An interview with Lebanese artist Tania Saleh
Tania Saleh performing at the Cairo Jazz Club - Sarah Mourad for The Cairo Post

CAIRO: Lebanese singer and songwriter Tania Saleh performed three live concerts in Cairo last week at the Al-Genaina Theater and the Cairo Jazz Club, after a four-year absence from Egyptian stages. The Cairo Post sat down to talk with her about her upcoming album, previous collaborations, and inspiration.

“The difference between then and now is in the crowd itself, people were happier,” Saleh said, adding “I hope for the coming days to bring more peace and prosperity in Egypt.”

Saleh credited the lion’s share of her inspiration to Egyptian music, cinema, and dance, “With the exception of Fayrouz, The Rahbani Brothers, Sabah, Wadeei el-Safi, and some other Lebanese musicians.”

Saleh has released two solo studio albums and one live album, and is currently working on her third solo album, “Showayet Sowar,” for which she is depending primarily on crowd funding.

“Crowd funding is well-known all over the world, however it is not mainstream in the Arab world, as some don’t quite recognize or understand it” Saleh said, adding she recently reached her funding goal, and hopes to release the album in September or October.

Norwegian producer Erik Hillestad is co-producing the album. Saleh explained that Hillestad was interested in promoting a female singer, who is also a songwriter. “He is a musical producer after all, and he wanted to show a positive image for female artists in the Arab world, that they’re not all just sex bombs” she said.

“I refuse to be labeled and restricted to a certain kind of music style. I always want to innovate and experiment with music, from rock, to jazz, to Brazilian and oriental music,” she said.

“I’m glad I got to know him, as lack of a musical producer is an issue not just in the Arab world, but mainly in USA and Europe where musicians are treated as products rather than artists” she added.

Saleh’s album “Wehde” was a concept album, about a Lebanese girl in 1943, a few days before the Lebanese gained independence.

Her new album, which will include translations of her lyrics in English and Portuguese, in a nod to Brazilian musical influences, tells a story of a frustrated Arab woman who manages to hold on to love and peace in her heart.

“This album will not be about Lebanese politics. I have said everything I wanted to the past two albums, and everything’s still the same. Nothing has changed for 30 years” she said, adding that it’s about women and how they feel everywhere around the world: “about love, dreams, pain.”

“Women never take decisions of war or hold guns and rifles against human beings. They are forced to live their lives in acceptance to such disasters in their societies,” Saleh said, adding that a number of laws are biased against women: “In Lebanon, if a husband finds his wife with another man and kills her, he goes to jail for just 3 months. But if the same situation happens to a woman, she’s jailed for 25 years.”

Early years and film work

Saleh’s training was in fine arts, and worked in advertising as a creative for twenty years, during which time she met Lebanese director Nadine Labaki, who directed Saleh’s first music video in 2002 for the song “Bala Ma Nesameeh.”

Afterwards, Labaki asked Saleh to write the lyrics for the songs featured Labaki’s film “Caramel.” Then she wrote the lyrics for all the songs of Labaki’s second feature film, “Where Do We Go Now?”

Saleh said she found it “fascinating” to write songs for film, and how the lyrics of the song could reflect the storyline.

“In one of the songs ‘Kifou Hal Helou’, there’s a line ‘If I could, I would let him come down.’ In the film, the male protagonist was a wall painter -who is always standing on a chair-, and at the same time the female character was unable to reach him, emotionally,” Saleh said.

Stage and video

Saleh collaborated on two consecutive plays by well-known Lebanese music composer/songwriter/pianist and playwright Ziad el Rahbani: “Bikhsous el Karameh Wil Shaab el Anid” and “Lawla Foushat el Amal” between 1994 and 1996. She also recorded the vocals on two albums enjoying cult success: “Bema Enno” with the late singer Joseph Sakr and “Ila Assy,” a tribute to Assy Rahbany by Fayrouz.

“It was a magnificent experience and to this day, I am still friends with Ziad. I consult him in everything and take his opinion on every album I make. He has also introduced me to many musicians and gave me a lot of musical ideas” Saleh said, adding “He’s my guardian angel.”

Saleh’s last video clip of the song “Wehde” from her 2nd album entitled the same name, was made mainly with animation and graphics, and Saleh herself worked on the creative aspect of making the video.

“There is a false common assumption that animation is a kids’ thing, and I have always been in love with the world of animation.” she said.

Saleh pointed out that she wants to shoot two videos from her new album, but she still has not decided yet on how they would be shot. “There will definitely be a special, strong visual language, but not animation this time, to create something different” she said.

Saleh’s next step after concerts in Cairo include a concert in Al Narouj, Lebanon, where other artists like Dina el-Wadidi from Egypt and Rim Banna from Palestine will perform too. Following that, she will perform at Lebanon’s Baalbek Festival.

Recommend to friends

Leave a comment