One of the biggest surprises in the Arabic entertainment industry in recent years was Ramy Ayach’s acting debut.
The much-loved Lebanese crooner had audiences riveted in his role in the Lebanese historical television drama Amir El Leil (The Prince of the Night) in 2016.
Ayach was revelatory in his multi-layered performance as Prince Omar Chebab, a broody and ambitious royal living in the dying days of Lebanon under French rule.
While Ayach is grateful for the critical acclaim and plaudits, including the prestigious Best Male Actor gong at the 2017 Murex d'Or awards, he admits it will be a while before you see him on the small screen again.
“I am still recovering from the whole experience,” Ayach says before his performance at Morocco’s Mawazine festival on June 27.
“We shot over 70 episodes for that series. For the 17 months that we did the show, I can tell you that every day I had to take an afternoon nap and I rarely saw my family. The whole affair was so physically and mentally exhausting. I always did, but I have now an even bigger respect for actors.”
Then again, Ayach never did things the easy way. While his pensive acting performance is a far cry from his smooth on-stage persona, his creative process has always been laced with a certain intensity.
It is for this reason he achieved rare standing in the popular Arabic music scene, a longevity borne on the back of a sound he can call his own.
From Gebran to Nass Wa Nass, Ayach's compositions may follow an established pop format, but they only act as contours for his undulating melodies that celebrate the Arab world's great maqam (musical modes) tradition.
His latest album, Qesset Hob (A Love Story), powered by the minor hits Bill Afrah and Baakline, only further cements Ayach's standing as an artist in his own right. His singles may occasionally appear in the charts, but his fanbase is dedicated and growing steadily.
Such fans include his colleagues, with fellow Lebanese singer Melhem Zain recruiting Ayach to contribute his songwriting skills to Zain's upcoming projects.
“The fact that more people are interested in what I am doing when it comes to my songwriting is really satisfying,” Ayach says.
“You will hear more of my work in the future with other artists. It shows, perhaps, that people do want to develop further and try different styles. The compositions that I am doing are not easy and heavier than most, and they take me a while to get them done.”
One collaboration that Ayach is particularly pleased about is with Fifi Abdou.
The Egyptian actress and dancer, 66, is considered a giant of the Arab music industry for both her formidable belly-dancing performances in the 1970s and 1980s, and her brash roles in various television dramas such as 2006's Souq El Khudar (The Green Market).
Ayach couldn't help but ask his childhood hero, Abdou, if she wanted to be involved in the video for his latest single Sakaker El Sokar.
Released earlier this month, the folk-pop tune – sung in the Egyptian dialect – has Abdou deliver what Ayash describes as a "new kind of dance performance".
“She just came to the video shoot and she did something that we didn’t see before,” he recalls.
“She has always been elegant in what she does but there in the clip she showed this exquisite classiness. Her appearance in the video not only made it better but it benefited the other dancers who got to meet this legend.”
As expected, the track became a hit in Egypt – a long-time key market for Ayach – and the singer recently completed an expansive tour of the country, in which he visited most major cities and municipalities.
With Ayach performing regularly in the country across the past decade, he doesn’t buy into the much-discussed industry notion that the Egyptian concert scene has lagged due to deteriorating security conditions post-revolution.
“This is my own personal opinion, and that is nothing has changed for me in Egypt. When it comes to Egypt, I stand by it. Whether it is up, down or stable, I will always stand beside it and contribute in whatever way I can,” he says
“That is because every Arab country goes through its challenges, and it is my duty to stand by the people who gave me a living and that allowed me to raise my family. That, to me, is the duty of the artist.”