Category Archives: Artist Profiles

Artist Profiles: Maciré Sylla

Maciré Sylla
Maciré Sylla

Maciré Sylla is a singer from Guinea-Conakry. Her first album, “Mariama,” sold more than 250,000 copies in Africa alone, and won her the “Best Guinean singer of the year” award in 1998.

Maciré spent several years of her childhood with her grandparents in the countryside. Her grandmother taught her the old songs, providing her traditional roots and a musical legacy.

At a young age, she entered the Soleil d’Afrique ballet and after a few years, became a solo singer and dancer. She then joined the live line up of Fatala, the Guinean band that recorded for Peter Gabriel’s Real World label.

Discography:

Mariama (Djembé-Faré Productions, 1996)

Maya Irafama (COD Music AG TRACE 38802, 2000)

Sarefi (2004)

Massa (2005)

Talitha (2010)

website: http://www.maciresylla.com

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Artist Profiles: Les Espoirs de Coronthie

Les Espoirs de Coronthie is a group of Susu musicians and dancers from Guinea who perform music rooted in Manding traditions. They use musical instruments such as bala, kora, bolon, calabash and gongoma.

Les Espoirs de Coronthie was formed In Conakry in 1992 from the merger of two bands, Ambassadeurs and Éperons.

Band members included Bouba “Mangue” Camara on lead vocals; Aly “Sanso” Sylla onlead vocals; Sory Dondo “Machete” Touré on lead vocals; and Antoine Amigues on guitar, bass and vocals.

Discography:

Patriote (2002)
Dunuya Igiri (2005)
Tinkhinyi (Wountanara, 2008)
Fougou Fougou – The Wings of Sound (Chapter Two, 2013)

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Artist Profiles: Bembeya Jazz

Bembeya Jazz - Photo by René Goiffon
Bembeya Jazz – Photo by René Goiffon

Guinea’s Bembeya Jazz was formed in 1961, at a time and place when Afro-Cuban music resonated and possibly became the bridge between traditional music and modern instrumentation.

In the mid-’60s, Bembeya Jazz, which takes its name from the river that runs through their remote hometown of Beyla, was certified as a national band by Guinea’s first president Sekou Toure. The band moved to the capital, Conakry, where they performed as many as six nights each week and felt pressure to develop the hottest spine-tingling sounds. From this era emerged their signature four-guitar section, the introduction of Hawaiian slide guitar, and stunning stage performances.

Bembeya’s creative director Aboubacar Demba Camara was killed in a tragic car crash in 1973. The band was eventually able to re-group and right before the 1984 death of President Sekou Toure, he denationalized Bembeya (their first opportunity to operate internationally) and gave them their own nightclub.

But the 1980s saw a significant economic decline in Guinea and most of the band members had to look outside of the Guinean music scene for their primary livelihood. “The band was not broken up,” says lead guitarist Sekou ‘Diamond Fingers’ Diabate. “But in life, there are ups and downs, good moments and bad moments. So you wait. We were waiting.”

In 2003 Bembeya released its first recording in fourteen years. The band’s 2003 line-up included four members that hail from the group’s formative years, decades ago. Sekou ‘Diamond Fingers’ Diabate has not let up with his fiery guitar embellishments and entertaining stage antics. The high tenor voice of Salifou Kaba joins Dore Clement on tenor sax, Mohamed Kaba on trumpet, and Conde Mory Mangala on drums; all veterans of the dozen-member outfit.

In 2007 Bembeya Jazz appeared in the documentary film Sur les traces du Bembeya Jazz.

Partial Discography:

Sabu (Sonodisc, 1988)

Wà kélè (Sonodisc, 1989)

Regard sur le passé (Mélodie, 1990)

Telegramme/Yekeke (Best of) (Sonodisc, 1993)

Regard Sur Le Passe (Syliphone/Syllart, 1999)

10 Ans de Succes (Syliphone/Sylla, 1999)

Authenticite 73 / Parade Africaine (Syliphone/Syllart, 2000)

Bembeya Jazz (Guinea)

Hommage a Demba Camara (Syllart, 2000)

Defi & Continuite (Syliphone/Syllart, 2000)

Bembeya (Marabi, 2002)

The Syliphone Years: Hits and Rare Recordings (Sterns STCD3029-30, 2004)

African Classics: Bembeya Jazz (Sheer Sound, 2006)

The Syliphone years – Hits and rare recordings (Sterns STCD 3029-30, 2007)

Belle Epoque, Volume 1 (Syllart 986, 2011)

Volume 2 – Les années 80 (Syllart 987, 2012)

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Artist Profiles: African Virtuoses

Originally called Les Freres Diabate (The Diabate Brothers), the African Virtuoses were essentially a family band. But the Diabates were no ordinary family. For generations the Diabate clan has been esteemed in Guinea as the pre-eminent dynasty of string players.

At one time or another the African Virtuoses included four Diabate brothers playing acoustic guitars along with another guitarist or two, a kora player and one or two percussionists. Their style was rooted in traditional Mande music for stringed instruments but displayed their knowledge and love of Arabic taqasim, Spanish flamenco and even French jazz manouche.

The Classic Guinean Guitar Group is a compilation of recordings that Les Freres Diabate/African Virtuoses made in Conakry and Abidjan in the 1970s and 1980s. In the decades since, these recordings have earned an exalted reputation among guitar aficionados both for their musical excellence and for their rarity.

Discography:

The Classic Guinean Guitar Group (Sterns Africa STCD3024)

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Artist Profiles: Pa Bobo Jobarteh

Pa Bobo Jobarte
Pa Bobo Jobarte
The great Gambian singer and kora player Pa Bobo Jobarteh rose to international attention when he was invited to perform at the WOMAD (World Music Arts and Dance, launched by Peter Gabriel) Festival at the age of 14.

By the time he was 6, Pa Bobo was studying kora (the West African harp) with his father, Malamini Jobarteh, a renowned musician of the Mandinka people in Gambia. Like his father, Pa Bobo is a Jali born to a life of music. Jalis are hereditary musicians and poets who for centuries have performed music, preserved oral history, and served as advisors to Mandinka kings.

When his father retired, Pa Bobo took his place, writing songs and spreading his vision of a world of peace. He is known in his homeland as the “Prince of Kora,” and his song, “Gambia, Peace, Love and Unity,” is the country’s unofficial anthem. Pa Bobo has toured in Europe and the United States of America with his family band.

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Artists Profiles: Angélique Kidjo

Angélique Kidjo
Angélique Kidjo

Angélique Kidjo is one of the African singers with more attraction and performance power. The direct rhythms, strong, energetic, taken from the traditions of her homeland, Benin (Western Africa), are combined with the sounds of reggae, samba, funk, soul, gospel, zouk and many more.

On stage is where Kidjo shows her charisma. She is a great dancer. With her very short hair style, she is a real version of the “postmodern” African woman. In addition, she has the ability of communicating with her audience, a gift that is transmitted just as well live as on her CDs. “Even when I am singing alone in my own studio, I imagine that I am with my audience.”

Kidjo was born in Cotonou and was raised in Quidah, a small coastal city of Benin, a country that harbors numerous cultures. The main language of Benin is Fon, the language that Angélique uses more often when she sings, although she also sings in English, a language that she speaks with fluency, as well as French.

Angélique Kidjo
Angélique Kidjo

Kidjo comes from a family with nine siblings, who have an open mind about international music. Her mother, a choreographer and theatrical director, has had a profound influence in the life of Angélique, who used to act in her mother’s plays when she was a little girl.

Traditional music was not the only kind of music that the young Angelique used to listen to. Benin, in the 1970s was open to numerous styles: salsa, Zairean rumba, makossa from Cameroon, soul, funk, Gospel… even Arabic and Indian music was available. Her brother, a guitarist, introduced her to the sounds of Santana and they memorized his songs.

When she was still an adolescent, Kidjo began to tour Benin performing at local festivals and on the radio. She was one of the few female artists doing this. People in Benin didn’t look kindly to women who tried to make a professional living from singing. “It was so hard. I really had to fight.”

Miriam Makeba, the South African singer, was one of her main idols and Kidjo performed some of her songs, like the Swahili ballad Malaika.

Angélique Kidjo
Angélique Kidjo

She moved to Paris in 1983, where she found a melting pot of music. Some of the most famous West African musicians, such as Salif Keita and Manu Dibango, were also in Paris, either recording albums or living there. African musicians mixed with Caribbean, French and American musicians. The result was an explosion of hot rhythms and a crossed fertilization of world-beat styles that found an echo in the in the musical experience of Kidjo and created the most appropriate environment so that she could develop her own style.

Some call it afro-funk, they can call it whatever they want, but it is really difficult to classify my music within only one style. Even when I use my own traditional music I don’t try to recreate just only style but rather I mix it all.”

Kidjo took advantage of her stay in Paris to enroll in a jazz school. “There, I was taught many things, I improved my tone and I learned flexibility for my voice.” It was an important element for someone whose native language is Fon, which is tonic, with a soft oscillating musical profile.

Angélique joined a Dutch Afro-jazz group, Pili Pili, with which she recorded two albums. Together they participated at the Montreux Jazz Festival in 1987. That same year she met Jean Hebrail, a French bassist and composer, whom she married sometime later.

Parakou, her first internationally distributed album, featured Jasper van’t Hof, the leader of Pili Pili.

Logozo, recorded in Miami in 1991 and produced by Joe Galdo of Miami Sound Machine, featured Branford Marsalis on saxophone. Marsalis later performed on Kidjo’s album Oremi. The album features Kidjo singing duets with Cassandra Wilson (“Never Know”) and Kelly Price (“Open Your Eyes”).

Kidjo’s most ambitious album, Fifa (1996), featured more than 100 percussionists, flutists, cowbell and berimbau players, singers, and dancers from Benin and one track featuring Carlos Santana.

In 1998, she started a trilogy of albums, Oremi, Black Ivory Soul and Oyaya that explored the African roots of the music of the Americas. Oremi featured Cassandra Wilson, Branford Marsalis, Kelly Price and Kenny Kirkland.

During 2001, Kidjo started to work on the Black Ivory Soul album, drawing connections between Benin and music of Bahía, Brazil. “For the new album, I went to Brazil and wrote songs with Carlinhos Brown, and Vinicius Cantuaria, and I am covering a song by Gilberto Gil, which he wrote after traveling to Benin.” The album also features drummer Ahmir Thompson, from the Roots, and Romero Lumbambo, the Brazilian guitar master, along with African and Bahianese players. “The concept of the album is based on my research into truth and the idea of bringing people together through music.”

Kidjo won the 2008 Grammy Award for Best Contemporary World Music for her album Djin Djin, and in the same year received Benin’s Commander of National Order of Merit for loyal services to the nation. Kidjo dedicated her Grammy award to the “women of Darfur, the women who are fighting every day to give their kids an education.” On Djin Djin, Kidjo collabnotrated with guest stars including Alicia Keys, Peter Gabriel, Carlos Santana, Joss Stone, Ziggy Marley, Branford Marsalis and Josh Groban. The record was a return to Kidjo’s Beninese roots, capturing the most traditional rhythms from her country. It comprised material sung in her native languages as well as in English and French.

Since March 2009, Kidjo has been campaigning for “Africa for women’s rights”–a movement launched by The International Federation of Human Rights (FIDH). In September of 2009, UNICEF and Pampers launched the ‘Give the Gift of Life’ campaign to eradicate Tetanus and asked Kidjo to produce a song, “You Can Count On Me,” where each download of the song donated a vaccine to a mother or mother-to-be. She also campaigned for Oxfam at the Hong Kong WTO meeting for their Fair Trade Campaign, participated in the video for the ‘In My Name Campaign’ with Will I Am from The Black Eyed Peas, and was one of the LiveEarth Ambassadors for the 2010 ‘Run For Water’ events along with Jessica Biel and Pete Wentz.

Also in 2010, musician and philanthropist Peter Buffett and Kidjo teamed up to release “A Song For Everyone.” 100% of proceeds from the sale of the song benefited the Batonga Foundation, an organization founded by Angelique to advance education for girls in Africa.

Oyo, released in 2010, celebrates the music that shaped Kidjo’s artistic formation, including “Lakutshona Llanga,” a lullaby made famous by Kidjo’s hero, Miriam Makeba; Yoruban interpretations of Otis Redding’s “I’ve Got Dreams to Remember” and Santana’s “Samba Pa Ti;” a collaboration with Diane Reeves on “Monfe Ran E,” a tribute to the Aretha Franklin hit, “Baby I Love You;” and a take on James Brown’s “Cold Sweat.”

Oyo features a band of acclaimed musicians, including guitarist Lionel Loueke, Christian McBride on upright bass, Kendrick Scott on drums and Thiokho Diagne on percussion. Trumpeter Roy Hargove makes a memorable appearance on “Samba Pa Ti.”

Kidjo’s 2014 album Eve (429 Records) is named after Kidjo’s mother. Eve is a collection of songs dedicated to the power of African womanhood, mostly those women Angelique grew up with in her native Benin. The guests on the album include Dr. John, Rostamm Btmanglij (Vampire Weekend), the Kronos Quartet and the Orchestra Philharmonique du Luxumbourg, as well as guitarist Lionel Loueke, drummer Steve Jordan, bassist Christian McBride and Senegalese percussionist Magatte Sow.

Kidjo’s autobiography, Spirit Rising: My Life, My Music, came out in 2014 written with Rachel Wenrick, published by Harper Collins.

In 2015 Angelique Kidjo won her second “Best World Music Album” Grammy Award for her Eve album. That same year Kidjo released Sings, recorded with the Orchestre Philharmonique Du Luxembourg, conducted by Gast Waltzing. This project fused the classical music traditions of Europe and the rhythms of her native land. Kidjo recreated nine classic pieces from her 24 year discography and two new songs (“Otishe,” “Mamae”) from the sessions of her Eve album.

The guest artists on Sings include upright bassists Christian McBride and Massimo Biolcati; guitarists Lionel Loueke, Dominic James and David Laborier; Gast Waltzing on flugelhorn; several native Beninese singers, and Brazilian classical guitarist Romero Lubambo.

The orchestra brings different textures to my life and music,” said Kidjo about her symphonic collaboration. “Unlike in pop music, the orchestra doesn’t follow you, it leads and dares you to follow it. If you don’t do this successfully, the songs suffer and the communication is lost. But I love the challenge of doing new things. I never want to get too comfortable with what I’m doing, and I love my work too much to repeat myself.”

In addition to her music career, Kidjo has devoted much of her adult life to global charity work. She is a spokesperson for UNICEF and Oxfam, and created her own charity, Batonga, which aims to create a culture that values and supports the secondary education of girls in Africa.

Discography:

Pretty (1980)

Ewa Ka Djo (Let’s Dance) (1985)

Parakou (Open/Island Records, 1989)

Logozo (Mango Records 539 918, 1991)

Aye (Mango Records 539 934, 1993)

Fifa (Mango Records 531 039, 1996)

Oremi (Island/Mango 524 625 Records)

Keep on Moving: The Best of Angelique Kidjo (Columbia 85758, 2001)

Black Ivory Soul (Columbia 85799, 2002)

Oyaya! (Sony, 2004)

Djin Djin (2007)

Õÿö (Razor & Tie, 2010)

Spirit Rising, Live (2012)

Eve (429 Records, 2014)

Sings, with the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg (429 Records, 2015)

Videos

World Music Portraits: Angelique Kidjo (Shanachie)

Live From Guest Street: Angelique Kidjo & Friends (PBS, 2012)

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Artist Profiles: Roha Band

Roha Band

Roha Band is a very popular Ethiopian band that performs a mix of modern and traditional music.

Roha Band has produced over 250 recordings with various Ethiopian singers including Aster Aweke, Tilahun Gesesse, Mahmoud Ahmed, and Alemayehu Eshete. Over the past years, they have become a major influence on Ethiopian music.

Their album Roha Band Tour 1990 was recorded during their first North American tour and this album introduces singers Neway Debebe, Hamelmal Abate, and Berhane Haile.

Discography

* Roha Band Tour 1990 (AIT Records, 2000)

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Artist Profiles: Minase Hailu

Minase Hailu, guitarist, fled Ethiopia during the dictatorship of Mengistu Haile-Mariam. He now lives in Germany. His family, having its farms confiscated, paid a high price for supporting the opposition. A brother and nephew were killed, a sister tortured and jailed for four years. Minase spent six months in prison for taking part in a demonstration when he was 14. By then, he was playing the guitar and passionate about music.

Minase managed to leave Ethiopia with a grant to study in East Germany. As things got worse in Ethiopia, Minase crossed the border to West Berlin and requested asylum.

His guitar skills landed him a job in a music shop, and he played in various bands. Soon he was touring Europe with Ethiopia’s best artists. He does not forgive those who ”killed people just to stay in power”, but has decided to go forward and “make the best out of life”.

Discography:

Refugee Voices (UNHCR/Stern’s)

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Artist Profiles: Hakim

Hakim
Hakim

Recognized worldwide as a leader of the movement to popularize jeel, Hakim is an innovator who has revolutionized the genre of sha’bi. His music adds modern rhythms to a foundation of traditional sha’bi melodies, resulting in entirely new sounds. It is the music of the masses, evident by his ever-growing fan base throughout Europe, Australia, and the Middle East.

Lauded as a musical “trail blazer,” Hakim has sold an estimated six and a half million units throughout his career. Just as sha’bi is defined as the music of the people, Hakim is someone his audience can relate to, through songs that fuse traditional melodies with urban dance beats, and lyrics .that chronicle daily life through the rhythm of street slang.

A major figure in the international music scene, Hakim has played to sell-out crows in Europe, the Middle East, Australia, North America, and Africa. He has received numerous accolades including the award for Best North African Singer 2000 at Africa’s prestigious Kora Awards, and he was chosen to represent Egypt at 1994’s Festival des Allumees in Nantes, France.

In 1999, his rising popularity prompted France’s Blue Silver label to release “The Best of the Big Egyptian Star,” an album of hits that was met with acclaim from crowds of new European fans.

Hakim was born in Maghagha, in the province of Minya, Egypt. A devotee of sha’bi from the very beginning, he began singing at the age of eight. At fourteen he formed a band and started performing at local parties and school functions with the accompaniment of a tabla, a daf, and an accordion. The band played covers of classic sha’bi hits by Ahmed Adaweya, Mohamed El Ezabi, and Abdel Ghani Al Sayed. Soon they expanded, bringing in keyboards and drums and performing all over the Minya province.

Under academic pressure from his father, who, as the mayor of Maghagha, wanted his son to secure a professional future rather than follow his artistic proclivities, Hakim moved to Cairo to attend the prestigious University of El Azhar. Meanwhile he was meeting with other musicians at the cafes on Mohammed Ali Street (a centuries-old gathering spot for artists of all sorts) and his interest in renewing the sha’bi genre was cemented.

It was there on the bustling streets of Cairo that he received his musical training for the music of the streets. One of Hakim’s teachers was the famed street accordionist Ibrahim El Fayoumi, who helped him convey in his music the unadulterated spirit of the street.

Having completed his B.A. in Communications in 1983, Hakim returned to Maghagha with the intent to pursue music. He formed his own orchestra consisting of a blend of oriental instruments (tabla, daf, dohola, accordion, kawala, quarter-tone trumpets) and western instruments (drum set, bass guitar, keyboards). They set about performing all over Minya, and Hakim soon became the province’s most popular singer. Yet he still longed for the artistic atmosphere of the metropolis of Arabic music. So, following his passion and defying his father, Hakim moved to Cairo to devote himself fully to his music.

In 1989 Hakim met the highly-acclaimed producer Hamid El Shaeri and a great partnership was formed. Soon after, Hakim signed a contract with the record company Sonar Ltd / Slam Records and began recording his first album, with El Shaeri as his producer.

Response to the electronic-sha’bi mix of Nazra, released in 1991, was phenomenal, as the album hit the charts immediately and the first pressing of the cassette was sold out within a month. Hundreds of phone calls came in requesting Hakim to perform. Determined to get the word out about the album, he went to DJs and gave them copies of his tape – the first time any Egyptian artist handled his own publicity in this way.

In 1994, after the release of his second album, Nar, Hakim was chosen to represent Egypt at the Festival des Allumees in Nantes, France. Hakim, shrewdly viewing this as an opportunity to bring jeel music to a wider audience, popularized sha’bi as no other musician had, and became known as the “king of jeel”.

1996 saw Hakim receive a nomination for the esteemed Kora Award in the category of Best North African Singer. In the same year he released the album Efred, the first of many collaborative efforts between himself, lyricist Amal El Taer, and composer Essam Tawfik.

Although Hakim stopped doing covers in favor of performing original songs, he has only written a small portion of his songs. In the collaborative process, he offers general concepts, which are then developed further by El Taer and Tawfik.

With 1998’s Hakim Remix, he turned eight of his previously-released hits over to Britain’s Transglobal Underground, who then put their own spin on things. It was a daring move, as Hakim had to maintain the right balance between tradition and innovation. ”I don’t mind pushing towards the evolution but I do not want to lose the identity in the process,” he noted. Also released in 1998 was the album Hayel, a selection of traditional sha’bi and return to his musical roots.

Hakim’s experimental search for the perfect fusion of tradition with innovation is presented in his album, Yaho, which was released by Mondo Melodia / Ark 21 Records on December 5, 2000. Its original version is already a huge success in the Middle East, having sold over 1 million copies.

The U.S. version features four remixes by the acclaimed British group Transglobal Underground and two brand new songs including Yemin We Shemal by French producer Sodi and El Bi Hebeni El. It is a testament to Hakim’s sha’bi roots as well as a musical journey on an international level. In traditional sha’bi style, classical Middle Eastern instruments such as the oud and nay mingle with Hakim’s rich tenor vocals during the mawwal. Also keeping with sha’bi custom, Hakim’s lyrics, which are mostly about everyday life, are never syrupy or heavy, rather they are coy, light-hearted, and witty.

His most significant live album was recorded in the heart of Brooklyn New York, The Lion Roars, Live in America (Mondo Melodia/Ark 21, 2001), produced by Dawn Elder. Singing to audiences who typically didn’t understand a word of Arabic, he captivated them with his voice, and the traditional roots of his sha’bi music.
This release was also followed by the most significant tour in Hakim’s International career. Originally scheduled to start his first major American tour in September of 2001, along with fellow Algerian Artist Khaled, Hakim was shocked as the entire world watched on TV the devastation of the 911 events in the United States. He stood at the airport watching the news with his Egyptian orchestra all set to board a plane to New York on the eve of 911.

The tour was of canceled, but remarkably rescheduled a few months later. Hakim along with his entire Egyptian Orchestra believed it was vital to the healing of communities of all ethnic backgrounds in the United States to proceed with his tour of North America.

In 2004 and 2005 Hakim released two more albums Talakik (Ark21) and Kolo Yorkoss. Talakik featured two hit singles and won several Latin music awards. The first, Ajielbi, a duet with Olga Tañón, that topped the Latin and Arab music charts, followed by a second hit “ Salam” featured in the movie Vanity Fair , starring Reece Witherspoon.

Lela (2006) featured collaborations with James Brown and Stevie Wonder. In 2007 Hakim released “Tigi Tigi.” This was followed by “Ya Mazago” in 2011 that included the song “Kolena Wahed” which called for a unity of the peoples of the Arab world.

In 2014, Hakim was invited to write the lead song for the movie Halawet Rooh, starring the Middle East’s most popular actress Haifa Webhe. The movie was a success and the music video of the song reached millions of viewers:

Discography:

Nazra (Sonar Ltd / Slam Records, 1991)
Nar (1994)
Efred (1997)
remix (1998)
Hayel (1998)
Yaho (Mondo Melodia / Ark 21 Records, 2000)
The Lion Roars – Live in America (Mondo Melodia 850 043, 2001)
Talakik (Mondo Melodia, 2002)
Taminy Alek (2004)
El Youm Dol (2004)
Kolo Yoross (2005)
Lela (I.R.S. World, 2006)
Tigy Tigy (2007)
Ya Mazago (2011)

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Artist Profiles: Fatma Zidan

Fatma Zidan
Fatma Zidan

Denmark-based Egyptian singer Fatma Zidan was the winner of the Danish World Awards in 2008 and 2010. Although she trained as a classical harp player, she changed her career to become a vocalist.

Fatma Zidan was educated at the Giza Conservatory and the Zamalek school of Music. She has released two albums under her own name produced by some of the most famous musicians and composers from Egypt and the Gulf area. Her most recent album is Hawel – Try.

Discography

Aya haeman (Passionate Love)
Ella Elzaal (Accept Sadness)
Hawel – Try (2010)

website: www.fatmazidan.com

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