By: Nizar Homsi
Dubai, February 1996

Also available in Arabic version

Warda al Jazairia is one of the greatest singers in the Arab world. She was born in Paris' Quartier Latin of an Algerian father, Mohammed Ftouki and a Lebanese mother. Her father owned a small hotel and restaurant. This he changed later into a night club for Arabic oriental music. Warda was the youngest of five children.

Ever since she was a little girl, Warda loved music. She used to sneak out of her room every night and hide in one of the corners for two or three hours to listen to the band while they were playing or rehearsing in her father's night club below and then she would sing for her self the next morning. In those days Warda was unable to write any Arabic, she always had to ask her older brother to write out all her Arabic songs in the Latin alphabet. From time to time Warda's father was tolerant enough to allow his daughter's brief appearance on a stage of his club at the request of a friend.

It was not long before the TAM TAM, her father's night club ( named after the three initials of the three Maghreb countries, Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco ) became the hottest place in Paris for Arab music and the meeting point for every Arab star and personality visiting the city.

Ahmad Tejani, a friend of Warda's father, was working for a famous record company, Pathè Marconi-EMI ( now EMI France ), which used to produce children's programs for North African Arabs in France on the Paris radio station. During one of his visits to the TAM TAM club he heard her singing and liked her voice so much that, shortly after, he presented her to the radio and she participated in the show with a song called " Song for the Mother ". Warda was just eleven years old.

Her father was comitted to supporting some of the political activities of the FLN ( the Front de Liberation National, an Algerian organisation fighting for the independence of Algeria ). Soon the French authorities learned of her father's political activities and, in 1956, the whole family was to be deported. By now her father was 60 and had nowhere to take his family. Algeria  ( which was then still a French colony ) was closed to him as he was wanted there. The whole family had nowhere to go but to Lebanon, the country of his spouse and Warda's mother.

The whole family lived in a small apartment in Al Hamra Street in Beirut. When Warda started singing in Tanyos, a famous night club in Aley, she was only 17 and her national songs were hardly the style for night clubs.  Warda al Jazaria became her new name as there was already another artist of the same name.

On one of the nights when she was performing an attentive listener and connoisseur was in the audience. The presence of this person was to have a profound influence on Warda's career. His name was Mohamed Abdul Wahab.

At the end of her performance he approached her and proposed that he compose for her, such a proposal she could not refuse. He was to become, throughout her career, her " godfather ". His extremely demanding, almost tyrannical, working methods would change her forever. For the " Oustaz " ( The Master ) the only price of glory was hard work and dedication, and this was a challenge for Warda for she had to learn how to write Arabic and to erase her Algerian accent.

Warda's greatest dream was to go to Cairo - the capital of Arab art - however at that time she knew nobody in the Egyptian capital. In 1959, in Syria, the great composer, Riad al Soumbati heard her performing a nationalistic song called " Koulouna Jamila " and was seduced by her voice. He decided to invite her to Cairo where he was to compose many songs for her among them " Loubat el Ayyam " and  " Nida el Dhamir ". In 1962 the Egyptian President, Gamal Abdel Nasser asked that she participate, as the representative of Algeria, in a song for the Arab world called  " Al Watan Al Akbar ". This song was composed by Mohamed Abdel Wahab and Warda had the chance to appear alongside other famous singers such as Abdel Halim Hafez, Sabah, Fayza Ahmed, Najat al Sagheera and Shadya.

By now Warda was becoming famous and she had the chance to evolve in an environment rich in talent like Oum Kalsoum, Farid el Atrache, Abdel Halim Hafez to mention but a few. Her " Parisian " elegance and the  " Andalous " connotations in her voice were much appreciated. Her style, which at the time differed from the then " required " rigid style for Arab performers, opened for her a new avenue. The film director Helmy Rafla heard Warda and put her forward for a major role in his film " Almaz Wa Abdu Al Hamoly ". For this film both Mohamed Abdel Wahab and Farid el Atrache were to compose her songs.

In 1962, Algeria became independant. In 1963, she flew there to marry a former high ranking officer in the National Liberation Army ( ALN ) she had met during her stay in Lebanon. Warda's career ceased and for a decade she became a housewife.

But in 1972, Houari Boumedienne, the President of Algeria, asked her to participate in the celebration of the 10th Aniversary of the Independence. That was the beginning of her comeback to the stage, and a painful divorce.

That same yearsaw her return to Egypt and she began working with the most famous composers of the time, Riad al Soumbati, Baligh Hamdi  ( whom she was later to marry and who was to compose so many of her successful songs during ten years ), Kamal al Tawel, Said Mekkawi and of course, the " Oustaz " Mohamed Abdel Wahab. and she returned too to the big screen with three films with actors Rochdy Abaza, Adel Adham, Youcef Chaaban and Hassan Youcef.

In recent years she has worked particularly closely with the composer Salah el Sharnoubi , the lyricist Omar Batiesha, the musician Tarek Akef and producer Mohsen Gaber, an association which led to three of her albums receiving the award of " Best Album of the Year " in 1991, 1992 and 1994. With more than 300 carefully chosen songs and with concerts booked all over the world, Warda, with her magical voice and superb talent, continues to carry her message around the globe.

The candle that Warda burns brings pleasure to millions. Those millions of fans, across the whole Arab world, always looked forward to her songss, either the long romantic love songs that carry her listeners into an atmosphere of dreams, or the lighter songs that make everyone want to get up and dance and be happy.

Warda al Jazairia - The Rose of Algeria - has always brought joy and pleasure, through her art and her voice, to her many fans and admirers across the Arab world and beyond. We hope she may long continue to do so. Her career lies in the tradition of the very greatest exponents of Arab song.

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