Ibrahim Maalouf’s new album ‘Queen of Sheba’ is an ode to powerful women

Powerful women of the present and the past remain muses for Ibrahim Maalouf.

Having released acclaimed albums devoted to Arab songbirds – such as Egyptian singer Umm Kulthum (2015’s Kalthoum) and French-Italian pop star of Egyptian origin Dalida (2017’s Dalida by Ibrahim Maalouf) — the Lebanese-French trumpeter and composer evokes the drama and mystery of the Queen of Sheba.

The end result is a new collaborative album, named after the legendary figure, with revered Beninese singer Angelique Kidjo.

Maalouf says the challenge of working on the ambitious project with someone described as a queen of the global music genre was too good an opportunity to pass up.

“It was Angelique who approached me years ago and told me she wanted to work with me. It blew my mind because she is someone whose work I love so much,” did he declare. The Nationalspeaking at Jazzablanca Moroccan Festival.

“We agreed to collaborate at one point, but a few days later she messaged me saying we should work on the story of the Queen of Sheba, because she’s a figure that’s really on point. of encounter between the Middle East and the Arab countries, culture and Africa.

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A story for the ages

The story of the Queen of Sheba has been told in various forms across Jewish, Christian, and Muslim traditions.

It is also said in the Kebra Nagasta 14th century epic poem forming the story of the founding of Ethiopia.

All of the texts center on his encounter with King Solomon and present him with riddles designed to test his wisdom.

Maalouf and Kidjo are among a number of artists who have attempted to capture the spirit of this exchange through music.

German-British composer George Frideric Handel wrote the 1748 oratorio Solomonwhile the 1998 track Makeda (the name given to Saba in the Kebra Negast) was performed by the French RnB group Les Nubians.

Where they were singular pieces of music, Queen of Saba could be the first album devoted to the subject.

Each of the seven songs is inspired by a riddle posed to the king, with Kidjo providing the poetic lyrics in the West African Yoruba language and Maalouf in charge of the musical arrangements.

The project was originally conceived as a stage show and the success of a tour – with performances at New York’s prestigious Carnegie Hall and Austria’s Jazz a Vienne festival – convinced the duo to record the songs. in album form.

“It was the format of the show that inspired me because seven songs isn’t too many, so it allowed me to write longer songs,” says Kidjo.

“If you hear it all together, it sounds like a seven-part symphony.”

With a classical orchestra, jazzmen and African percussionists, Queen of Saba is a melting pot of styles.

The opener Ahan (The Tongue) begins with an almost royal beating of horns before shrill strings and percussion arrive with Kidjo, as Sheba, questioning the king’s patriarchal powers.

“Where does your strength come from?” she said “How much money do you have to pay?”

Watch Ibrahim Maalouf and Angelique Kidjo perform together in the video below

Omije (Tears) is a piano ballad in which Kidjo, supported by the sad trumpet of Maalouf, laments the destruction that pride has plagued civilizations. “King Solomon, today I am in darkness, I am like a little child of peace.”

Maalouf says the intensity of her performance comes from her studio approach.

“She sent me the lyrics to the music and I sang her parts on the demos and sent them back to her,” he says.

“She then recorded it in exactly the same way but better. Angelique wants things to be precise. She doesn’t really go with the flow. Things must already be very written, so I had to compose with her very specific to the mind.”

Voices to inspire

Maalouf is used to this way of working.

As Queen of Saba, At Maalouf’s Kalthoum and Dalida by Ibrahim Maalouf the albums also transcend mere homage with their level of research and detail.

Maalouf describes his other muse, Umm Kulthum, as an “iconic figure whose voice I have listened to the most since I was a child”.

Kulthum’s songs were some of the earliest plays music he was instructed to learn by his musician father, after fleeing to Paris as a child during the Lebanese civil war.

More inspiration comes from the women in his family, including his daughter, sisters, mother, aunt, and grandmother.

Maalouf’s grandmother, in particular, left him the guidance that fueled his eclectic career.

“She lived to be 19 and before she died I asked her if she thought she was an intelligent woman during her lifetime and her answer is something I will never forget. She looked at me and said ‘I just got used to it’.

“My grandmother is a woman who lived through three wars, lost a child and was a strong woman who adapted to everything around her.

“This is the strength of women in our society and I will continue to pass on this love and appreciation I have for them through my projects.”

Updated: July 03, 2022, 09:51

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