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“I am a rebellious and genuine woman who hates failure” — Assala Nasri on Overcoming Personal Challenges

Syrian singing sensation Assala Nasri is articulate, spontaneous, bold, and outspoken. After overcoming personal challenges, now, more than ever, she is touching her fans with her voice and art

VOGUE ARABIA COVER MARCH 2020 Assala Nasri. Photography: Hassan Hajjaj

Assala Nasri wears dress, Nicolas Jebran; glasses, Andy Wahloo Super-Lux X Poppy Lissiman. Photographed by Hassan Hajjaj for Vogue Arabia March 2020

It has been 10 years since my last interview with the Syrian singer Assala Nasri for the occasion of a new record release. In that first meeting, she seemed so spontaneous and frank; unbreakable, strong, assertive, and sensitive. While a decade has passed, it seems like yesterday. Nothing has changed – Nasri is the same as always.

The singer reveals that it was Lebanese designer Nicolas Jebran who convinced her to embark on this journey with Vogue Arabia and star on the third anniversary cover. It is no secret that Nasri and Jebran have a special relationship. He refers to her as, “A shining star. A happy, rebellious, capricious, and positive spirit who never surrenders and who removes obstacles with her music.” Commenting on the cover shoot, Nasri says, “When I saw the first photo, I forgot how tired I was during my travels to Marrakech. Hassan Hajjaj creates genuine art. I have never posed for a photographer like him. He is a real artist and cares so much about every detail to create his unique photos.”

Also Read: 24 Times Assala Proved Arab Designers Rule Her Wardrobe and the Stage

VOGUE ARABIA COVER MARCH 2020 Assala Nasri. Photography: Hassan Hajjaj

Assala Nasri wears dress, Nicholas Jebran; hat, gloves, Andy Wahloo Super-Lux. Photographed by Hassan Hajjaj for Vogue Arabia March 2020

The singer continues the conversation with her musings on fame and reveals that she often considers that it could leave her at any time. “My fame is tied to my voice. I don’t know when God will deprive me of it,” she shares. And so, she tries to keep her life as a woman separate from her life as a star, though she admits to seldom succeeding. Nasri doesn’t deny that she enjoys fans’ love while on stage, but with the people close to her, she lives like anyone else. “Although fame gives everything, I hate it and hate to be governed by its details,” she asserts. “When something bad happens in my life, I will exert more effort and become more resilient. I am a rebellious and genuine woman who hates failure.”

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When Nasri announced her divorce from Palestinian-American director and producer Tarek El Eryan on Instagram, she expressed her grief without mentioning the reasons for the split. She believes that divorce is a personal issue, one that no one has the right to comment on, especially as it is not related to her alone. Her divorce was an ordeal, and perhaps her crying on stage in Saudi Arabia is unmistakable evidence of that. She doesn’t know if her tears were due to her frustration or because she felt safe in the Kingdom, where she feels a deep connection. “Saudi people made my intellectual being. I feel I truly belong to this country that supported me from the beginning.”

“I am a rebellious and genuine woman who hates failure.”

Whatever the reason for her crying, her tears were the truest expression of her grief. After 14 years of marriage, she lost her partner, the father of her two children, and the love of her life. Today, she tries to look at things with a new light. “We were 90% positive during our marriage, and I will never forget this phase. Our separation does not mean that we deny the achievement we made together. Tarek and I formed a successful and fun couple, and we both decided on divorce.” She refuses to talk about the possibility of reconciliation, offering, “I am still exhausted. I cannot be honest in this matter.” She has not yet recovered from the divorce. “I would say one thing to Tarek: ‘I have always confessed to you that I need a father in my life and you had promised me that I will be your child for the rest of my life even if it is impossible that we live together. You didn’t fulfill your promise when we separated.’” She asks, “Why couldn’t I play the role of a real child in Tarek’s life?”

Assala Nasri wears coat, Miu Miu; shirt, Gucci; skirt, Christopher Kane; hat, Andy Wahloo Super-Lux; shoes, photographer’s own. Photographed by Hassan Hajjaj for Vogue Arabia March 2020

Recovering quickly, Nasri explains, “Despite all the loss, I gained myself.” She reveals that she now takes more care of her appearance, health, femininity, and fashion. In the past, she devoted much time and effort looking after every minor detail of her husband’s life. The A-list singer starts to talk about women in general, affirming that she supports all, including the oppressed, battered, successful, and persistent women, and above all, mothers. However, she expresses concern for the workload of career women, explaining, “In performing this social duty, the working woman is subject to a bigger dose of oppression, as going out to work requires double the effort; she has to work inside and outside the home. Thus, her attention for herself is weakened; she even loses so much of her human rights along the way.” She emphasizes once again women’s right to take care of themselves, their health, and to live their lives and femininity to the fullest. “If I had to do it all over again, I would look after myself more. I have paid no attention to myself for too long.”

VOGUE ARABIA COVER MARCH 2020 Assala Nasri. Photography: Hassan Hajjaj

Assala wears coat, Dries Van Noten; shirt, Gucci; pants, photographer’s own; shoes, Tom Ford; tights, Swedish Stockings. Photographed by Hassan Hajjaj for Vogue Arabia March 2020

Now, following the divorce, Nasri lives in Egypt. She considers it her homeland, as her children were born there, and she wants her twins to be close to their father. Her four children remain her top priority and she is keen on the time she spends with them. “I’m a celebrity and that puts me under heavy social pressures. I love to spend time with my kids without interruption. Unfortunately, that is almost impossible.” She makes sure to follow up with their school, as she wants them to receive a higher education. “I gave my daughter Sham absolute freedom because she is now a mature, educated, and trusted person,” she explains. “I let her find her own way into a personal and professional life. And that is what I will do with all my kids. I’m not going to impose my own rules on them; never ever.”

“If I had to do it all over again, I would look after myself more. I have paid no attention to myself for too long.”

Having talked extensively about her character, ethos, failures, and successes, the star is excited to talk about art. “I hate kitsch; music should refine the soul and promote ethics. I feel proud having real artists like Nawal Al-Kuwaitia, Mona Zaki, and Angham among us. I respect these names and appreciate their ethics both personally and artistically.”

Of her personal song choices, she shares, “I like sad tunes. However happy I feel, I opt for sad songs.” Nasri has in the past invited others to share in selecting songs with her, including her brother Anas, her business manager, and finally El Eryan, who jointly selected many songs, including her greatest hits “Ya Majnoun,” “Alli Jara,” “Samehtak,” and “Mabaash Ana.” However, she wasn’t always pleased with their choices, admitting, “I presented so many songs that I’m not convinced of. They neither resemble me nor express my principles, like “Kabartak Ala Sedak,” among others. They make me feel ashamed, so I close my eyes when performing them.”

VOGUE ARABIA COVER MARCH 2020 Assala Nasri. Photography: Hassan Hajjaj

Assala wears shirt, Versace; skirt, scarf, Ferragamo; glasses, Andy Wahloo Super-Lux X Poppy Lissiman. Photographed by Hassan Hajjaj for Vogue Arabia March 2020

As for her many fans, Nasri communicates with them through social media, particularly Twitter as it allows her to become closer to them. “These platforms grant me the feeling of rapture. I like being flattered and pampered. This is who I am since I was seven years old. I used to be surrounded with care and love since I was in my home country, Syria. Since childhood, I’ve been so fond of hearing words of praise, especially concerning my voice and talent.” Nasri was born to Syrian artist Mustafa Nasri, and loved art from an early age. She started singing at four and presented programs and songs for children. Her breakthrough came with the release of her first album, Law Taaarafou, in 1993.

Today, if some people look to use circumstances in her life to build unfounded assumptions, she retorts, “I hate analyzing between the lines. In expressing any situation or a point of view, I opt to do so directly.” Despite being bold and spontaneous, Nasri upholds forgiveness. “Apology is an often-seen feature of honesty and spontaneity. I make a lot of mistakes, so I have to apologize.” She continues, “All my human relations are built on emotions. My life is like karma, and investing in others is the most important investment in my life. One day, we reap what we sow, be it good or bad.”

Originally published in the March 2020 issue of Vogue Arabia

Photography Hassan Hajjaj 
Style Katie Trotter & Lisa Jarvis
Creative producer Laura Prior  
Art accomplice Ebon Heath 
Second assistant Tariq Hajjaj
Local producer Marie Courtin 
Hair Sadek Lardjane 
Makeup Jo Frost
Photography assistants Hasnae El Quarga and Meriem Yin
Style assistant Alexandria Lefevre 
Runner Yazid Bezaz, Abdelali Boukrimi, Mohammed Ajib
Studio Riad Yima, Marrakech
With special thanks to Four Seasons Resort Marrakech

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