Oumeima’s Make-Over, A CD Review

Sami Asmar

Over a decade ago, popular Lebanese singer-composer Marcel Khalife introduced to his audiences a young talented singer by the name of Oumeima al-Khalil who accompanied his ensemble in solo performances and quickly attracted the attention of the art community.  During that period, Oumeima appeared as the shy performer who did not seek the public exposure typically adored by rising celebrities.  She seemed to have only one Fairuzesque pose in all her pictures, fighting a smile and looking towards the floor.  Oumeima’s timid personality seemed to match the persona of her mentor, for Marcel himself is a serious artist who vigorously fought the image of an entertainer. His fans love him as the brilliant yet humble performer who addresses their causes and expresses their feelings.

Oumeima beautifully sang Marcel’s compositions and classical works such as muwashahat as well as and songs for the late Sayyid Darwish, known as the father of modern Arab music and probably the only popular singer approved by Khalife.

After being away from the spotlight for several years, at least internationally, Oumeima recently released a new CD (produced by The Talkies and available through SIDI), called OUMEIMA, which reveals a different artist from the one the public has known.  In it, Oumeima breaks away from the old image, sporting a different hairstyle and posing barefoot in a several sharply colorful pictures in the CD booklet.

Click on picture to hear sample from musicoflebanon.com

Imagery aside, the music is even a bigger break from past works. It is electronic music by keyboard player Hani Siblini who had produced advertising jingles and scores for television documentaries.  Although the credits list a dozen renowned musicians playing classical instruments such as the nay (Samir Siblini), qanun (Iman Homsi) and buzuq (Paul Salem), their sounds are dominated by the synthesizer.

In addition to the new songs there is one sanctioned Khalife song (Asfour), one folk song (Bo’d Illi Bahibu), one Sayyid Darwish song (Zourouni), and one Asmahan song (Ya Habibi Ta’ala), all re-worked through Siblini’s synthesizer.

Although purists would shudder at the thought of the techno style of this CD, it is surprisingly enjoyable because Oumeima’s voice is mesmerizing.  Instead of competing with the dominant instrument, she works with it assertively and creatively resulting in pleasant energy. Perhaps her future albums would find a middle ground that features her vocal talent while giving acoustic instruments a fighting chance.  If viewed as an attempt to modernize Arab music, this work is acceptable out of respect to all arts even while disagreeing with the premise.  More positively, if viewed as tasteful creativity of a gifted artist, OUMEIMA passes with flying colors, barefoot and all.

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