The Soft Voice Behind the Strong Women of the Arab World

” Your las nuit des Français
Does not resemble me
For I do not see the reflection of my face in your river…
I melt in you, but do not relate to you
Threads of desert sand are what have woven me
For God’s sake, how have you captured me?
A stranger on your streets, I am
For none of my palm trees are planted in your land
And no gate to let me into your world…
Are you really a magical city?
And I, a mystified Arab woman?
I search for my lost identity
In your enigmatic avenues and alleyways”

                                                                              -Excerpt from Ashiqat’s PARIS By May Kutbi

When you first meet May Kutbi, it’s hard to think that this soft-spoken woman makes her living off her voice. But don’t be fooled by her gentle tone or demure demeanor. May is a strong woman, whose sultry voice is the medium used to reveal to the world the subconscious of one of the most enigmatic creatures: the Arab woman.
A Saudi poetess, who was raised between Saudi Arabia and Switzerland, May’s obsession first began when she was just a child. Her parents noticed their daughter’s young inquisitive mind and nurtured it by introducing her to Arabic literature.
By the time she was 17, May had already published her first book of Arabic poetry—Hamasat Haira. May then continued on a more commercial route, taking positions as a journalist, an editor for the first female-oriented online magazine in the Arabic language, and then later as a creative copywriter at a renowned advertising agency.
Throughout these impressive professions, one thing stayed consistent—her passion for the written word. She continued to sporadically publish her work, but a poem here or there didn’t satisfy her insatiable appetite for creative prose. In 2004, May released her second book of poetry, “Thuraya.” As we sat chatting between sips of our coffees, May’s voice never left the calm undulations in what can only be described as a Jessica Rabbit monologue. The only emotive inclinations to be witnessed were the widening of her eyes, which lit up whenever she talked about her poetry. Her disciplined voice never raised, she only slightly sped up as she excitedly began discussing the latest incarnation of her passion: performance art.

“Ashiqat: The Impassioned Anthology”

In 2009, May released her debut album “Ashiqat: The Impassioned Anthology,” and with it, helped revolutionize Arabic poetry into the modern era. Fusing music with her velvety voice, May seduces the listener as she reveals the intimate thoughts shared by so many of her fellow Arab women. “In the following year, May joined Anazahra.com, which shared her mission to celebrate the lives, pursuits, and achievements of Arab women. The brainchild of the Abu Dhabi Media Company (ADMC), the portal provided greater interaction among Arab women, and as result, offered genuine sense of community.
In wasn’t long before anaZahra.com and May collaborated on what is sure to be the first of many progressive initiatives, a ten-week long regional poetry contest. Culminating on a festive note with a recital celebrating the winners of the poetry-writing contest, which was named after her first album, Ashiqat was a great success. The competition received nearly one thousand of entries from women across the Middle East, including the Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Egypt, Iraq, Lebanon and Morocco.
“The level of participation surpassed our expectations,” revealed May, who screened all entries and selected the finalists on a weekly basis, alongside a distinguished panel of Arab poets and journalists. “We were looking for individuality, creativity and potential; and were delighted to see so many talented and confident women participate.” The final six winners were determined by votes made through the anaZahra.com portal and will be featured on Ashiqat 2, the follow-up to May’s successful lyrical first album.
“I’m so excited to get started on this project,” May confessed, “It’s such a unique project because it gives the women of the Middle East a platform to express their feelings though creative writing—freely. They can be themselves.”

May Kutbi
Photographer: Dahi Al Ali

I saw May a few days before she was off to Beirut to begin recording her new album with the celebrated Lebanese composer, singer, and lyricist, Yuri Mrakadi. The collaboration brings together the two similarly unconventional artists, whose  romanticized medium of music and poetry takes the listener on an emotional narrative that is pleasantly reminiscent of the great classical storytellers, who during their time sang their stories to filled concert halls that were broadcasted across radio waves and black-and-white TV screens.
While the content may fall under the same genre as the divas of the Middle East’s classical cinematic and musical Golden Age, the style is incredibly modern. “I wanted it to be far from the traditional and classical,” revealed May. “And in that way, it resembles me because I am unconventional.” This unconventional, soft-spoken poetess has now become the sultry voice of the complex Arab woman. Through her lyrical vignettes into their lives—and their hearts, May has introduces her audience to every woman; from the vulnerable girl, whose identity was stolen by modernity, to her  mother, whose perseverance allowed for her to reclaim hers. May’s protagonists reflect those around us: our sisters, mothers, daughters, and friends. And often times, they even reflect those feelings and points of view we sometimes hide from even ourselves.

Visit May: Ashiqat on FB


Aricle by Marriam M Mossalli – Oasis Magazine




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