Ghalia Benali conducts herself with a grace and lightness that lends her an agelessness; a youthful joie de vivre and curiosity of a young girl, with the wisdom and experience of someone who has seen the emotional complexities of a life deeply lived. The Belgian born Tunisian singer and self-described "storyteller" grew up in Zarzis, a small seaside village in the south of Tunisia, before relocating to Belgium in her late teenage years. Though storyteller is a title that barely begins to describe the scope of Ghalia's work, it poetically does the job: she is a singer, dancer, painter, writer, actor and producer.
The Belgian born Tunisian artist was surrounded not just by the greats of Middle Eastern music, but also by French chanson and Bollywood music. Between this and growing up in the melting pot that is Belgium, and witnessing cultural misunderstandings daily, Benali was led to the realization that her role is to bridge cultures, through being a modern-day artist. "I felt like there was a misunderstanding of our culture, and immediately I felt as if someone gave me a mission to explain, and I felt more rooted I am to the story I'm telling."
Benali has an impressive amount of releases and collaborations under her belt, including with Hungarian Roma (gypsy) band Romano Drom, and an album of Oum Kalthoum covers. She has most recently embarked on a project called "One Hour Before the Gods Awake", which blends old mythologies and legends about humanity's origin with more contemporary versions, incorporating texts from the various revolutions that swept Arab countries in the past decade. In this venture, she has veered musically more towards electronic production, aiming to create Arabic music that conveys messages about "neo-existentialism."
Ghalia was recently in Cairo, a city which she has come to know well over the years, for shows at Cairo Jazz Club, Battle of the Bands, and also the release of her book, Romeo & Leila. We had the pleasure of catching up with the alluring philosopher ahead of a sound check, and listened to her elaborate deeply on culture, art, creativity, revolution and love.