Article by Sandra Sarkisian
Photographs by Rafic
Art directed by Khalid Abdel-Hadi
Make-up by Nada Al-Agha
Special thanks for T-shirt shop Mlabbas for lending My.Kali their storage area for the shoot.
Mmm … Alaa Wardi … an icon or a musical prodigy? What started as a simple cup of coffee to get to know the man behind the music became a deep dive into the history of Arabic pop culture.
Blogger Roba Al-Assi, one who has sung Ala’a Wardi’s praises so many times, reflected, “Can you believe the amount of Arabic pop culture posts that I’m posting these days? It can only mean one thing: the creative Arab class is finally rising!” Perhaps Ala’a’s great musical talent lessens his fans’ need to know about his everyday life, but he also prefers to live in “musicland.” He shared that, “I don’t feel people need to know my opinion regarding anything really, not that it’s important! And it bothers me: I’m a musician, why would you want to know my views on religion, or society or sexuality or even politics. The only thing I’m interested in talking about it is music, and that’s what I’m good in talking about.” He continues, “I believe in music, it’s a huge part of our lives, our daily lives, it helps our souls keep going for a bit longer when our minds and bodies give up.”
But what is music? Far before recording began, people created music using instruments and found objects, through drumming, singing, changing, etc. Music can summon some of the strongest emotions, sometimes more effectively than any other medium, and we are constantly surrounded by it: radio, television, film soundtracks, our steps, and even the vibrations of nature punctuate our everyday, from gym to coffee break to simply sitting.
Wardi echoed this sentiment, saying that “Music is a way we can tap into life power, and that’s why we feel music in our whole being. It moves us, stimulates our imagination, activates emotions, and surpasses language and cultural barriers. It lives on a primal level, one that we all can connect with.” The art and science of combining vocal or instrumental to create true beauty of form, harmony, expression is a skill, one that separates the famous and enduring from the mediocre and passing. Wardi takes the popular that prevails through generations, and spins it with excitement and a little goof into a entertaining music videos, some of which have claimed over 5 million viewers on YouTube. Success has not turned its head! Ala’a is one of Jordan’s most outstanding and unique talents, and we happily claim him as ours (with no disrespect to his Iranian heritage). This 25-year old of Iranian roots but raised in Saudi used his innate ability, spectacular voice, and luminous charm to prevailed from the underground scene into the spotlight. Wardi pleaded for a visa in one of his first YouTube hits, wanting out of Saudi, and ended up coming to Amman at the age of 18 to pursue his BA in Music at the University of Jordan, and then Sound Engineering at SAE.
From his first songs videos, viewers could see that he was a young man with lots of talent, who was unfortunately bored and unable to leave Saudi to allow himself to grow. In a song that reached over a quarter million viewers that sympathized with situation and recognized his guitar skill, Wardi sang, “Guys, save me. Guys get me a visa. Guys they’ve cut my hair!” His song, “Gerfan Bel-so3odia,” is hilarious in many ways, but also moving in its honest lamentation about Saudi and the rejections of his Canadian student visa. Rolling Stone (Middle East) quoted Wardi saying, “I was just expressing my personal experience at a certain time in my life where I was really feeling that way. A lot of people thought that it was about time someone said something about it, though it wasn’t my intention [to become a spokesman] at all. All I was trying to do was to send a message to my friends in Jordan in an ironic way.”
Now, Wardi is a prolific and well-known a capella artist, a technique that involves singing without instrumental accompaniment. to build a somewhat eccentric style. This is evident in his 2011 song, “Ma3gool,” which became an instant ‘Middle Eastern’ Youtube sensation, which received over a million hits. Wardi confessed that he wasn’t expecting his video to go viral when he uploaded it to Youtube, but that it proved to be his “last method of leaving the ‘underground music scene’ that he seemed to be stuck in everlastingly”.
After the success of his song “Ma3gool”, Ala’a continued creating music, Wardi produced produced almost a dozen songs as an independent artist. Regarding where he sees himself fitting into the Arabic music scene, however, he shared,“I see myself in several different elements of music. I like maintaining my own style as an artist – whether by playing cover songs for popular artists such as Nancy Ajram and Amr Diab or creating my own unique music and applying my style to anything I make.”
In addition to his accomplishments as an individual performer, Ala’a created the famous band, ‘Hayajan,’ which many declare to be “The Arab Coldplay.” The band has recorded dozens of songs and achieved great success, including Ween El-Kalam, and El-Hayah (live). T Additionally, they work with different artists, styles and influences, which Ala’a says has ultimately allowed d him to diversify his own work and collaborate with Hayajan’s band members.
Wardi had hard time posing for the camera during his cover shoot, and our creative director, Kali, eventually had let him off the hook when telling him, “there are 43 muscles in the face,” muscles that he uses so nicely in his videos… that Youtube appeal! The material he gave us in the My.Kali‘s cover shot seems to be his anti-pose! But, maybe it shows who Ala’a really is: someone far from iconic, far from goofy, and far from funny. “I don’t like people to meet me in person,” he says “they might be disappointed! Maybe they won’t like me, maybe I won’t be what they want me to be, therefore I’d rather be known only through Youtube.”
And that’s how he should remain, captivated in a time-capsule of the now, the age of the internet… eternally stuck in our memories, screens and the relative permanence of the world wide web.