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Canberra Today 8°/13° | Tuesday, April 23, 2024 | Digital Edition | Crossword & Sudoku

New wave composer who really likes to sing

Egyptian singer and composer Hayat Selim… in Canberra to help create the score for an original stage musical about a legendary Egyptian screen idol.

ONE of the brightest new-wave stars in the international film and video-game composing scene is coming to Australia soon – just to Canberra.

Hayat Selim has been engaged by local creative producer Dianna Nixon, of Music Theatre Projects, to help create the score for an original stage musical about a legendary Egyptian screen idol, but she’ll make a couple of appearances, too.

A singer known for her vocals on “Age of Empires IV” and the film, “The Forgiven” she’ll perform a concert at The Street Theatre themed around her own song, “Mirage”, which was broadcast on BBC Radio 3 for the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11.

There’ll also be a workshop at the ANU on February 15 contrasting the techniques in composing for films versus games, something bound to excite Prof Ken Lampl, himself a leading film and games composer.

I caught up with Selim by Zoom at her home in London, where she moved to do a masters in screen composition at the Royal College of Music.

Relaxed, humorous and smart, Selim confirms that she was a most unlikely candidate to join the music world. 

With a B.Sc. in digital media engineering and technology from the German University in Cairo, she was supposed to be an engineer, but all the while she was privately studying composition and singing, with the dream of getting into her favoured thing, musicals. 

Not Egyptian musicals; she’s talking shows such as “Wicked” –  Broadway and West End shows – and she hopes the new musical, “Camelia”, might be a success in the same vein.

Nixon has been working with archivist-Egyptophile, Ian Batterham, on a script about ’40s and ’50s Egyptian film star, Camelia, a one-time girlfriend of King Farouk, who died young in a suspicious air crash and is the perfect subject for a musical. 

Other collaborators are Egypt-born director Mohammed Hashem and lyricist-writer Vidya Makan, who plays Catherine Parr in “Six” the musical.

Camelia was part of Egypt’s massive film industry and is still famous to people of Selim’s grandmother’s generation and some of the old songs rubbed off on to the granddaughter. 

Her studies eventually led her to Cairo’s GUC Music Ensemble and the Fabrica Company for Musical Theater, but while mastering harmony, counterpoint and music, she found the classes jumped into writing for gaming music straightaway.

“Independent games development is huge in Egypt,” she says. “It’s become a cliché that the games-development industry everywhere in the world is dominated by Egyptians.”

She worked on smaller games first, quickly making herself one of the go-to composers in Egypt, profiled in “Women in Gaming:100 Professionals of Play”. 

In one project, the game was based on a story from Ireland, “a universe of amazing music… I’m obsessed with that music”, she says.

Sometimes, but not often, the music demanded could be “oriental”, but she says: “So far in my career, nothing much has been particularly Middle Eastern, but if I were to score a game for say, ‘Prince of Persia’, it would have to be oriental… I would call my style a bit filmic, Hollywood-ish.”

The film and games music is what she does “to put bread on the table, but my real passion lies in singing”.

Her Canberra concert is therefore about her as a singer, with Nixon accompanying and performing occasional backing tracks for atmosphere.

Although she won’t perform games music as such, she will do one song she wrote for a game.

The opening number will be in the ancient Egyptian language, close to Coptic. There’ll be Irish music, two Arabic songs, including one in Lebanese dialect, and a song used by Cirque Du Soleil.

Selim says she’s looking forward to meeting her collaborators on “Camelia”, going through the story and researching popular music in Egypt while also considering how, musically, “to be present in the 21st-century”.

Hayat Selim, The Street Theatre, February 16.

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Helen Musa

Helen Musa

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