Maryam Saleh: The Raw Voice of Revolution
By: Ahmad Zaatari
Published Sunday, May 13, 2012
The outspoken Egyptian singer comes back to Beirut to take part in the “Women in Threatened Societies” festival.
During the last few days of the curfew imposed on Egyptians in June 2011, fifteen people spent the evening in a small flat in central Cairo waiting for its 5am end.
High emotions, raised by the enormity of the situation outside, were diffused by listening to Sheikh Imam songs and emptying bottles, one after the other.
The group fell silent and Maryam, reclining, began to sing: “How long can one go on putting out one fire with another? O decorated ship, with thousands drowning inside you, I am bored with you now and I will find me another way. But all along the road, I will breathe in your soil as if it was part me.” (All Along the Road).
A year later, Maryam is releasing her first album, I Am Not Singing (produced by Eka3), at the Babel Theater in Beirut as part of the “Women in Threatened Societies” festival.
With this, the young artist will shed the heritage of Sheikh Imam which has shaped her reputation for the past five years.
She will be singing her own original songs, now fully developed in terms of music, expression, and even politics.
We find ourselves sat before a fully-matured artist, able both to salvage neglected heritage and escape the contemporary to explore the future.
Maryam has been fortunate in her choice of lyrics, written by Mido Zuhayr, Mustafa Ibrahim, and Omar Mustafa.
The subjects vary from frustration in its contemporary sense in Why Should You Commit? — a conversation with her fragile and weak country — and dealing with emigration in The Unruly Homeland.
The music of I Am Not Singing is deliberately noisy. The songs have been packaged in the style of Maryam’s primary obsession: psychedelic rock.
Because most of the songs are well known to audiences who have heard Maryam’s concerts in Cairo and Beirut, they had to be rearranged to sound fresh, and some also required some musical fine-tuning.
Tamer Abu Ghazaleh dealt with this challenge well (apart from The Unruly Homeland, which was arranged by Yaqoub Abu Ghosh), and he also produced the album.
Palestinian Abu Ghazaleh seems to have breathed new life into some of the songs, but he was not as successful with others.
Only two instruments (Shadi Al-Husseini on piano and Muhammad Darwish on guitar) accompany the young singer in All Along The Road.
Perhaps the best song on the album is Why Sing?, composed by Abu Ghazaleh. Here, Maryam’s voice is totally raw, delving into true psychedelia.
Maryam Saleh’s two concerts and the launch of I Am Not Singing: 8.30pm, May 15 - 16, Babel Theater.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.