The Egyptian composer emulating musical legends to produce a sporting anthem

Hisham Kharma was tasked with creating a song dedicated to the World Fencing Championships in Cairo

Egyptian musician and composer Hisham Kharma. Photo: Hisham Kharma
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For a long time, music has helped sport seep into our mainstream culture, expanding its reach beyond its typical fan base and allowing it to resonate with all walks of life.

If you’re not an American football fan, you’re still likely to remember at least one halftime show from a previous Super Bowl.

You may not be able to name a specific medalist from a given Olympic Games, but probably recall watching Lionel Richie closing out the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles with an unforgettable performance of his song All Night Long.

Donning a pair of white trousers and a glittery blue cropped blazer, Richie jump-started his solo career – after leaving The Commodores – with a night at the LA Coliseum he will never forget.

Lionel Richie closes the 1984 Olympics

American singer Lionel Richie performing during the closing ceremony of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. S&G/PA Images

Some 92,000 spectators partied along to Richie’s hit song in the stadium and a reported 2.6 billion more tuned into the live telecast of the closing ceremony.

“That was it as far as a performing highlight. You can’t get any bigger than the whole world watching,” Richie, now 73, told ABC News two years ago of that iconic moment.

Some of the world’s most famous recording artists have performed theme songs specifically written for the Olympics.

Whitney Houston’s emotional ballad One Moment in Time – written by Albert Hammond and John Bettis – was created for the 1988 Seoul Games and became a chart-topping hit.

Celine Dion’s Power of the Dream – written and produced by David Foster, Linda Thompson, and Babyface – opened the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta.

“We can’t live anything grander than this,” Dion said in a French television interview at the time.

“We felt so much energy and magic in the air since I’ve arrived in Atlanta It’s magical. When you get through these kinds of emotions, it makes one so emotional it’s tough to describe it. I’m trying to enjoy every second. Being this close from the athletes is an unforgettable moment.”

Andrea Bocelli co-wrote Because we Believe (Ama Credi E Vai) with David Foster and his daughter Amy Foster for the closing ceremony of the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin. The Italian pop tenor performed the song at the Stadio Olimpico as 500 brides entered the arena wearing wedding dresses and carrying lighted lilies before the Olympic flame was extinguished.

The most iconic musical moment on a sporting stage in the Middle East and North Africa came courtesy of Egyptian pop star Amr Diab back in 1991, when he opened the All-Africa Games at Cairo International Stadium with a rendition of the song Africa (also known as Belhob Etgama’ana).

The scene of Diab making his way down the stadium steps and sprinting towards the centre of the pitch in his polka dot shirt and black pants is forever ingrained in the memory of millions of Egyptians and Africans.

Amr Diab performs Africa

Singing verses in English and French before switching to Arabic, Diab didn’t just launch his career into a new international dimension; he captured the attention of an entire continent, shedding light on the fifth edition of the All-Africa Games that saw 43 countries compete across 18 different sports in various venues in the Egyptian capital.

The song is still popular to this day, and Diab re-released it in 2019 in support of Egypt’s national football team ahead of their African Cup of Nations campaign.

While the rousing success of the song is difficult to replicate, its impact is something many sports event organisers have been striving to recreate over the years, most recently the team behind the World Fencing Championships hosted in Cairo earlier this month.

Staged in Egypt for just the second time, and first since 1949, the championships were organised by Presentation Sports, who commissioned acclaimed composer and producer Hisham Kharma to create a song dedicated to the occasion.

Kharma liked the idea of working on a song for a niche sport like fencing, and teamed up with Tasneem Elaidy and Mohamed El Shafei, who wrote the lyrics, to produce an anthem that showcased Egypt, the sport, and the athletes involved.

The result was the inspirational tune, Coming Home, featuring the velvety vocals of Youssef Gabriel and Elaidy, who recently performed in an advertisement for La Liga’s 2022/23 season official ball, the Puma Orbita.

Hisham Kharma and Tasneem Elaidy, the female vocalist on the song. Photo: Hisham Kharma

The music video of the song received hundreds of thousands of views on Facebook, and helped spread the word the event was actually taking place in Cairo.

“I really liked the idea particularly because it’s a fencing event. Usually these kind of projects here are attached to football; I liked that fencing is a bit niche for us as a market,” Kharma told The National.

“That really excited me. I liked the idea as a whole; fencing as a sport features a lot of young talent; the song gave us a chance to showcase Egypt while also focusing on youth.

“Beyond fencing, the song can be used to represent youth, and their dreams and ambitions, which are all prevalent themes in the song.”

Kharma wanted Coming Home to be modern, taking the shape of a pop song while still utilising traditional Egyptian instruments like the oud, to give the fusion effect he has become famous for in most of his work.

Writing a song for a sports event had its own set of challenges.

“I needed to make sure the lyrics were going with the melody while also keeping the visuals in mind,” Kharma explained.

“Visually, Egypt was going to be injected in some form in the music video, so it was important that during the process of them writing the lyrics, and me composing the melody, I had to bear in mind that certain words in the song would be accompanied by certain shots visually, be it a landmark or a drone shot.

“If there is a part of the song that would be visualised using fencing action shots or dramatic scenes, something that depicts the feeling and vibe of the sport, then I would make sure I’d leave a gap for music to accompany these shots so I can give the viewer the chance to connect with the sport itself and then we’d resume with the lyrics.

Celine Dion opens 1996 Olympics

Canadian singer Celine Dion singing at the opening celebrations of the Atlanta Olympics.   (Photo by Franck Seguin/Corbis/VCG via Getty Images)

“The time is tight but you have to fulfil multiple objectives; one is that you’re catering for a sports event, so the song has to inspire enthusiasm, which is reflected in the music by including epic and uplifting moments in the song.

“While also understanding there will be visuals and a video will be recorded so you have to think of the structure of the song, how it will start; in this case we started a bit quieter to go with the opening drone shot over a group of fencers approaching the Pyramids. Musically I had to build the song in a certain way, structure-wise.”

Kharma used the sound design of the sword during the transition of the song from English to Arabic lyrics, while Elaidy and El Shafei made some references to fencing terminology, which they learnt from researching the sport.

“This song got me closer to the fencing scene in Egypt. All the Egyptian fencers tagged me on social media when it was released, they were so happy with the song,” said Kharma.

“The fencing federation in Egypt were really moved by the song. At the launch itself, it was a big moment, because you’re conveying the efforts of everyone involved, from the athletes to the organisers to the fencing community as a whole; conveying that through the emotions of a song instead of just a highlights video or documentary, it really helped shed the spotlight on the event in a very nice way.”

While it was Kharma’s first foray into the sports world in that manner, it likely won’t be his last.

He enjoyed the process as a whole, and believes there is a strong crossover between music and sport.

“Music connects people and it’s a universal language, which is why I’m passionate about it, it allows me to reach people from all around the world,” said the Egyptian.

“It’s why I make sure I give weight to the music in all my albums because it can connect with anyone, beyond the lyrics; and I think sport is the same thing. So combining music with sport, two things that I consider to be universal languages, it gives me double the excitement.”

Updated: July 30, 2022, 6:28 AM
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