American girl sings in Arabic, wows audiences

American girl sings in Arabic, wows audiences

ZOUK MOSBEH, Lebanon - Agence France-Presse
American girl sings in Arabic, wows audiences

Young American Jennifer Grout appeared before a panel of judges to audition for the Arabs Got Talent show. AFP photo

Young American Jennifer Grout doesn’t speak a word of Arabic, but has taught herself to sing the Arab world’s best-known, most difficult songs, and could even win its major music competition.

Her blonde hair loose and without a sign of make-up, the 23-year-old appeared before a panel of judges to audition for the Arabs Got Talent show.

When Egyptian film star and panel member Ahmed Helmy asked her in Arabic what her what her name was, she didn’t have a clue what he was saying. But then she began to play the oud and sing a classic by Egyptian diva Umm Kalthoum, “Baeed Annak” (Far from you).

She stunned the audience, enunciating every word to perfection as her voice effortlessly navigated the quarter-notes that make Arabic music so distinctive. Grout, who grew up in a musical home in Boston, Massachusetts and has studied piano and violin since the age of five, only discovered her passion for Arabic music three years ago.

Listening Fairouz

As a 20-year-old student in Boston, Grout says she “came across an online article about Fairouz,” whose unique, angelic voice rings out on radio stations across the Arab world every morning. “I listened to her and watched a video of her, and I was just really intrigued and mesmerised by her voice. So I decided to start exploring Arabic music more,” Grout said.

Ever since, she has learned to sing not only songs by Umm Kalthoum, whose voice is still considered the Arab world’s finest three decades after her death, but also Syrian star Asmahan and the compositions of Egypt’s Mohammad Abdel Wahab.

Quietly confident, Grout’s is a rare presence on the hugely popular Arabs Got Talent, which usually hosts artists more likely to choose pop music, either Arabic or Western.

The final of the show will be held on Dec. 7, when Grout will compete for first place against 11 other contestants.

Voters will call in to name their favorite, and Grout says that, if she wins, she will use the opportunity to get more exposure.

“I guess I would just see what opportunities rise out of this. Hopefully this will give me enough exposure to get performance opportunities, because that’s really all I want to do, if I can, for the rest of my life,” she said.