Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in music?
As a child I was always singing, and took part in music festivals and amateur dramatics. In my teens, I started to pursue singing more seriously, but had thought I would read English at university. It was whilst studying for GCSE Music that my teacher said that I should really think about doing a degree in Music. Until then I hadn’t really even considered it as a possibility.
Who or what have been the most important influences on your musical life and career?
I am absolutely indebted to all of my teachers, all of whom have invested a huge amount in me, in a variety of ways.
Also, attending the Jewish Song School at SOAS back in 2005; perhaps bizarrely, my interest in Sephardic song lead me back to my own Egyptian heritage and encouraged me to delve deeper into Classical Arabic music. I have been very fortunate to carve a niche for myself singing music by Arabic and Jewish composers.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
I think ‘Silk Moth’ is possibly my biggest challenge to date; I have sung a fair amount by contemporary composers, but most usually on the concert platform. I am so excited by the way Heather Fairbairn (Director of Silk Moth) has made this into a fully staged work, and think the inclusion of ‘The Heart’s Ear’ and ‘Bel Canto’ as prologue and epilogue frames the opera beautifully!
Which performances/recordings are you most proud of?
My CD, Daughter of Arabia, was a total labour of love for me, but I am so glad I persevered with it, and am proud of the outcome. (More about the CD here)
I’m also proud of the work I’ve done to promote Middle-Eastern co-existence. I strongly believe we should focus more on our similarities rather than our differences – a simplistic view possibly, but a good place to start.
Which particular works do you think you perform best?
I feel I am often at my best singing traditional Arabic muwashshahat (poetic folk songs, often from Andalusia), and try and include those in as many performances as I can. They are often something a little different and audiences seem to really enjoy hearing them.
I also adore songs that invite improvisation and allow me to add a bit of my own character; ‘Song of a Nightclub Proprietress’ by Madeleine Dring (Five Betjeman Songs) comes to mind, as well as pieces that are pure food for the voice and heart; ‘A Chloris’ by Reynaldo Hahn is a particular favourite.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
Quite often this is defined by whatever I have been booked to do, but I love creating a new programme of music when I have my own recitals. I’m always keen to try and include lesser known works, and of course intersperse pieces from other cultures.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
Probably the Wigmore Hall – I was so honoured to sing there in 2010, with the Liverpool Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra. I had spent a great deal of time there as a student watching masterclasses and recitals, and it really felt like a definitive moment for me to sing on that stage.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
Singing the Love Song duet from ‘Shouting Fence’ at LSO St. Luke’s. Ruti Halvani and I sang through megaphones from opposite sides of the gallery, to emulate the families of the Palestinian Territories who have been separated because of the wall. The text was verses from the ‘Song of Songs’ in both Hebrew and Arabic and the way the two languages worked with each other was extremely dramatic.
As a musician, what is your definition of success?
To be able to perform a wide range of music, and to have a positive effect on my audience. I have not followed an orthodox career, but have been lucky enough to be part of new and exciting works, often exploring the fusion between Arabic and western classical music.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
Keep practicing, and don’t be afraid to explore – find the music that connects to your core, and energises your soul.
Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?
Probably doing very similar things, but would love to be able to strike more of a balance between my own singing and educational work.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Not having a deadline to meet.
What is your most treasured possession?
My little boy – if he can really be called a possession! If not, the beautiful locket my husband bought me just before our son was born, and the picture inside it.
What is your present state of mind?
I am feeling energised, confident and happy – hope it lasts!!
Camille Maalawy performs in Silk Moth at Grimeborn 2019 from 9 to 11 August at London’s Arcola Theatre. More information and tickets
Camille Maalawy has achieved notable acclaim for bridging both musical and cultural divides. As the only Arabic singer to reach the final of the first International Competition of Israeli Music outside Israel in July 2008, she broke new ground as she has done consistently throughout her professional career.
Born to an Egyptian father and English mother, Camille studied at Goldsmiths College and Birkbeck College graduating with a BMus (Hons), MMus Degree (Distinction) and a Postgraduate Diploma in Opera Studies. Her repertoire is as extensive as it is diverse, ranging from art song/lieder, oratorio and opera to embracing both Arabic and Jewish music.