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World Artist Spotlight: Dalida
by Farah Elattar

In this spotlight on world artists, we take a look at the marvelous life and discography of Dalida – an Egyptian-Italian singer, actress, and model, who sang in French, Italian, Greek, Spanish, German, English, Japanese, Hebrew, Dutch, Turkish and Arabic. Her career spanned over thirty years, leaving a lasting mark on Mediterranean and Middle Eastern cultures.

Although Dalida was very famous in Europe in the Middle East, even earning the title “Saint Dalida” among European audiences, she failed to crack the US market, unlike other singers such as Francoise Hardy or Brigitte Bardot. Despite her inability to attract fame in the US, she was able to sell over 120 million records worldwide, and 50 of her records reached gold status. The lack of attention she received in the US makes this spotlight even more essential and more needed.

One of the elements that make Dalida so beautiful and moving to listen to is the sensuality in her voice, and her dark take on love and romantic relationships. One can credit this cynicism to her messy private life, which was all over the tabloids. From rumors that she dated French President Francois Mitterand before he took office, to her love affairs with famous actors such as Alain Delon, Dalida truly had a chaotic life. The overexposure of her fragile emotional state allowed her songs to take on a deeper meaning, as she was not just a shallow beauty pageant winner (Miss Egypt 1954). Her penetrating, powerful voice could not help but sing in a melancholic note, which was intensified by her true devotion to her audiences.

A notable example that comes to mind of this catastrophic combination between public and private is perhaps her most famous song, “Paroles, Paroles” (Eng: Words, Words) which she performed with French actor Alain Delon, who was her lover at the time. The duet features Delon saying what can only be described as “sweet nothings” to his lover (“I look at you as though it were the first time”/ “You are of yesterday and of tomorrow, always my only truth,” etc.), while the singer, disillusioned, professes her disbelief in love.

Dalida: Toffees, candy, and chocolates;

Alain Delon: (At times I can't understand you.)

D: (No) thanks, not for me,

but you can offer them to another

who likes the wind and the scent of roses.

(For) me, the tender words coated in sweetness

stay in my mouth but never in my heart.

 

Her success resonated in all parts of the world, especially in 1974 when she released “Gigi l’amoroso.” She recorded the song in multiple languages, including Italian, English, French, Japanese, and German. The song reached the top of the charts in twelve countries. Perhaps some of its success can be attributed to the fact that the song is a seven-minute-long story of a loveable man named Gigi, who goes to Hollywood in search of musical success, only to come back to his true “Napolitano” identity, as “Gigi l’Amoroso” of small-town Italy.  The most heartwarming part is the end of the story, where the whole town cheers him on:

           Wait, Gigi, wait!

I'll get my tambourine

Wait, you can't leave like that!

This is your home!

Listen... you hear them Gigi?

The whole town is coming!

They want you to sing Gigi!

To sing for them

They love you Gigi, everybody loves you

Sing Gigi! Canta! Bravo!!! Bravo!

 

Dalida was indeed praised throughout the world. Her friends included celebrities and powerful personas from different countries, including Egyptian heartthrob Omar Elsherif, Julio Iglesias, and Egyptian President Anwar Al Sadat, who was elated at her arrival for her tour. She was truly a pioneer of multiculturalism, and even sang two fully Arabic songs devoted to her birth country, Egypt (Salma ya salama, and Helwa ya Baladi).

Yet, despite her professional success, her personal life had always been hard. Reports state that she felt she had sacrificed her life “as a woman” in order to reach professional success. Her feelings of depression and failure were intensified by an abortion that made her infertile, as well as the suicides of a number of her friends and former lovers. Her last album even contains a song called “Mourir sur scene” (Eng: To die on stage), and expresses her desire to end her life on stage:

I want to die on the stage

In the spotlight

Yes, I want to die on the stage

My heart open, in full color

To die without any sorrow

At our last rendezvous

I want to die on the stage

Singing until the very end.

 

Indeed, Dalida fulfilled her wish. Feeling that life was not worth living any longer, Dalida committed suicide on the night of May 2nd to May 3rd, 1987. The note she left behind read “La vie m’est insupportable… Pardonnez-moi” (Eng: Life is unbearable to me… Forgive me).

 

Her success still resonates in Europe in the Middle East, where the mere mention of the name “Dalida” is immediately recognized, praised, and loved. However, unlike other European stars, her story is largely forgotten in mainstream culture.