The classic sounds of Abdel Halim Hafiz will receive a new twist in a weekend concert at Dubai Opera.
In a Saturday night show dubbed as a tribute to the late Egyptian crooner, the London-based Harfoosh Jazz Band will perform songs from the late singer's expansive repertoire, albeit with new arrangements and added Latin twist.
Purists may howl at the prospect, but band leader and vocalist Ahmed Harfoosh says the new song formats are in line with Hafez’s adventurist spirit.
“That is the interesting thing of the whole project for me,” says the Egyptian. “For this show I spent time doing research on Hafez and looking for songs of his to ‘jazz-fy’ and I realised that a lot of his songs were already western sounding. So it wasn’t as difficult as I thought, and that’s because Hafez worked with different composers.”
For Harfoosh, his attachment to Hafez – who passed away in 1977 - stems from his childhood, with classics such as Ahwak and Ya Alby Ya Khaly wafting out of the speakers of the family home in Cairo.
Harfoosh, whose father was a diplomat, spent his pre-teen years in the US before returning to Cairo for high-school. After making his name as a young vocal jazz talent and concert producer, Harfoosh moved to London four years ago to further his music career.
Due to the bigger pool of jazz talent on display, Harfoosh decided to ditch the US jazz standards he was covering and reacquaint himself with his mother tongue with the Egyptian Jazz Project.
Created nearly three years ago, the group plays jazz versions of singers hailing from Egypt's musical golden era such as Hafez, Mohammed Abdel Wahab, Umm Kulthum and Farid Al Atrash.
The new approach worked; Harfoosh explains that he immediately achieved a new found connection with the audience.
“It is definitely more emotional for me and the crowd” he says.
“For a lot of people in the audience, the show brought back memories and this great sense of nostalgia, which I also feel because I do think of my home and parents when I sing these songs as well.”
To celebrate Hafez’s 50th anniversary of his historic performance at London’s Royal Albert Hall, Al Harfoosh formed a new band and performed a special performance of Hafez classics at the iconic venue. The success of the concert convinced him to take the show and the Harfoosh Jazz Band on the road.
Yet singing these songs each night is no easy feat. Referred to as Al-Andaleeb Al-Asmar (The Black Nightingale), Hafez's appeal lies in his subtlety.
Where his peers expressed themselves in vocal dexterity, Hafez kept it cool with songs such as Sawah and Ganna El Hawa exhibiting a croon both glacial and passionate. That expert minimalism, Harfoosh states, was not easy to emulate.
“He was less operatic and more laidback,” he says. “But there is a beautiful sophistication to his singing style. At the time, he showed us that you don’t have to overdo things. It is that subtlety that made him stand out. And because of that people paid attention to the songs. He had more hits than anyone in that time because he knew the importance of having a great melody.”
Judging by the packed audiences of Arab residents in recent shows across Europe, Harfoosh says the songs elicit a different reaction depending on the age group.
“It is a generational thing perhaps,” he says. “When it comes to the younger crowd there is an excitement that they are hearing the songs that they heard from their childhood. But for an older crowd who came from Hafez’s time it is more emotional. There are a lot of tears and pride. It is really powerful.”
Abdul Halim Hafez Tribute is on Saturday at 8 pm at Dubai Opera. Tickets begin from Dh195 at dubaiopera.com
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