Published in Ahram Online
Since 1994, the Time for Peace awards have been awarded to artists in the fields of music and film whose work has spread humanitarian values, solidarity and tolerance.
Among the award winners have been the filmmakers Roberto Benigni for La Vita e Bella (Life is Beautiful), Alexander Sokurov for Alexandra, and Jan Sverák for Kolya, and the musicians Charles Aznavour for Colore Ma Vie (Colour My Life) and Sting for If on a Winter’s Night.
Every year the award ceremony is held in a different US or European city. This year the ceremony announcing the 2011 winners will take place in Brussels at the European Parliament. During the ceremony, nominees for the 2012 awards will also be announced.
Among the nominees for the 2012 award is Tony Kaldas (Antoine Kaldas), born in 1984 to a Greek mother and an Egyptian father, for his song Anta Akhy (You Are My Brother) that he composed to the words of Khalil Gibran. Kaldas will perform the song at the ceremony on 26 January.
Anta Akhy combines Western and Eastern musical influences and the opening verse “You are my brother and I love you” sums up Kaldas’ search for solidarity and love between people regardless of belief, ideology or religion. “I love you when you bow in your mosque, kneel in your temple, pray in your church,” says Kaldas, following the words of Gibran. Kaldas explains on his website that the song “is expressing a new dimension for religious tolerance through Gibran’s words that aim to find a place of peace in every heart.”
Kaldas composed the song in 2008 and still performs it regularly at concerts with his band. “2008 was my year of success,” Kaldas tells Ahram Online. “In June 2008 I gave a concert at the Gomhouria Theatre in Cairo for Khalil Gibran’s 125th Jubilee. The same concert was then performed at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina open-air theatre in July. The song Anta Akhy received very good feedback from the audience and soon a number of institutions started contacting me to learn more about it. I kept performing the song and soon felt I wanted to record it professionally.”
In early December 2010, he approached a number of musicians and directors to work on the song and posted it on YouTube on 8 June 2011. It later aired on a number of television channels, including BBC Arabic and Hora TV.
“I directed the video, Mohamed Laymouni is the director of photography and the music is arranged by Amr Rady. Many people showed their wonderful support for the project by working on a voluntary basis. Collège-des-Frères (Bab-El-Louk) in Cairo lent us the stage, while funding came from the Egyptians Against Religious Discrimination coalition” says Kaldas.
Nomination for the Time for Peace award might be one of the biggest stepping-stones in Kaldas’ career. Humbled, he sees it as important recognition for his years of development as a musician against all the odds.
Kaldas showed interest in singing from an early age. However, despite listening to a wide variety of music at home, his parents didn’t encourage him to follow a career in music and he eventually graduated from the Architectural Engineering department. As a young child Kaldas sang in religious choirs and later with the Cairo Celebration Choir. “I have been singing in church choirs since I was at school and when singing in a capella formations I developed a sense of harmonies,” comments Kaldas. “After this experience, I decided to continue with professional opera training.”
Kaldas continued at the Talent Development Centre operated by the Cairo Opera House, where he benefited from lessons taken with sopranos Taheya Shams El-Din and Iman Moustafa in the early 2000s. “They both contributed a lot to my development and opened many doors for me,” Kaldas asserts. He also studied violin and guitar, and plays piano. He gave up on violin after a few years but plays the guitar at many concerts.
Over the years, Kaldas has sung many covers, which he believes allowed him to try a variety of musical styles. “It is important for any musician or band to sing covers as a learning process and to discover different elements of music and performance. Musical knowledge is acquired through learning in an academic way, yet experience gained in playing covers is also very important.”
His repertoire includes songs by many Arabic music icons and he often returns to Asmahan, Farid El-Atrash, Mohamed Abdel Wahab, Nour El-Hoda, Magda El-Roumi, and Rahbani Brothers for inspiration. He considers Asmahan to be his idol: “I’ve loved her voice since my childhood. My dad listened to Asmahan a lot. I admire people who can sing in various styles and this is what Asmahan excels at.” Many of Kaldas’ covers are by international singers such as Charles Aznavour, Edith Piaf, Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole, Elvis Presley, and Enrico Macias. He has performed on many stages in Cairo and Alexandria, including at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, the Cairo Opera House, the El Sawy Culturewheel and the El-Genaina Theatre.
Kaldas started composing later in his career but Anta Akhy is not his first original composition. “For many years I didn’t feel ready to present my own music but kept composing for myself,” he says, adding that he has many original compositions that haven’t yet seen daylight.
Despite coming from a multinational family and speaking many languages, Kaldas considers himself Egyptian. His music incorporates elements of many cultures where Eastern melodies are soaked in Western harmonies.
After performing at the Time for Peace ceremony in Brussels, Kaldas will perform two concerts in Paris, including one at the Egyptian Cultural Centre on 30 January. Upon his return to Egypt, he is planning to perform various concerts although the dates are yet to be announced.