Controversial Lebanese-Palestinian singer Fadl Shaker has made a comeback into the Arab pop world through a surprise new song released on May 8.
However, the career comeback is in danger of being scuppered due to the 49-year-old crooner being presently wanted by the Lebanese army.
After the release of the regal ballad Shab'an Min Al Tamtheel, which appeared on YouTube to promote the upcoming Egyptian Ramadan drama, Ladayna Iqwal Ukhra, the production company dropped the song from the series with a statement alluding to his legal problems in Lebanon.
The new ballad finds Shaker returning to the limelight after embracing a strictly conservative view of Islam six years ago that shunned popular music and landed him at odds with the Lebanese army.
After announcing his retirement, Shaker changed his name to Hajj Shaker and went on to pledge allegiance to Lebanese Sunni firebrand cleric Ahmed Al Assir.
His decision to take up arms with Al Assir's supporters in 2013 in clashes against the Lebanese army led to 18 soldiers dead and resulted in Shaker sentenced in-absentia to 15 years' imprisonment with hard labour.
Ever since, Shaker was spotted sporadically in events performing religiously inspired songs — also known as nasheeds — in Ain Al Hilweh, a Palestinian refugee camp which is located within a buffer zone not accessible to the Lebanese military.
Shaker’s latest song shrugs off any of the conservativeness of his latest material to embrace his radio friendly sound of old.
More significant was Shab'an Min Al Tamtheel was supposed to soundtrack the closing credits of Ladayna Iqwal Ukhra, which is to begin screening next week during the holy month of Ramadan on various regional channels.
In terms of exposure, Shaker couldn’t have asked for a better vehicle.
With Ramadan traditionally a period where families dine together at home, the guaranteed eyeballs during the evening hours provides a boon for broadcasters who often unleash their marquee dramas starring the region’s biggest actors with theme songs performed by musical counterparts.
With Ladayna Iqwal Ukhra starring the veteran Egyptian actress Youssra, Shaker's song significantly increased the hype surrounding the series and has already clocked over 400,000 streams since it landed on YouTube.
One can understand the reception as the song is in-line with his trademark style of sophisticated balladry; swooning strings sail over a brooding oud as Shaker’s smooth croon — now slightly dented with a few rasps from his cigar habit — sings of a “world that has enough lies, so what's the use of acting?”
From a career standpoint, Shab'an Min Al Tamtheel is the ideal comeback single. It has enough of the soul that earned Shaker the nickname of Malik Al Ihsas (The King of Emotions), with production modern enough not to make it a total throwback.
Unfortunately for Shaker, it has not been a smooth re-entry to the lime light.
Barely 48 hours has gone since the track’s release and the Cairo based production company, AG group, decided to remove the song from the series with a press release reiterating their support for Lebanon and its armed forces.
This was followed up by an interview, on May 9, with one of the series creators Medhat Al Adel on the Egyptian broadcaster Sada El Balad. He admitted “that we didn’t study the legal standpoint regarding Fadl Shaker in Lebanon. We basically made our decision from a purely artistic perspective".
As of yet there has been no official response from Shaker who has been funnelling news of his career through the social media account of his son and fellow singer Mohammed Shaker.
Born in the Lebanese city of Sidon, Shaker was discovered by the record label Stallions Company in 1997 and released three albums featuring compositions by renowned tunesmiths Salah El Sharnoby and Ahmed Sheta.
It was on the second album, 1999's Baya El Qolob, and its chart topping title track that cemented Shaker as the region's latest pop star and he went on to release more hits including the 2002 pan-Arab favourite Ya Ghayeb and El Maraya, in addition to performing international stages alongside pop star Mariah Carey and reggae great Jimmy Cliff.
His last album remains Baada Aal Bal, which was released in 2009 through the Dubai-based label Rotana Records.