One of the best-selling artists in the Arab world, named one of the most influential personalities in the Middle East by Oprah Winfrey, Nancy Ajram is the first UNICEF female regional ambassador for the Middle East and North Africa. Beirut born, Arab music sensation Ajram started singing at the tender age of four and interestingly at 10 years had also won the UNICEF Children’s singing competition. A super successful artiste, the face of several brands with and Instagram account with close to 6,000 followers, there is no stopping this go getter. Manju Ramanan discovers the powerful woman behind the powerful voice.
When Nancy Ajram took home her UNICEF trophy at the age of 10 and then another trophy at “Mawaheb Zghire” a programme on Tele Liban TV, her father Nabil Ajram, spotting the genius of her voice and her talent at an early age sent her to study voice and music theory with the best teachers in Lebanon.
“He encouraged me to pursue my dreams and that early push helped me a lot,” she says. All of these efforts were rewarded when, at the age of 12, she participated in a TV program called Noujoum Al Mostakbal and won the gold medal for the Tarab category. Also her grandmother used to sing all the time at home so she learned from her. The early training helped Nancy – not just strengthened her belief in her dreams but technical aspects of music such as voice modulation, intonations etc. “I learnt that it is important to follow your passion and forget everything else. Music school honed me in my voice intonation, music sense and the idea of notation and notes. But more than anything else, it gave me the platform and the confidence to be one with what I love the most – music,” she says.
Nancy admits that music fills her with a passion like nothing else does and “I know that I am born to sing. I
am thankful that my father and my music teachers helped me perfect my skills,” she adds.
Her foray into the music world as a woman artist wasn’t easy but for a region known to take to art, the rest of the journey has been pretty historic. In early 2003, after the success of her lead single Akhasmak Ahand the release of her third studio album, Ya Salam (“Oh Wow”) which was a best-seller, people had begun to accept her.
The music video of Akhasmak Ahis reported to have caused a controversy and was reminiscent of older
Arabic films where Nancy appears as a cafe manager who dances and flirts with its customers. However with the release of the next music videos, Ya Salam and Sehr Ouyouno, she quieted down criticism. “I am glad that the phase happened in my life because the struggle was there but then it was followed by a good amount of success and people started accepting my voice really well,” she says.
Nancy not only sings, she also writes and composes – something that she has been doing since she was a child. Her first singles were titled Hobbak Allam Albiel Gheere by AbdoMounzer, and Oulha Kelma Ala Shani. When she turned 15, she released her first album, Mihtagalak (“I Need You’) in 1998. It was followed by Sheel Oyoonak Anni (“Stop Staring”) in 2000, which achieved more success. Jiji Lamara, an experienced producer and manager guided her in the right direction. The duo recorded her smash hit Akhasmak Ah, and the music video was directed by the well- known Nadine Labaki. Her third album, Yasalam, catapulted her into the Arab world, and the album sold thousands of copies.
Ask her if there is a lot of acting in singing and she states that if you are talking about music videos, it is completely to do with acting. “In the videos when I am lipsyncing to my own voice I can enact better. Music is
to do with your emotions and you enact through your voice. So yes, you are acting when you are singing,” she says. “But that is not possible every time. It is good to synergise with your lyrics writer and give your inputs. As I said earlier, if music is about acting, I have to also enact what others write for me”.
As a brand ambassador for Coca Cola, Damas Jewellery, and Sony Ericsson she welcomes it all. “I welcome it. (Laughs). I choose the Farfasha designs from Damas Jewellery. I am also chosen as a brand ambassador for Coca Cola, Damas Jewellery, and Sony Ericsson in 2009. The brands go with my image and there is a happy relation between who I am and what I represent. Damas is a very important and well-known brand not only in the Middle East but also internationally. I find that Farfasha suits me very well since it reflects the spirit of youth and love and happiness. I like all the collection, but most of all I like the set I wear in the ad with the falcon. It is nice and classy. That is from the Mora Mora collection.” She adds stating that, “I do receive a lot of offers from different companies to be their brand ambassador; however, I choose only the brands that suit my image.”
As a woman and a mother, you often wonder if her music has changed after motherhood. “Nancy got married in 2008, and has two girls, Mila (who was born in 2009), and Ella (born in April this year). Any working mother will tell you that it is not an easy task to do everything. It can get difficult. But I organise my time very well to give each one of them their rights. My children travel with me when I am going away for a while, but during one or two-day trips, they stay with their father and grandmother”.
In early 2012 she released her second album of children’s songs and admits that she loves singing for kids because she loves children and feels close to them. That’s why after the first album succeeded she decided to record a second one. She has also been voted the Arab world’s most beautiful mothers. Her beauty regime is simple like her philosophy. “It takes work to stay in shape. I work out and do various exercises. In addition to that, I eat healthy food and that’s the most important thing,” she adds.
When she is not working, Nancy divides her time between Dubai and Beirut. And she loves to perform in Dubai. “I love performing in the UAE because people have a great appreciation for all types of music, and know what they’re listening to. It is always fun being in Dubai — I consider the city my second home,” she adds.
As her role as UNICEF brand ambassador, how has she used music to further the cause? “I am the UNICEF ambassador for the MENA region, and I am working on several projects to spread awareness about literacy, education and health programmes in the Arab world, especially in Lebanon,” she adds.
At a star studded regional launch of its Ascend Mate 7 smartphone, Huawei announced Nancy Ajram as its Middle East and North African Brand Ambassador for 2015. During the launch event, Nancy Ajram revealed her agreement with Huawei to act its Middle East and North African Brand Ambassador for the next year to help raise awareness of Huawei’s fast growing smartphone range and build affinity for its premium devices with regional consumers. Alongside the announcement of its new celebrity ambassador, Huawei also showcased its latest flagship smartphone that will hit MENA shelves later this month; its feature packed Ascend Mate 7. Nancy Ajram said: “I am actually a big fan of technology and like to have the latest smart devices with the best features. I am happy to become a brand ambassador for such an ambitious and fast growing smartphone company coming up with elegant and innovative devices. I hope that my involvement as Brand Ambassador will help to raise the profile of its premium quality smartphones in the region and showcase the great variety of choices they offer consumers.”