Rula in Media

Egypt Today : Rula Zaki

This versatile singer is making it big in almost every venue, but seems to have been overlooked by the small screen By May Kaddah



Rula Zaki just might be the most famous singer you’ve never seen in a video. Trained by noted opera singers, Zaki has thus far charted a number-one hit, starred on stage and movie screens, and lent her voice to several commercial and charity campaigns. The only things this versatile singer hasn’t done, oddly enough, is make an album or a music video.

In a world of scantily clad one-named wonders, Zaki is slowly building a name for herself on her talent alone. She began her music career at the tender age of nine in school productions, and studied voice at the distinguished Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in the United States. Zaki has trained with Egyptian opera singer Dr. Raouf Zaidan and American opera singer and longtime Cairo resident Larry Catlin, who conducts the Cairo Choral Society. Her strong soprano sent her Arabic remake of Dean Martin’s “Sway” to the top of the local charts during Ramadan 2007.

In a world of scantily clad one-named wonders, Zaki is slowly building a name for herself on her talent alone. She began her music career at the tender age of nine in school productions, and studied voice at the distinguished Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in the United States. Zaki has trained with Egyptian opera singer Dr. Raouf Zaidan and American opera singer and longtime Cairo resident Larry Catlin, who conducts the Cairo Choral Society. Her strong soprano sent her Arabic remake of Dean Martin’s “Sway” to the top of the local charts during Ramadan 2007.

Zaki’s character as an entertainer can only truly be captured one way: in performance. Otherwise a surprisingly private person, the singer doesn’t easily reveal herself — but as soon as she starts joking it’s nearly impossible to get a sensible word out of her. Zaki maintains a very light-hearted and simple philosophy: “I like to entertain people; I like to see people happy and laughing.” This appears to be Zaki’s strategy onstage as well as off. Much to the delight of those around her, she makes expressive faces, playfully fiddles with every object within reach and often responds in quirky cartoon voices.

Emerging into the public eye, however, has proved difficult. Having studied singing abroad, Zaki has found it challenging to kickstart her mainstream career in Egypt. Even though she is the voice behind the latest Vodafone ad, the Arabic Disney productions of The Little Mermaid and Cinderella and charted a number-one hit on Nogoum FM with “Sway,” she remains ‘undiscovered.’ Without the backing of a bigger company or a producer, she has not been able to produce a video clip or an album. Zaki finds it baffling.

Baffling indeed, as Zaki has done all the right things to attract a producer’s attention. She’d won first place in the 2000 Cairo International Song Festival and second on the career-making TV program Star Maker, impressing the judges with her well-trained and powerful voice.
With a patient sigh she says that well-known producers have approached her in the past, but she hasn’t found one with the right vision, the right ‘chemistry.’ Zaki is conservative at heart, which makes it difficult to enter a world of barely dressed singers playing a seduction game with their music video audience. She remains clipless but resilient.
Currently, Zaki performs mostly outside the traditional venues of modern pop stars, singing in restaurants, at weddings, private events, commercials and embassies. The singer has also reached out to children and children’s causes through Disney productions, First Lady Suzanne Mubarak’s ‘Give a Kid a Hand’ campaign and a performance in Egypt’s Special Olympics. In private events, she appeals to all generations by singing both oldies and contemporary pop hits. She can sings in 11 languages, including Italian, Hindi, Turkish and Greek.
“People thought I was Greek once,” Zaki laughs. “Especially after singing at the Greek embassy, they kept saying ‘Rula the Greek singer’ and I had to keep correcting them that I am Egyptian. It was a big compliment because it means that I sing well in Greek.”
But music isn’t Zaki’s only draw; her talents extend into the world of acting. She has given charismatic and sometimes amusing performances both onstage and on-camera, with lead roles in stage productions of My Fair Lady and Oklahoma, and a guest appearance on The Tonight Show, where she was invited to do her “human trumpet” act for Jay Leno.
Noting the industry’s tendency to portray women as sex objects, bimbos or brainless, Zaki says she is very selective about the offers she accepts: “I really don’t know if there are any suitable roles for me now. They have to be very respectable.”
 Despite Zaki’s dedication to performing, music takes second place in her heart; the top spot belongs to her five-year-old son Karim. In a surprising turn, she declined an invitation from star Mohamed Sobhi to be the leading lady in an Arabic stage production of The King and I. She realized that rehearsals would consume all her time and leave none for her son, at the time two years old — a sacrifice she simply wouldn’t consider. In perhaps her only overtly emotional moment, she gushes “I feel very blessed and grateful for the support of my family.” That support has come in more than just encouraging words: Zaki jokes that she inherited the ‘funny gene’ from her father, whom she calls “hilarious and very creative.”
Comedy seems to be buried somewhere deep in Zaki’s soul. Not a drama queen by nature, she is able to laugh away her own frustrations and shortcomings. It isn’t surprising that she identifies with the humor in classic black-and-white Arabic films, especially the ones featuring Ismail Yassin and Samir Ghanem, whom she finds hilarious.
By preserving this lighthearted spirit Zaki manages to not only hold on to her principles and standing in a business where sex sells, but to aspire uncompromisingly for more. Her enthusiasm makes her prior achievements seem like only the beginning. “I want to represent Egypt internationally and to sing for love and peace. I also want to sing songs that have been written for me and that are meaningful.”
Now on the brink of ‘mainstream’ stardom, Zaki has a panoramic view of an entertainment career that has spanned nearly three decades. As she waits for her big chance and her own hit song, Zaki doesn’t seem to have any second thoughts about how she is spending her life. “If I wasn’t singing, then I’d still be singing. Get what I mean?”
 
“Rula Zaki” published in Egypt Today on February 2008.