Amongst the greats of Arabic music is none other than Algeria’s very own: Warda. Lovingly referred to as Warda Al Jazairia throughout the Arab world, she was born Warda Mohammed Ftouki on the 22nd of July 1939 in the 18th district of Paris to a Lebanese mother and an Algerian father.
Warda’s beginnings reveal a prophecy-fulfilling life. Her father Mohammed opened TAM-TAM (Tunisia, Algeria, Morocco): a cabaret that would prove to be successful and host many greats of the Arabic song like Farid Al Atrash and Safia Chamia. It is on that stage that Warda would first sing to an audience in the early 1950s as a young girl. Young Warda would often sing Algerian patriotic songs in support of her colonized homeland. Her life would take a turn when the French uncovered her father’s affiliation with the Algerian Liberation Front. In the tense Algerian war climate of 1960s Paris, the Ftouki family had no choice but to flee for Beirut.
During her exile in Lebanon, she continued exploring her musical talent by singing in various cabarets. In 1959, she met the famed Egyptian composer Mohamed Abdel Wahab who would mentor her and teach her the art of classical singing. Meeting Abdelwahed was a monumental moment in Warda’s career that would set off her beginnings in her adopted country Egypt.
In 1961, another tragedy struck Warda as her father passed away. Soon after, she would visit independent Algeria for the first time and discover the country she was so intertwined with but never knew. Warda would marry an Algerian man who would forbid her to sing for the next ten years. She would finally return to music on special request from Algeria’s president Houari Boumediene to perform with an Egyptian orchestra in Algiers to commemorate the 10th anniversary of Algerian independence in 1972. Here she was singing for the country she sang for all the years ago as a child; Warda would leave her husband, Algeria, and return to Egypt and music.
What follows is Arab music history; an Umm-Kulthum-like stroke of genius touched Warda; she would work with the best composers of the Egyptian song and go on to produce some of the most loved songs in the region: Batwanes Beek, Haramt Ahebak, Fe Youm We Lela and many more. The Arab public found its new diva in Warda, who commanded the stage wherever she was, whether in Algiers, Cairo, or Paris. According to musicologist Daniel Caux, she embodied all the essential qualities expected of a singer from the Arab world. Caux emphasized her precise intonation, impeccable sense of rhythm, and exceptional command of nuances, which he believed added depth to her performances. He praised Warda’s ability to merge strength and subtlety seamlessly, creating a harmonious balance in her singing.
Warda passed away peacefully in her sleep in Cairo on the 17th of May, 2012. She was laid to rest in “Martyr’s Square” in Algiers. Here was the Algerian girl who, when she first sang, did so for her country, a woman whose voice was so powerful yet silenced. But for not long, the Algerian rose did not just rediscover her voice; she found an adoring public, life-long collaborators and was cemented as a pillar of the Arabic song.