Tunisian singer 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, combined with the wisdom and experience of someone who has seen the emotional complexities of a life deeply lived. The 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.
Having been brought up between two vastly divergent countries, she was surrounded not just by the greats of Middle Eastern music, but also by French chanson and Bollywood music. Growing up in the melting pot that is Belgium, and witnessing cultural misunderstandings daily, Benali was led to the realisation that her role is to bridge cultures by being a modern-day artist.
Benali has an impressive amount of releases and collaborations under her belt, including with Hungarian Roma band Romano Drom, and an album of Umm Kulthum covers. Her project, titled ‘One Hour Before the Gods Awake’, blends old mythologies and legends about humanity's origins with more contemporary versions, incorporating texts from the various revolutions that swept Arab countries in the past decade. She recently made a cameo in Leila Bouzid’s award-winning film ‘A Tale of Love and Desire’ (2022) as herself, a project encompassing the cultural barriers embodying and producing her work.
Her fans call her El Ghalia, the precious, a testament to her uniqueness and a play on her name. #CairoScene caught up with the star at the Luxor African Film Festival where she spoke about music, her love for Umm Kulthum, and her daring non-commercial endeavours.