She dreams of touring Europe and the US to sing of love and peace. That is her 'big ambition.' A rising star amongst Egypt's singers, Rula Zaki tells us in her best known song that we live on an indivisible planet.
"Love the world, we are one," says the lyric her father, Galal, wrote for her to commemorate the 9/11 tragedy. It is a message of love and peace to the US and the world.
"I miss my friends at Appleton and I miss the milk. There's no milk like Appleton, Wisconsin, milk," she says. She studied music at Lawrence University in Appleton.
That was back in the 90s. What is she doing now?
"I've become a graduation singer," she says with a laugh. She says she knows that sounds funny, but that's mostly what she's been doing recently. She takes singing seriously, but her sense of humour bubbles over while she talks.
"Schools ask me to sing at their graduation ceremonies. Oh, and last year I sang at Queen Elizabeth's birthday party at the British Embassy."
Rula, who sings in nine languages, apart from her own, which is Arabic, is an incisive personality. She knows what she wants, says so and doesn't waver thereafter. Modesty is her watchword: she refuses to wear plunging necklines and skimpy clothes and does not project herself as a hip-jerking, prancing purveyor of pop. This may have lost her some "big bucks", but she doesn't care. Singing is her life, not just a money-spinner, which doesn't mean she projects a Victorian image. "New York, New York," after all, belongs to our times and Rula is very much a personality of today.
She had two charity engagements recently. One of them was a People-to-People peace movement party attended by Mary Eisenhower, Ike's granddaughter. She also sang at a stadium to an audience of 9,000, of whom 5,000 were disabled. Another recent engagement had her performing for a Spanish tour group at the pyramids.
The graduation performances that she's been giving, she says, usually involve her singing a song of her own choosing and then one the pupils have chosen, so they can sing along with her
She sang her Dad's 9/11 song originally at the Cairo American College (CAC) commemoration of the 9/11 tragedy and then at the Maadi Community Church and the American University in Cairo (AUC) reunion. She also sang it at a British Embassy fund raising event to send Egyptian Special Olympics entrants to the games in Ireland.
Rula, who is from a Muslim family, is evidence of the indivisibility of mankind. She sings Western melodies with the same verve and polish she devotes to the half tones of Arab music. It is, perhaps, astounding that though she sings to Arab-style music, she received most of her education and voice and musical training almost entirely in US institutions.
Her music and vocal teacher for seven years was Larry Catlin. CAC's Director of Music and the founder of Cairo's New Opera House Choir, Rauf Zaidan, worked with her from 1982. Her voice, he said at the time, had "all the makings of a magnificent natural soprano" and she sang at the Cairo Opera House as a young child.
While still at CAC she gave soprano solo performances in the Faure Requiem (Pie Jesu) and the Vivaldi 'Gloria'
(Domine Jesu). She also performed in the operas, 'The Merry Widow' and 'Carmen,' as well as the musicals 'Starlight Express' and 'Carnival.' The climax came with a stunning performance in a school production of "My Fair Lady" that brought her acclaim beyond the walls of the school.
The school's Music Director "took me to New York where I stayed with his parents and went to the Crane School of Music. His parents were good people. They really looked after me. I was 12, the youngest in the school. I won an award as the most outstanding vocalist."
In High School she was offered seven scholarships to study music at reputable US universities. She and her parents and music advisers chose Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin. There, on a four-year-scholarship, she obtained a Bachelor of Music degree in 1995.
Since then she has taken the lead roles, acting and singing, in Walt Disney's Arabic version of 'Little Mermaid'; 'Toy Story 2' and 'Cinderella.' She sang at the opening of the 36th International Advertising World Congress (IAA) in Cairo, in May 1998 and at the launch of Egypt's First Lady's 'Give a Kid a Hand' worldwide campaign.
She has sung professionally for TV and radio in Egypt, Jordan and the USA as well as acted and sung in numerous TV commercials. While at school she won the Arion award for vocal music and she was the Grand Prize Winner of the Cairo 2000 International Song Festival.
You'd think her singing engagements and her three-year-old son, Karim, would be enough to keep her busy, but Rula has a regular job teaching music at the school where she, herself, was once a pupil and where she started her singing career.
Cairo is a long way away from the small, quiet town of Appleton, where she says she never felt foreign, but she keeps in touch with her friends there. Some have come to visit her in Egypt and are coming back again.
? Copyright Yasseen
Yasseen Yasseen is the author of a coming-of-age book called Emigrating Home, which was sparked by his being called into both the British and Egyptian armies when the two countries were in conflict. A dual national, he was caught up in an almost insoluble dilemma: how could he serve in either since he loved both? This is the story of his journey from his birthplace, what was then the British colony of Jamaica, to school in Britain, to his father's country, Egypt. Told in fiction form, the tale ends with Yasseen in Cairo trying to get a grip on things that seemed to spin out of control because, while he spoke no Arabic, he looked like a national and nobody took him for a tourist.
Yasseen has spent his working life in radio, TV and newspaper journalism, in the Middle East -- in Egypt, Oman and Dubai.
He is currently working for a newspaper and is trying to find time to write a novel and a sequel to Emigrating Home.
You can visit his website at: http://www.emigratinghome.com/