Singer Tony Kaldas interviewed by Natalie Dekel.

‘What we are today comes from our thoughts of yesterday, and our present thoughts build our life of tomorrow: Our life is the creation of our mind.’ The Buddha.

Natalie Dekel: Do you feel your work with music as part of yourself or is it more like a ‘work’?

Tony Kaldas: Music is an expression to the outer world as well as a part of me, which reveals things about my inner self. [2]

How do you choose the music for your songs? Do you choose what speaks to you emotionally at the time? [3]

Well, at the beginning it was difficult because I was sixteen years old when I started singing and I was in school at that time. It wasn’t an easy decision to specialize in music because of family and society obligations and the need to find a ‘secure’ profession. We still have the idea of insecurity in the arts profession, which is not a constant job like others. People around me seemed to fear the future, and were trying to secure their life with a constant job. Unfortunately, this is one of the conditioning of society, to find a constant, secure job. So I studied architecture as well as singing. However, the more I have developed my singing the more it has become my primary choice. Once I had completed architecture studies, I focused only on developing my singing. [4]

Sample from La Bohéme (in French), Tony Kaldas. [5]

When you sing, does your mind focus solely on the words and the sounds that you produce or can you think about other things at the same time? [6]

When singing I feel as if I am flying and living in a different dimension… [7]

When I had only just started to sing, my mind would usually wander and focus on other things. Perhaps it was because I was still studying then the skill of singing, just learning to use my voice, and the positions that enable one to reach a better sound. But after a while, I started to feel the words and the music, and to sing from my heart. That more intuitive work has given my singing a deeper dimension, where the intuitive aspect became the core of the singing, the source from which I get the inspiration to sing and where I feel the words and the music are coming from. [8]

Intuition is a key for understanding and for collaboration with others. This is true in singing and in other areas of life. Unfortunately, people do not seem to use it much anymore, and this is one of the reasons why there is much sadness in people’s lives. [9]

How have you become interested in the spiritual aspects of philosophies and other religions that I see you mentioning or referring to in your writings on the web? [10]

I am interested in many spiritual teachings and philosophies, and have found that in all religions similar knowledge is emphasized. The main teaching for me is Sufism, which I think encompasses the core of all religions and all belief systems, simply by suggesting to use the wisdom that comes from your heart when dealing with any situation in life. [11]

I am deeply influenced by Arabic Sufis like Ibn el Roumi, El Halaj, Gibran Khalil Gibran and other wise men from all over the world. I do not relate Sufism to one specific religion, rather I find it easier to relate and connect to a person who uses their heart and wisdom together. Actually, the main meaning of the word Sufism comes from the Greek word Sofia, which means wisdom. [12]

I think that people can look deep into these words, the words written within their hearts. But it seems that people tend to simply follow the traditional and more easily acceptable things in religions. [13]

Do you separate the emotion in a song from your own or do they merge and you feel at that moment what you are singing? [14]

Well, it depends on the song. Some issues that I perhaps have not experienced, I am trying to get into the mood and attempt to convey the emotion that I would feel. Others, that I have experienced, shift the song to another level as it would then come straight from my heart and reverberate in the music. [15]

It seems to me that singing is like opening your soul to the listeners; does it feel as if singing before people makes you vulnerable or revealing things about you? [16]

Most of the Arabic songs deal with emotions, which is perhaps the core of our traditions in the Middle East. However, I do not feel vulnerable in front of the audience; on the contrary, sharing my emotion with the audience gives me strength, especially when I feel empathy from the audience. Of course, sharing my emotion immediately reveals things about me, but I do not really worry about that because of the context of a song. In fact, using personal experience to add to the atmosphere of the song helps me to touch the audience more quickly. Perhaps if I were to speak rather than sing, things might have been really different. [17]

Sample from Nature Boy (in English), Tony Kaldas. [18]

If you perform the same song twice in different places and to different audiences, would that make a change in the way the song is performed? [19]

Yes. I sing in the present moment and it is different every time and everywhere, because every moment is different from others. Every moment that passes, you are not the same, you become different; each cell in your body changes, and that is why nothing is the same. And the energy of people and the place is different, so each performance is a completely new experience for me. [20]

I feel that in art, when an artist finishes a painting or a sculpture it then becomes separate from him. He can leave it behind and it becomes a separate independent object. In singing, your voice is the product and the tool of your creation. So I wonder, when does the artwork start and yourself, your own identity, finish? [21]

The art of singing starts with the inspiration and goes deep within myself, which I can then express with my voice. It is a never ending process for me. Even when I finish singing, I cannot say that I leave it behind me. Yes, I finish it, but it is part of me, my ‘baby’, and I will always be linked to it and talk about it everywhere. So while I talk about it in my daily life, it in turn speaks of me when I sing. Every song expresses me as well. Perhaps it even expresses sides of me that other people don’t know about me. [22]

I know that you have Greek origins as well as Egyptian. Do you feel it had an effect on who you have become? [23]

Yes, my mother is Greek, and I feel that the two civilizations of Egypt and Greece made crucial contributions to the world. I was very lucky to have both as my inheritance. I take what I believe are the most wonderful things from the two civilizations in many areas, such as music, literature, philosophy and spirituality. [24]

I see myself as an Egyptian singer who sings with different styles and in different languages, demonstrating the ability of the Egyptian civilization to be open for collaboration with various cultures. [25]

Do you try to connect the Western tradition in music with an Arabic tradition? How do you accomplish it? [26]

Yes, this is my main approach in singing, to mix the two styles together. I believe that by doing that we can have music that has elevated qualities that bring richness from many parts of the world. I believe that we are all One, and such unity becomes easier with the technological development around us. We become one small village now with mixed cultures and open-mindedness. I see my music as a gift to this global unity of the world. [27]

Have you tried writing your own words for your songs? What about composing music? [28]

Yes, well, I composed two songs by the Lebanese poet and writer Gibran Khalil Gibran in Arabic. One song is called My soul and the other one is I love you brother, which talk about religious tolerance across the world and that I love all human beings with their differences. I chose these words because I feel that we need more unity in our world today. [29]

I also wrote lyrics for one song before, about a famous Lebanese singer Majida el Roumy. It was in Arabic and French and spoke about her voice and I set the lyrics to a famous Italian music Love in Portofino. At the moment I am working on other songs written or composed by me. [30]

Sample from Negma Men Negoum El Sama (in Egyptian), written and sang by Tony Kaldas. [31]

How do you see yourself evolving on the path you have chosen? [32]

I am evolving all the time; you can say that every day and every moment I am developing and learning many things. I feel that I learn more and more about myself on that path of creativity and learn to express this knowledge and touch people with the voice that conveys my experiences. I believe that music and singing are very powerful tools in the universe to connect people with them and through them. [33]

8 March 2009.

Text © Tony Kaldas and Natalie Dekel. Images and music files © Tony Kaldas.
Interview conducted via email correspondence, February-March 2009.
Tony Kaldas is based in Cairo, Egypt. Natalie Dekel is based in Southampton, UK.