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For Tony Kaldas, 'art is not an option, it's a right'
Published in Daily News Egypt on 06 - 02 - 2012

“You are my brother and I love you/I love you when you bow in your mosque/kneel in your temple/pray in your church”
When listening to Egyptian singer Tony Kaldas' song “Anta Akhy” (You Are My Brother), with lyrics borrowed from poet Gibran Khalil Gibran, it's easy to understand why the singer received a nomination for the 2012 music prize in the Time for Peace Music and Film Festival.
Now in its 17th year, the Time for Peace awards aim to celebrate exceptional artists in music and film whose work not only meets high artistic integrity, but also maintains qualities of humanitarian values including tolerance, respect for difference, understanding between people, solidarity and so forth. It is a prestigious and career-defining award granted each year by the European Parliament.
Kaldas is the first Egyptian singer to be nominated for this international peace prize whose past recipients include French singer Charles Aznavour for “Colore ma vie” (Color My Life), Roberto Benigni for “Life is Beautiful” as well as Céline Dion for “Fly” and Sting for “If on a Winter's Night,” amongst many others.
This past January 26, almost directly coinciding with the first anniversary of the Egyptian revolution, Kaldas was invited to the European Parliament in Brussels to accept his nomination and introduce this year's festival with a performance of his composition, “You Are My Brother.”
“I have always been passionate about the humanitarian prose of Khalil Gibran,” Kaldas told Daily News Egypt.
“This song discusses a new dimension for religious tolerance between all faiths. In the end, we are all human beings worshipping one creator; we are made of the same clay. This song aims to find peace and love in every heart, without limits or barriers.”
Kaldas composed the song in 2008 after deciding to give a concert in Cairo's Gomhouria Theater, paying tribute to Khalil Gibran on what would have been his 125th birthday.
Sung in classic Fusha, the song combines western and oriental musical styles, creating a melody of influences including Latin rhythms, rock, Arabic classical and jazz.
In December of 2010, Kaldas had the vision to create a music video for “You Are My Brother” and collaborated with the director of photography, Mahmoud Laymouni, and Amr Rady who arranged the music. The video was later uploaded on YouTube and became an instant success, subsequently securing air time on BBC Arabia and Al-Hurra TV.
“I felt it very important to make a video for this, particularly one with English subtitles to make the message more widely understandable, and spread the sound virally,” Kaldas said. “In fact that's how Time for Peace found my song, on YouTube.”
Kaldas is mostly known for the diversity in his musical output and his dynamic vocal range which spreads across several octaves — his lower, baritone register adds a somber jazz-style tone, while his training as a tenor allows him to reach higher notes.
Born to an Egyptian father and Greek mother, Kaldas was exposed to a wide range of world music from a young age, including Arabic classics, folk, jazz and opera.
“Fifty percent of a musician's talent is listening,” Kaldas said. “Growing up, I had the opportunity to listen to everything, but I would always find myself heavily drawn to singers like Fairouz, and the varying styles of Asmahan. In fact I think Asmahan and I have a special connection.”
Kaldas' began his practical training with music at the age of 16 when he started taking violin lessons. Soon after, he joined a Christian choir, which was a turning point for Kaldas' relationship with music.
“One time, I came home from the choir and recorded myself singing in French on a tape,” he said. “I played this tape throughout the house to see if my family would notice it was me. They did not of course, and my father made me stand up and audition in front of the family to prove that it was in fact me singing on the tape. I knew then I had to commit my life to singing.”
After graduating university with a degree in architectural engineering from the Cairo Academy College, Kaldas began his professional musical training at the Cairo Opera House under the auspices of Dr. Tahyea Shams El-Din, and later continued with the soprano teachings of Dr. Imam Mustafa.
His earlier repertoires often included covers ranging from Mohamed Abdel Wahab and Fareed El-Atrash to Frank Sinatra and Elvis Presley.
Since 2008, Kaldas began composing his own music as seen in productions like “You Are My Brother” and “My Soul” with text by Khalil Gibran and later “Besame Mucho” with Arabic lyrics by Montasser Hegazy.
What should also be noted is Kaldas' unique ability to sing in several different languages with an almost perfect accent, including, Greek, Arabic, Russian and French.
“I want to be a singer who can sing in every language, breaking the barriers placed on most monolingual musicians,” he added. “Singing in different languages allows your voice to be heard by people everywhere.
“With globalization, the internet and digital media, sound travels. But when I work in different languages, the words and the message travel as much as the music.”
When Kaldas isn't making music, you can find him working at a local cultural NGO called AFCA which aims to educate children and teens in English, Arabic and French through art.
Kaldas said, “I want to always continue working with NGOs focused on local Egyptian culture. Artists and musicians have a responsibility to develop the cultural sector. We must travel to different governorates and create awareness in culture there. We cannot wait on our governmental institutions to do this for us, we must take our own action.
“I also feel a strong need to put music back on the streets, like the way you see in Europe or on the subway cars in New York, helping to brighten peoples day by giving them the space to listen to music for free which will inevitably lead to musical awareness and the birth of new musicians. If you put music on the street, people will dance.
“Art is not an option, it's a right. That is what I am working to change here.”
For more information, visit www.tonykaldas.com.

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