Nahhas is a folklorist. Her songs belong to an age when stories were sung, and life’s traditions were carved in music.
Her name, too, has a story attached to it. Nahhas’ father, also a writer and a politician, named her after a poem by Abdal Basit Sufi in his collection “Awraq Khareefiyya” (Autumn Leaves). The Syrian poet dedicated a poem to a Nigerian by the name of Macadi (meaning “freedom”), whom he later followed her to Nigeria. “The story says he died there,” the singer told Daily News Egypt. “No one knows why.”
On Thursday evening at the Geneina Theater, her entry on stage was preceded by a brief solo on the nai flute. Her voice is smooth and sweet much like the notes of a flute.
Audiences were familiar with the folklore she presented and filled the deliberate silences between her lyrics, or sang along as per her request. The night also had tributes to Fairouz including “Ya Ba Lala” and “Bint El-Shalabiya (The Pretty Girl).”
Nahhass was encouraged by her father to take up pen and paper. “He wanted me to be a writer,” said the singer, “but it wasn’t my passion. I used actually to sing my poems in Arabic and sing my studies to memorize them.”
Despite her early penchant for singing, Nahhas believes she discovered her passion quite late. “I studied at the conservatory very late,” said the 33-year old, adding that her parents would have enrolled her at the conservatory sooner had they known she would be a musician.
Yet it was also amongst her father’s peers — many of whom were Iraqi artists and intellectuals — that Nahhass was first introduced to songs from the Iraqi folklore. These later formed the basis for her first album “Kan Ya Makan.” Produced at the start of the new millennium, the album was released in 2004.
Nahhass has also sung a few numbers to the country, including “Amman” and “Sourouh El-Ordoun.” Her song “Inti El-Shams” (You are the Sun) is a dedication to Amman after explosions that hit the city in November 2005.
“That moment we felt that we had safety that we didn’t appreciate until afterwards. We felt how it feels when someone steals something from you, like your safety.” The song was a gift to the city.
“Khilkhal is more Jordanian,” says the singer about her second album produced in Jordan, mainly with Jordanian songs.
“Haya Al-Haya,” a wedding song, was instinctively the first that came to mind when Nahhas decided to produce her album on Jordanian folklore.
“It talks about the bride and the groom; when the family gives away their girl at the end of the wedding they feel ‘Oh my God! She’s going.’ This feeling of giving her away but they don’t want to do this,” she told the Daily News.
At the concert she informed audiences that it was a song sung by the men at weddings. They would get so worked up by it, that it was easy to imagine them murdering the groom before letting him go away with the bride, she said to audience laughter.
Many of the folklore songs are shared among the “belad al-shaam” (Levantine countries), said the artist. “Mweil El-Hawa” is a folklore song also popular in Palestine. When Nahhass sang the first line, audiences picked up the second.
“We don’t have the same accent but we do understand their language and vocabularies, You may find a song in Iraq — it’s the same in Jordan but with a different melody. Or the same in Syria, with different vocabulary, but with the same melody.”
Nahhas’ most recent album “Juwah Al-Ihlam” was produced for children who do not have access to art and culture. Nahhas’ experience while working in Jordan with NGOs and associations, showed a dearth in children’s music.
“When I ask them to sing a song for me, [the children] sang songs that had nothing to do with them. They sing like stars on TV, they are like small women.” The audience was treated to a lullaby called “Hada Al-Amar” from her latest album.
Appropriately, the night ended with the sing-along notes of the Fairouz classic, “Sahar El-Layali”. (Staying Up All Night).
Originally published online on Daily News Egypt, August 29, 2010