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Middle East Samira Said - winner in the Middle East category

Samira Said (Egypt)

Winner in the Middle East category

Song : Youm Wara Youm (with Cheb Mami)
Album : Youm Wara Youm (EMI, Arabia)

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More on BBCi : Album review

Before "world music" began to attract significant audiences in the 1980s, Moroccan music was one of the rare ethnic music forms occasionally attracting Western listeners. Partly this was proximity – cultural exchange across the Strait Of Gibraltar has gone on for centuries. And the attention that doomed Rolling Stone Brian Jones drew to the Master Musicians Of Jajouka, stamped Moroccan trance music with a very hip cachet.

Since then Moroccan music has continued to enjoy a high profile – not just Berber trance music; its classical Andalus schools produce formidable string orchestras, chaabi ("popular") artists make Arabic pop and the gnawa music of Morocco's black citizens has provided many of rai's roots.

Samira Said is a Moroccan vocalist who manages to blend the best qualities of Moroccan music into a contemporary Arabic sound that has made her a huge star. Growing up in Rabat, Samira began singing at an early age. In addition to being gifted with a beautiful voice she loved performing and began entering TV talent contests – shades of the UK's Pop Idol? An appearance on the programme MawAheb found the Moroccan public falling for the little girl with the big voice.

Samira quickly became one of the nation's favourite singers but her ambitions went beyond Morocco. In the early 1980s she took the advice of Abdul Halim Hafedh to move to Egypt and expand her career. There she recorded a song Al Hob Elli Ana Aichah, composed by Mohamad Sultan, and went on to recording with big names in the music scene in Egypt.

By 1983, Samira was well known in Egypt and was soon having songs written for her by leading Egyptian songwriters. She proved her vocal artistry by being able to record classical Arabic songs in the manner of Oum Kaltsoum while also drawing on elements of rai, jazz and Western pop. Her latest album Youm Wara Youm takes chances - forests of strings sweep over a dance beat, a DJ's scratching lends a ragged rhythm to gutteral Arabic wailing - while Samira's voice coils and rises with considerable emotional power.

All this and Samira's striking looks (pale skin, dark eyes and a lush mane of black hair) have made her hugely popular throughout the Arabic speaking world. While still largely unknown in the West, Samira's epic live performances and powerful recordings are definitely worth seeking out.

Garth Cartwright (2002)

A Tough Call in the Middle East: read on







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