touch me on a personal level. The music by Al-Atabany can be quite complicated even as it remains very accessible, but at times, it is a challenge to sing, though his phrases come across as very catchy, with people humming the melody with ease.”

Ezzeldin also speaks of the lyrics of Helm Be’id: “The song talks about a girl who wants to be in love. The theme was my idea that I shared with Rasheed. She captured the emotions in words so beautifully; the lyrics are simple but not superficial.”

No wonder Ezzeldin has often been complimented on this song. In fact, it dates back to 2017, when it incorporated a brass section recorded outside Egypt. The track was a collaboration between Egyptian and foreign musicians and is now available on Ezzeldin’s Facebook page.

Helm Be’id leans more heavily on Latin accents than any of Ezzeldin’s other songs, and it is a genre she deeply admires. In the original recording guitar and percussion are accompanied by gentle brass lines with an occasional muted trumpet adding an exquisite touch. There was no brass lining at the AUC concert, yet the song was among the best received.

Another unique original composition titled Edhak Allah Yekhallik (Smile, for God’s Sake), composed and arranged by Ahmed Hassan to lyrics by Iyad Abu Bakr was enthusiastically received by the AUC audience. “I really like this song. It is filled with a lot of positive energy. Ahmed is an old friend of mine and understands me well. He contributed a lot of authenticity to this song. It was first composed for a campaign a few years back, with a nice music video shot in Nuba. I am happy to have it in my repertoire now.”

The uniqueness of Ezzeldin’s ensemble undeniably lies in the music and arrangements that create bridges between Oriental music and other genres, with numerous Latin undertones, topped with her splendid voice and vocal balance which carry listeners through all the phrases and their accents.

“I really enjoy this musical playfulness which, in my view, adds value to the compositions,” she says, emphasising the special feeling she has for guitar and Latin rhythms. Ezzeldin’s musical formula is a successful one. She received several requests during the concert, and chose Ouda by Hamid El Shaeri to perform. In the song, the guitar plays an important role in the Latin embroidery of what remains an Arabic tune.

A musical warmth underpins all covers and original songs, showcasing the endless ability of Ezzeldin ensemble to transcend familiar musical canons. With her elegant and delicate disposition, on stage Ezzeldin is at once humble and assertive, and she knows how to tenderly embrace the audience with her angelic timbre while establishing a strong presence with all kinds of magnetic qualities. Those qualities are equally attractive in Ezzeldin who warmly welcomed the fans queuing to talk to her or take a photo after the end of the concert.

Ezzeldin’s modesty is as remarkable as her talent and elegance: a potent combination. It will probably not be long before Ezzeldin becomes one of the most popular Egyptian singers of her generation. “I still have to work on myself,” she says. “I need to develop even more. I also hope to sing at the Cairo Opera House with my ensemble. Not only does the opera have a unique audience, it is also an important step for any Egyptian or Arab musician. And, who knows, maybe my dream to be heard by listeners beyond Egypt’s borders will come true.”

* A version of this article appears in print in the 20 July, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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