In her second album, Kaleidoscope, Fatma Said presents an eclectic selection of songs which incorporate the spirit of dance and movement. We spoke to the multi-award-winning soprano about the many influences and musical experiences that inspired the album.
What made you choose the wonderful title for the album?
I thought “Kaleidoscope” would represent the album as I wanted. It gives me a lot of space to say everything I want to say on the album—it’s not too specific. A kaleidoscope is a device that has the same images when you look into it, but they take on a different kind of shape when you move it. The shape changes but the images themselves don’t change. That’s a nice reflection on what I am in this album. I am the kaleidoscope: I manage to adapt my voice to the different styles and to all the characters, trying to give them the different colours and stylistic nuances that they deserve. And yet my soul, my voice, my persona doesn’t really change.
In your previous album, El Nour, there was a focus on connecting different cultures through music. What was the connecting force in this album?
The common thread throughout was rhythm and movement, which is a huge passion of mine, and I was able to put so many things on this kaleidoscopic album because I had this one thing which unites all the music together. Here I could connect not only different cultures, but really different cultural dances. It was so nice to be able to bring together dances like the tarantella, the gavotte and all types of waltzes. And there was a big emphasis on tango because this is currently my biggest passion, so there are five different types of tango on the album.
Has dancing always been a part of your life, and how does it influence you as a singer?
Movement has always been part of my life. I’m not a professional dancer by any means, but it has been a hobby that has accompanied me all my life, since I was young. I was always a little kid who loved to dance, who loved to move. At school I used to do hip-hop and ballroom classes, learning many of the standards. I’m so happy I have all these basics, so that if I find myself on a dance floor, I’m able to move straight away. I discovered the world of Argentinian Tango at a much later stage, and ever since this dance has occupied my life. It has become the dance that I love the most and do the most.
And you even feature a tango quintet on the album.
I was so happy to meet the tango quintet, Quintento Ángel. They play in Milongas (Argentinian ballroom dance events), so they know about the dance and they have a really great spirit, a dance spirit. Of course they’re all classically trained musicians, and they’re great musicians, but the fact that they play while people are dancing meant a lot to me, because I wanted this kind of dance feel. I find it really important to know about the tango culture and the dance culture to play tango. There are a lot of tango players who don’t dance, or classical instrumentalists who play Piazzolla and they’ve never tried or even seen tango. I had sung tango before, but then when I danced the tango, everything made so much more sense.
How did you go about programming the repertoire and what was the inspiration behind these particular song choices?
As part of the kaleidoscope concept, I definitely wanted to bring together a lot of different things, and I realised that I didn’t want to limit myself to only an opera album or a classical album. For me there is good music and there is bad music, and this way of thinking opened up the possibility for a huge range of songs. I was not born into a musical family and, as a young person, I did not listen to a lot of classical music. I listened to The Phantom of the Opera, Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Dean Martin, Frank Sinatra, Sarah Vaughan. So I wanted to have those influences on the album as well, and I said, “why not, if my voice can do it and it’s something that I enjoy, then I don’t want to deprive myself of putting it on the album”. That was my way of telling the world that if you’re an opera singer, you don’t need to only have opera songs on an album.
How easy do you find it vocally to switch so readily between musical styles?
I think that because of my upbringing, which never made me feel that there is a big difference between styles, I’ve learnt how to easily make those changes. One thing has to be solid: the technique. You can’t compromise anything at all in your voice when you switch, so I think as long as I have a solid technique and I’m not hurting my voice, then things should be fine. I used to work with my classical music teacher on my Arabic repertoire and she’s German, so she had no idea what I was talking about, but she knows what a vowel is and what a consonant is, and she knows where the sound should be placed. This helped me so much.
Coming from a background which isn’t steeped in classical music tradition, and having still found your way to classical music at a young age, is it important to you to try to engage young people in classical music?
Definitely, and I’m always really happy when I have young people attending my concerts, but we can’t just expect young people to come to the concerts without us, the artists, also making an effort to attract them. I don’t think that presenting art song or opera in the same way we’ve been doing for the past fifty years will attract this generation. We have to do something different. We have to give them access and we have to find a medium that draws them in. I don’t think young people will necessarily fall in love with classical music just like that. There has to be an effort from both sides, and I have to make this effort by planning my programmes and marketing them smartly. How concert houses can attract young people is really something to be studied, because this is our future audience.
Is there also an educational value for you in bringing such a variety of music to people who wouldn’t necessarily experience it otherwise?
Now that I have a voice, through recording and singing publicly, I think I should use that to make people aware of music that is not familiar to them, exactly like I do in Egypt with opera. When I sing in Egypt, I sing mostly classical. It’s my way to introduce my people to something that they are unfamiliar with and show them how beautiful it is. It’s my responsibility as an artist to always present my audiences with choice, otherwise tastes just remain the same and don’t ever change.
And the delivery is always such a big factor there. That element of storytelling is evidently something that comes very naturally to you.
I think maybe it came through my love for chamber music and words. We always sing about stories. A song that lasts a minute and a half is a whole story, a whole life. I learnt that you only have a minute and a half to interpret the song in your own way and to take the listener on a journey. My responsibility is to make an audience member enter a concert as someone and to leave as someone else. I think this is our responsibility as artists. I can’t just have them come out the same person, so I have to think about ways to make that an experience and not just a performance.
Kaleidoscope is out on IDAGIO now.