Iraqi singer Rahma Riad and Iraqi-American actor Alexander Uloom are all set for new roles as parents. The couple get real about their rock-solid relationship, their anticipation and fears around parenthood, and their unwavering love for their heritage.
To say that Rahma Riad has been busy of late would be a grave understatement. In the past few months alone, she has released trending songs such as “Helo Hal Shu’oor” [This Feeling is Sweet], been on the judging panel of the fourth edition of Mentor Arabia’s Youth Empowerment Film Song Competition, won the Arab singer of the year award at Murex D’or 2023, and lit up the stage ushering in 2024 from the heart of the Lebanese capital. Best known for her memorable appearances in contests such as Star Academy and Super Star, and her role on the judging panel for Iraq Idol, Riad has worked tirelessly for over a decade to achieve her dream of becoming a household name throughout the Middle East. Fast forward to the present day, she reigns supreme as one of the most streamed Arab female artists on YouTube, and has nearly eight million followers on Instagram, solidifying her position as one of the most admired musicians in the region.
The 37-year-old Iraqi singer and her husband, actor and model Alexander Uloom, ended 2023 on a surprising note, revealing to their followers on social media that they will be “adding a new chapter” to their story, welcoming a new addition to their family. Despite having lived much of their lives in the spotlight, when it comes to their personal life, the couple are notoriously private. Having suffered a miscarriage in 2023, they intended to keep the pregnancy under wraps until it was unavoidably obvious. Today, their excitement at prospective parenthood is palpable as they speak to Vogue Arabia. “We have a few names in mind,” reveals Riad. “We’ve already had a few disagreements about the name,” says Uloom. “Well, I prefer to name her when I meet her,” laughs Riad. The playful understanding between the pair is heartwarming.
The star couple divide their time between Istanbul, Baghdad, and Doha as well as navigating jam-packed schedules that take them across the Middle East and around the globe. But their glittering lives are a world away from the traumas that tainted their early years. Throughout her blooming career, Riad has been transparent with her audience, revealing the secrets of her troubled childhood and complicated relationship with her father, and the mental anguish that she battled because of his death. Born in Basra, Riad displayed her gift for music at a young age, having inherited her talent and passion for entertainment from her father, Riad Ahmed, a famed singer in his own right. “We were inseparable,” she reminisces. “To me he was the strongest man in the world, and he taught me to be bold and fearless. And these are some of the things that I’ll pass down to my daughter, to rely on herself and not take the easy road in life, and that her struggles will shape her as a person.”
Like many Iraqis who suffered the horrors of war, both Riad and Uloom left their homeland at a young age. “My childhood was difficult to say the least,” shares Uloom. After living in a refugee camp for a brief period, a six-year-old Uloom was displaced to America with his family, where even there, they were forced to move to different locations more frequently than he would have wished. “It meant that I had to adapt quickly and learn some things on my own. All this motivates me to work and provide my children with safety, security, and a better life than mine. I’m certain Rahma will be an affectionate mother and even more wonderful than I imagine.” It is this ghost of uncertainty that haunts Riad, too. “Instability was the worst part of my childhood, so providing stability for my daughter is the number one priority for me and I know that Alex is going to be an amazing, caring, and present father.”
To both, the road to solidity begins with their own partnership, agreeing that loyalty and equality are the foundation stones for love. They met through Riad’s sister Neama. “Alex was very transparent and real from the moment I met him, and he still is today,” she says. “I knew that we shared the same struggles – we both have a story to tell and have worked hard to be where we are today.” With Arabic Riad’s primary language and English that of Uloom’s, communication was a hurdle that they worked to overcome in the early days of their relationship, “but love and music are universal,” says Uloom. With the baby’s arrival on the horizon, they are determined that their new circumstances will only work to strengthen their relationship. “I know for a fact that our bond will be stronger,” says Riad. “We both have so much love to give our baby and it’ll bring us closer together.”
As a regional celebrity, Riad is no stranger to scrutiny, which is why her pregnancy style has veered towards simplicity and comfort in the form of long, chic dresses and supple fabrics. “It’s hard to find the right outfits especially when attending events and while performing, but Rihanna has been my pregnancy style inspiration so far,” she says. For her most recent public appearance at her concert in Beirut, Riad opted for a flowing crystal-embellished empire line gown with an adjustable corset back by Lebanese designer Nadim Olivera Soudaiha for La Bourjoisie that sufficiently hid her unannounced pregnancy. Considering her unforgiving profession, the pressures of “bouncing back” loom heavy on Riad’s mind. “I want to get back in shape quickly post-delivery, so I’ve been consulting with my doctor, a nutritionist, and a personal trainer. I’ve been eating healthily and working out throughout my pregnancy – Pilates in particular.”
It’s clear that health and fitness play a significant role in the couple’s dream of their ideal family. “We will be a happy family of six people, who love and support each other, and exercise regularly,” envisions Uloom. Riad concurs, “healthy, sports enthusiasts, with a passion for music and the arts.” Despite her hopes for artistic children, Riad is aware of the difficulties that this path entails. “Of course, we would embrace and encourage whatever talent she might have and support her in any road she chooses, but being an artist is hard. Success isn’t always guaranteed. If we can spare her the struggles that we went through, then we will. But at the end of the day, it’s completely her choice and her path in life that she needs to walk to make it of her own accord.”
Regardless of the international nature of their current everyday reality, Iraq is an immovable constant in both their lives. “No matter where we will be living in the future, it is important to us to teach our daughter a love for Iraq and to understand where she comes from,” says Rahma Riad. Uloom’s grandmother played a key role in his cultural upbringing, instilling in him an affection for their heritage and homeland. “We will strive to pass on to our children what we learned from our parents in order to preserve our Iraqi and Arab culture, customs and traditions,” he agrees.
Whatever the future may hold for this burgeoning family, one thing is clear, the couple is set on finding the right balance of opportunity and permanence for their daughter. “We will make every possible effort to be as present as we can in every detail of her life, to instill in her a sense of humility and love and be the role models she needs to pursue her dreams no matter what.”
Style: Yasmina Karam
Hair: Remah Jammoul
Makeup: Moe Maanieh
Producer: Sam Allison
Photography assistant: Rachel Barakat
Originally published in the February 2024 issue of Vogue Arabia