Few were familiar with the name Chantal Chamandy until few weeks ago when torrents of ads, heavy media coverage and one outstanding performance at the Giza Pyramids quickly transformed her into a household name.
With a high-octane voice and a knack for throwing crowd-pleasing performances; Chamandy charmed Cairo with an amazing concert that featured the Cairo Opera Symphony, the Egyptian National Ballet Company, an Egyptian marching band, Tanoura dancers and Darbouka drum band in front of nearly 5,000 attendants.
By both organizers and audiences’ admission, Chamandy’s concert was the most successful and organized show the Pyramids has witnessed thus far. The grand lighting effects, striking choreography and sheer energy came together in a performance that put the Pyramids and the Sphinx in a dramatic context.
Greg Chamandy, Chantal’s husband and manager, explained to Daily News Egypt that his wife’s management approached the American Public Broadcast Service (PBS) network a year ago to arrange a concert akin to Yanni’s famous show at the Acropolis, one of the network’s most popular musical programs.
The PBS management realized they’ve never had a show from Egypt and assumed that a concert from an artist like Chamandy performing at a historical location like the Pyramids might replicate the major success of Yanni’s concert.
With roaming cameras, Chamandy’s management opted to offer free invitations rather than selling tickets. “It wouldn’t have been acceptable for any audience member who purchased a ticket to find a cameraman in front of him/her at different intervals of the show, Greg Chamandy added.
Nonetheless, Chantal’s classy, magnetic music put the show in a league of its own, surpassing all the disastrous concerts from other mega stars that have performed at the same location in the past.
“Baladi (My Country), the title Chamandy chose for her concert, was no mere musical gig; it was a visual, cultural, musical experience.
Incredibly warm and down-to-earth, 36-year-old Chantal Chamandy fondly talked about her beginnings, the music scene, her late mother’s influence on her life, and the undisclosed motif behind the concert.
The daughter of a Greek-Egyptian father and a Lebanese-Egyptian mother, Alexandria-born Chamandy moved to Montreal, Canada at the age of six. The first outlet to showcase her talent was the church choir where a teacher advised her to develop her skills by studying.
After finishing high school, Chamandy recorded a little demo and found a record-company who signed her up. From the late 1980s, Chamandy sold few million records, toured across Canada and Europe for about five years and eventually broke-up with her record company to sign up with another label.
At the point though, she had grown weary of the dance music mould her label put her in.
“I wrote my own music, I was very creative and I didn’t have at the time the right people around me, Chamandy said. “I wasn’t very happy at that time. The music industry manipulates the artist and they wanted to create a product out of me.
Chamandy refused to succumb to their demands. “I didn’t want it at that cost and I thought maybe it’s not meant to be.
She took some time off at the age of 22, and met her husband while working in a musical theater in Canada. They tied the knot the following year.
Up to then, she was continuously working on projects for other people but eventually, she realized that she wanted to create her own world.
As an independent artist, she wrote and produced her own music in addition to directing her own videos. “I’ve always been an independent girl. I lost my mother when I was very young. I came to Canada when I was five, my father and I were alone and my dad always encouraged me to do what makes me happy.
Chamandy also defied the laws of the market by recording her first album in English to release it in a country where French records dominate the charts.
She later founded a small music studio. While producing her first record five years ago as an independent artist, she knew she wanted to come back to Egypt. “The moment I finished the album, I wanted to come back, throw a concert at the Pyramids and call it Baladi, she said. “Some things in life you just can’t second guess.
Chamandy’s father never ceased talking about Egypt. Coupled with a strong desire to discover her roots, she decided to hold a televised concert at the Pyramids. She was also tired from the western media’s negative coverage of the country.
“You have things that are bad that happens all over the world, she said. “But great PR can always mend any negativity.
“I wish I could do one little thing to help this country, she added. “I think with a show like this, maybe we could change perceptions. Music can change people after all.
Chamandy’s ultimate dream is to emulate Oprah Winfrey’s efforts in Africa. “Maybe if I did this show again next year, we could use all profits to build a small school for 200 kids. Maybe if I came back every year, same day (Sept. 7) and did a concert, we could build a school every year.
It was difficult for Chamandy to observe the different forms of poverty and child labor in Egypt; to recognize how all the historical sites scattered abundantly around the country are not being channeled properly in terms of external promotion and publicity. It intrigued her to watch the unique fusion of Egypt’s ancient heritage with the ultra-mod culture of the capital that few people in the western world are aware of.
“Most people die and do nothing in life, she contemplated. “I’d love somebody to go, wow.she did one little thing. I think I’m at that place in my life where I’d like to do something because I was fortunate enough to have the life I’ve had.
After the success of the concert, Chamandy was offered to do a tour and the show will participate in the trade exhibition MIPCOM; the biggest TV market in the world held annually in France. For her, the sky’s the limit, but she insists that any forthcoming step “must have a meaning.
Speaking fondly of her mother, Chamandy admitted that their relationship had a deep impact on her life. “I didn’t go into therapy after she died and I think it’s all coming back now, she said. “I usually wake up these days and wonder if only she could’ve seen me married, if only she could’ve seen my son born. I think you realize after all that the people who really love you are few and far between.
Chamandy finally got to visit the place where she was born. With a glisten in her eyes, she finally said, “I went to visit my mother’s apartment and sat in the same chairs she used to sit on. Although it was a bit traumatizing, it gave me closure which I never had.
Chamandy is preparing for a French long player for Montreal at the moment along with an Arabic one to be released in Egypt. You can purchase her albums from amazon.com. For more, visit www.chantalchamandy.com