By Laura Haddad

Photography by Anastasia Casey

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Amid COVID-19, Arabic singer Fawz Shocair took to social media to spread hope and uplift hearts. Her bold initiative aims to reach a vast audience by using her talent and diverse forms of cultural expressions to engage with people in response to crises of all kinds – from deadly outbreaks to political conflicts.

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At the beginning of the pandemic, Shocair began broadcasting her music videos on her Facebook page to entertain her family and friends during quarantine as a way to lift their spirits. Her viewership rose to the thousands because “people had lost hope and needed optimism,” she recalls, sweeping strands of her long blonde, wavy hair off her face. She soon teamed up with composer and singer Mohamed Bashar, sound designer Khalid Mustafa and music video director Farah Ramadan to produce Shocair’s latest song, “Without Dreams” in order to “plant hope in people’s hearts,” she says with a hopeful smile.

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Inspiring change

The elegant artist is not what you may expect in a singer – if you compare her to the glitz and glam of pop artists today. After all, she pours her God-given musical talents into causes she cares about, from women’s empowerment to advocating for freedom, justice and equality. Dressed in an elegant laced black dress and seated with her hands clasped in front of her crossed legs, she tells us how music, and the arts generally, are “a mirror of a society that reflects our collective pain and joy.”

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Last year, Shocair sang “I Will Not Fear You” by songwriter Rami Abu Ali on International Women’s Day. “You” in the song “refers to every oppressive, abusive man who thinks he can control a woman’s life and future,” Shocair shares, describing the lyrics as a call for love, companionship and peace between men and women.

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She first sang for the “Palestinian cause” at the age of 10, sang on Jordan TV “The Mother of the Martyr”, which she composed entirely on her own. Shocair credits her music teacher Wael Abu Sa’ud for that opportunity, explaining, “I was lazy to practice so I would pretend to play the notes when in fact I would be playing my own tunes. So, when he spotted my natural talent for music composition, he gave me the opportunity to create the introductory music for a children’s talent programme on national television.”

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However, it was the musical, Peace Child, which would cement Shocair’s desire to “employ my talents for noble goals”. In 1990, Shocair was chosen to represent Jordan in a solo performance of an Arabic song composed by Wael Abu Nawr for Peace Child, the international musical hosted by Jordan that year.   

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What is it about her songs that resonate with wider audiences? Perhaps they touch on a longing in all of us: “Love, optimism, belonging, freedom, gratitude – all bring meaning, connection and clarity to our lives,” Shocair says with a sparkle in her green eyes.  

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On a mission to preserve culture

Given that Shocair grew up in a home where Arab nationalism is a fundamental value, she expresses concern over what she calls “the culture war” in the region, which she says “aims to obliterate the Arab identity”. She refers to a new generation that doesn’t listen to Arabic music and chooses to communicate in languages other than Arabic, and to parents and schools not doing their part. “I’m aware of the importance of culture in keeping a nation on the world map,” asserts Shocair, “and I choose to take on this responsibility.”

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Indeed, she takes this responsibility seriously, becoming a founding member and Board member of Ngham Choir Association, established under the supervision of Mustafa Shaashaa.  According to Shocair, the Association aims to promote social inclusion and cross-cultural awareness and understanding while reviving Arab singing heritage, including a takht (‘ensemble’ in Arabic) of traditional instruments (‘oud, qanun, kamanjah, nay, riqq and darbuka).

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Early dreams and disappointments

Shocair was six years old when she began dreaming big. “My father would recite patriotic poems during car trips as a family while I sang them,” recalls Shocair. “He would look at my mother and say, ‘This kid is talented’.” Later on, Shocair’s stepmother bought her a toy keyboard after discovering her talent of playing songs by ear. “She insisted that we have an instrument in the house,” Shocair remembers.

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When Shocair wanted to turn her favourite pastime into a career though, she faced resistance. Although her uncle supported her, society’s stigma around the arts took a toll on Shocair, whose dream didn’t align with societal expectations. She refers to 2007 as the last time she stood on stage, singing at the Jerash Festival with the National Music Conservatory.

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“I didn’t know how to finance a production or how to reach a production house,” she says about the challenges of navigating the music industry. And since she doesn’t sing pop – “my singing holds a message and supports a cause” – the people in her orbit did not have faith that she could enter an arena dominated by pop and major label artists. “Independent, emerging or alternative artists generally don’t get people’s backing,” Shocair affirms.

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A hopeful tune

Everything changed for Shocair one fateful day in 2018. She was asked to sing at a high school graduation, an invitation she could not refuse given that it was her son’s graduation ceremony. “The pride and encouragement I saw in my son’s eyes following my performance, coupled with the love and appreciation that permeated the hall, led me to reconsider my decision to quit,” she says, teary-eyed. “It’s never too late to turn a dream into a reality,” she adds.

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Despite a few individual and collective attempts to formulate a cultural musical image for Jordan, “the Jordanian artist is still in a battle for existence and the supporting bodies are minimal,” says Shocair. She concludes with a plea to ministries, educators, media, civil society institutions and official incubators to “work together in promoting the value of music and exporting a better image for Jordanian arts and culture.”  

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Music education

A strong advocate for music education in schools, Shocair says music is an essential subject for all children to learn and can lead to better brain development, discipline, increase in human connection and even stress relief. “Unfortunately, music classes in schools are still not taken seriously, although some of the most important Jordanian singers were discovered through school bands,” says Shocair. She calls on the Ministry of Education, schools and parents to advocate for keeping and expanding music education in Jordan’s schools.

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Shocair’s advice to parents

Shocair has this to say to parents whose children gravitate toward non-conventional fields of study or work: “Every human being is unique. Every person was born with a dream, a message and a variety of tools to deliver the message. Do not stand in the way of their self-realisation; instead, support them and be part of their authentic pursuit to live creatively and reach their potential.”

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What does International Women’s Day mean to you?

“For me, it’s a commemoration that cannot be summarised in one day. It’s about celebrating the woman who values herself, pursues her dreams, fights for her rights and works on her inner beauty, empowering herself and her community around her. It’s an everyday practice!” –Fawz Shocair.