By Jamal Laoudi
By Jamal Laoudi
Morocco World News
Washington D.C, April 11, 2012
Anashid to Islam is what Gospel music is to Christianity. Nashid is its singular form. Outside of the Muslim world, not much is known about this kind of music. Abdessalam AlHassani is a Monshid (equivalent of a Gospel singer) with a vast fan base throughout the Muslim world. I sat down with him during his recent visit to the US to find out more about him and his work. I was surprised by some findings during our conversation such as that Samira Said, a major player in Arabic music, has been after him for a while now. Here is our conversation for details on that among many other topics.
Who’s Abdessalam Alhassani?
Abdessalam AlHassani is a Moroccan national born and raised in Casablanca. I hold a degree in Biology from Hassan 2 University. With respect to my career, I started out in Morocco where I released my very first album entitled “YaYuma” (Oh Mother). I was fortunate enough to represent Morocco in a festival in Egypt alongside the late Rajaa Belemlih and Youness Migri, after which I was talked into staying put.
What kind of music influenced you early on in your life?
I grew up with Middle Eastern music which I really enjoy. My dad played Um Kaltoum, Fairouz, Mohamed Abdelwahab, and the likes quite a bit. I grew very fond of this kind of music overtime.
You went from singing alls genre of Arabic music to specializing in Anashid. What prompted that? Who talked you into staying in Egypt?
Becoming Monshid is something I never planned. As I stated earlier, I took part in a music festival in Egypt that attracted the who’s who in the world of Arab music. Fortunately for me, my performances received very positive reviews. That combined with the fact that at 22, I was the youngest participant in the festival made for a good story that the media jumped on. Consequently, I was approached by Kamal Taweel and Hilmi Bakr, two renowned composers in Egypt, who insisted that I remain in Egypt to pursue and further my career. They said that given the potential that I have, I could go far and Egypt is the place to achieve that. The rest is history.
Initially, I was hired by Egypt TV and Radio as a singer. After a while, I started negotiating with record companies for a pop album. I come from an ultraconservative family so my folks were opposed this move. My grandfather was quite a reputed man of religion so I understood their stance; a family reputation was on the line. In the process of negotiating with record labels, I noticed that the more I found out about the field and its workings the less attracted to it I became.
Faced this dilemma, I prayed and prayed to God to show me the way. Then I had a vision that spelled it all out for me, and forgive me for not going into the details about this. I understand this sounds cliché but it is what it.
What is the extent of your involvement in your albums? Do you write your own lyrics for instance? Is all your material new or do you research past works?
It is important that I link material from the past with that of the present since each has its audience. Furthermore, I try to serve as a bridge between the old school and the current. That is partly why my albums contain songs with historical text and others with completely new lyrics that I either write myself or have professionals do that for me. On this specific topic, I find that text written is simple common words works better because it is easy for the listeners to understand and remember.
Let me add one point and that is I don’t shy away from evolving my work as I don’t consider myself a traditionalist or purely old school. As a result of that, my work is sometimes criticized. For instance, some have taken issue with my work because some of my songs have a happy and festive feel to them. My response to my critics has been consistent. We all know we use chants to get close to God or as a form of prayer. There is nothing that precludes us from being happy during prayer. Why can’t we express joy when praying to God? Why do we have to be so serious?
What is the Story between you and Samira Saeed?
Early on, I started out as a composer. In 1994, I won the award for Best Composer in the music competition program Angham. Later, I composed song for Janat called “mhabtak ya oumi ghayth”. Furthermore, I had done a song for the late “Rajaa Bellemlih” but she passed before we could do finish it. As for Samira Saeed, she is a good friend whom I had promise to write two songs for in the past. Whenever she sees me she reminds me that she is still waiting for her two sings. Remember that I have given up doing anything not related to Anas
heed, so I always respond to her by saying that I would be more than happy to do two songs or even more, but they need to fall under the Nashid category. As for the songs you hear in my albums, I composed most myself; some I even produced.
What is it nature of your visit to the US? What do you hope to take from this trip?
There are some charitable organizations such as AlHoda who organize fundraisers. They extended an invitation to me to partake and assist in these efforts by performing and I agreed though I was not given much notice so to speak. I saw it also as an opportunity to meet my fans here especially the Moroccan-American community.
To address your second question, Prophet Mohamed PBUH said, “Travel does body and soul good”. I am extremely happy with how I have been received and it pleases me to see many preserve their culture and heritage. Some even more than many in Morocco. It is even more heartwarming to see kids born and raised in the US chant my songs as I perform. Honestly, I did not expect any of that given how far the USA is compared to Europe. So discovery is what I am taking back with me. I am very happy I took this trip.
You are far more reputed in Egypt than in Morocco. Do you agree? What are your activities like in Morocco?
It is true in a sense that my name is far more recognizable in countries like Egypt, Indonesia, and Malaysia than my homeland. Morocco is a very interesting case. Many are familiar with my work but don’t know the artist. For instance, I have heard many of my work as ringtones. I’ll share a true story with you. I was at a mosque once where I was talking to somebody when his phone rang. Long and behold, the ringtone is of one my songs. He said nothing and neither did I. Later, I found out that my songs “Nassim” and “SalmoAlaykum” are two popular ringtones.
As for Moroccan media, I think I am partly to blame and I should do more.
I understand that you are a well traveled artist. That being said, what country you have not been to you like to perform in?
Recently I have received invitations to go to South Africa and Australia. But honestly, my songs are religious chants praising the prophet peace be upon him (PBUH.) My dream is to do so in the North Pole.
The North Pole?
Yes, that is one end of the world geographically speaking and I hope one day I get to go there and sing.
What kind of music does Abdessalam listen in general?
I think this may surprise you but I do listen to all types of music. I enjoy Sami Youssef, a fellow Monshid and a brother, Celine Dion who has an incredible voice, Mariah Carry, the late Whitney Houston, Pavarotti, various Symphony Orchestras, Mohamed Abdelwahab, Um Kaltoum among others. From Morocco, I listen to AbdelWahab Doukali, AbdelHadi BelKkhiyat and the likes. The only genre I am not big on is what is known in Morocco as Shikhat. That being said, I am aware of the importance of their lyrics during the colonization when they were used to transmit message between resistance movements. I should add that some of the early work is indeed quite impressive.
Which of your songs you hold dearest and why?
That’s a tough one. I think that to an artist, songs are like his kids or fingers. You like them all and it is difficult to discriminate between them. That being said, the more successful songs tend to get preferential treatment if you will. But success is not necessarily the only criterion. I my case, I favor my songs “Nassim” and “Talama Ashkoro Gharami” because they have played a role in bringing people closer to God. I know of a lady in the Gulf from Philippines who credits the track “Talama” for finally convincing her to convert to Islam.
Thank you Abdessalam. It was a pleasure. Last words:
Thank you Jamal for having me and I very much enjoyed our conversation as well. I hope that this is the beginning of my involvement in events in the US. I hope to become an exemplary ambassador of Islam so that the messages of understanding, tolerance, peace and love reign.
Interview and translation by Jamal Laoudi
Jamal Laoudi is a Moroccan national. He received a Bachelor’s of Science in Computer Science and a Bachelor’s of Art in Economics. He is employed with the Adelphi Research Laboratory and serves as an independent consultant in Computational Linguistics. He contributes to various news and community portals including Aljazeeratalk.net, Moroccoworldnews.com, and wafin.com.
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