An Egyptian house painter was catapulted to nationwide fame over the past week when a video showing him singing a classic song was shared on social media, prompting one of the country’s top singers to launch an online search to find him.
In the now viral video, Ahmed Salem — a 32-year-old father of two who lives in Gharbia province, about 100 kilometres to the north of Cairo — can be seen singing as he paints the wall of a house.
He had previously posted a number of videos online showing him singing, and one of these, taken a year and a half ago, was discovered by Egyptian star Ramy Gamal.
After seeing the video, Gamal launched a national search campaign for Salem on social media, asking fans to track him down.
He was eventually discovered and the pair met in Cairo on Sunday, having made plans to record and release several new songs, Gamal said on Sunday.
Since his sudden rise to fame, Salem has been inundated with interview requests and his wife has taken over as his manager to help him handle his busy schedule.
Salem, who has been singing since age 8, told nightly talk show Al Tase’a that as a child, he developed a liking for the songs of Hakim, one of the progenitors of the popular shaabi genre.
Today, his favourite songs to sing are classics by some of the Middle East's most renowned vocalists, including Najat El Sagheera, Warda and Umm Kulthum.
In a post on Instagram, pop star Gamal said that he doesn’t see what he did as helping Salem reach fame, but rather as helping Egypt’s music scene not lose a voice as unique as his.
“Ahmed is an artist to a degree that I have not seen in my life. There are a lot of people saying, 'thank you' that 'you helped Ahmed'. But I did not help Ahmed. I helped myself as an artist, composer and singer,” Gamal said.
He also said that Egyptian music today, amid the rise of newer genres, is in dire need of voices such as Salem's that hearken back to what is seen as a golden age in Egypt’s musical tradition — what Gamal calls “real art”.
Salem is expected this week to make his first televised singing debut on Saheb El Saada, a popular talk show hosted by Isaad Younes.