Siren of Song Sherine, Shares insight into her life, her love and her career
By Francesca Sullivan & Shorouk Abbas
From her humble beginnings through the ups and downs of her recording career, from her pop debut aged just twenty to celebrity icon and high profile mother of two, Sherine Ahmed Abdel Wahab has come a long way in her thirty four years. Arguably the top female vocal artist in the Arab world today, she has reached lofty heights in every sense.
The image promoting her latest album looks down from giant billboards all over town, and she herself is ensconced in a hilltop residence in West Cairo, the city literally spread at her feet. That new poster image is an eye-catching one, carefully developed by a team comprised of an artistic consultant, photographer and stylist. In it she has visibly matured to a sexy, stylish woman completely comfortable in her own skin, who radiates simplicity and freshness.
Not surprising then that she ushers us into the apartment herself, clad in a plain black sleeveless shift, her smooth complexion devoid of make-up. “In my private life I never wear any cosmetics,” she declares, “That’s for my stage persona only.”
We sink into a pristine white sofa decorated in comfortable cushions, as she describes her move from her previous home in Maadi to her current residence. Why West Cairo? “My husband was living here and I used to come and visit him before were married. I loved the quietness of it, the fact it was so clean and far away from the noise and chaos of the streets.”
Sherine has taken pleasure in decorating the apartment herself, “If I hadn’t become a singer I would have loved to study interior design” she says, and although her cook is present she herself is supervising the preparation of kosheri in the open plan kitchen.
Nowadays, she herself is a judge on The Voice, helping discover other talents. Each week during the series, alongside superstars Kazem El Seher, Assy El Halani and Saber Robaie; she prepares to swing her chair round to see a promising singer in the flesh, “They really are kept strictly away from us until that moment,” she assures any cynical viewer.
So what do contestants on the show need to have to make it to the final? “Charisma, intelligence, originality – their voice needs to add something new – and the ability to take advice,” she says. “It’s a tough business to get into, and any new singer must be prepared to expect set-backs and difficult times. We all get depressed sometimes; it’s important to keep your strength no matter what. To succeed you’ve got to be ambitious, hungry for fame and prepared to work hard for it.”
Acting ability might also be an advantage. When asked which of the songs in her career has meant the most to her Sherine replies: “Garha Tani, because it happened to coincide with real things that were happening in my life at the time. But that doesn’t mean I have to use real feelings every time I sing. It’s a performance.”
Her regular spot on the show is testament to her own ability and ease in front of the camera. “The role as a judge on The Voice requires a relaxed personality and being able to come across as very natural,” she suggests. “And by the way, the outcome of the competition is not always what I’m expecting. Last season for example two of the contestants I predicted would win didn’t, and the finalist was a surprise even to me.”
Sherine’s own career continues to go from strength to strength. Yasser Khalil, her image consultant, says of her ‘new look’ in the latest publicity campaign, “Sherine can truly sing in any style, and in presenting her new album we wanted a look that typifies the music itself. It’s commercial, but within it she retains that ability to sing heavy melodies; real tarab. The photos for the campaign were shot in London by fashion photographer Dan Kennedy. We shot nine different outfits in total and picked that image for the poster. It was an important choice since Sherine is the most high profile singer in Egypt – and perhaps the whole Middle East – right now.”
“My own personal ambition has no ceiling,” says Sherine. “There are so many things I’d like to do. Make more movies, for example, but with better control over the production. I’d like to sing in another language, do a duet with Samira Saeed, who was always an idol of mine. I have a dream to produce a stage show of My Fair Lady (Sayedeti Gamila) with actor Mohamed Sobhi. If I had the time I’d love to design my own fashion label. And I’d love to do a TV show for kids.”
Sherine is herself a mother of two small daughters, Hana and Maryam. She juggles a busy career with the demands of motherhood by having not one but two nannies, “But my time with my girls is quality time,” she insists. “I bathe them, clean their noses and ears, watch movies with them and give them massages. My daughter Maryam was the inspiration for the song One Word from You (Kilma Minak). Even though it’s supposed to be a romantic song I looked at her photo when I recorded it; that’s where the emotion came from.”
Success has also enabled her to sometimes indulge her children, “Maryam dreams of celebrating her sixth birthday in Disneyland Florida, and I intend to take her.” The girls take swimming and ballet classes at nearby City View compound, though Sherine herself has her own private exercise routine. “Since I travel a lot I prefer to stay in shape with a system that I can do anywhere,” she says. “I am also a person who needs my own space. I try to divide my day in a way that gives me time by myself. I’m a dreamer; I love nothing better than to spend time just thinking and imagining and going off into a world of my own.”
Does that mean Sherine is a romantic at heart? “Romance for me is looking into the eyes of someone I love and knowing that we have complete understanding of one another; a blending of hearts. It doesn’t happen very often! I believe in being strong as a woman, but if I were to give my daughters advice on their dealings with men, I’d say yes, be strong and independent, but enjoy your femininity. Keep your strength and fighting spirit for the times you really need it.”
One of those times for Sherine came last August when she found herself in a controversial situation, speaking out in favour of General Sisi while performing at a concert in Tunisia. “I had no idea until later that there would be such a reaction,” she says. “At the time I felt I needed to stand up for my country in the face of a whole stadium full of people. That’s the type of situation that I’m talking about, one where you need the courage of your convictions.”
Small in stature but fiercely determined by nature, it seems no surprise that Sherine has achieved stardom. Her multi-faceted personality, at times bubbly, other times quiet and thoughtful, has many layers. And now she prepares to reveal another as she leaves us to rehearse for a Valentine’s Day concert at City Stars. Like a seemingly simple little bird leaving her (albeit well-feathered) nest, she’s about to don her brightest plumage and sing her heart out. Not literally though. “I’m a good actress!” she reminds us.
What was the last movie you watched?
The Great Gatsby with Leonardo de Caprio, and Halla Lawayn with Nadine Labki
Where are your favourite places to travel in the world?
Lebanon in the summer for the beaches, Paris in the winter, London for shopping, Milan for food – a different place for different reasons.
And where would you love to go that you haven’t yet been?
The Maldives, Hawaii, and the Far East – but I’m afraid of getting lost there because I’d look like the locals!
Who are the people you would have loved to have met?
Ahmed Zaki, Baligh Hamdi, President Sadat, Shaikh Sharawi.
What’s your favourite movie?
Unfaithful – because I’m fascinated by the idea of why a woman would be unfaithful for no good reason.
What’s your favourite food?
Salmon, smoked or raw.
Are you an optimist or a pessimist?
An optimist, always.
Ice cream and anything spicy.
Your worst habit?
Lying awake at night thinking about things too much.
What the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
My mother told me, don’t bite off more than you can chew.
What is your definition of happiness?
At the moment, walking in the street without being recognized.
Favorite place in West Cairo?
Seasons Country Club & City View
Which song of yours effected you the most?