When multi-GRAMMY winner Carole King takes the stage at the MusiCares Person of the Year ceremony in her honor, she will be accompanied on one song by Berklee College of Music student Ahmad El Haggar from Egypt. They will perform a Middle Eastern-style version of the music legend’s song “Home Again.” The new arrangement was written in collaboration with 25 year-old El Haggar specifically for the event.
The MusiCares Person of the Year ceremonyFriday, January 24, 2014, in Los Angelesis one of the most prestigious events held during GRAMMY Week. Multi-GRAMMY-winning artists including Jakob Dylan, Alicia Keys, Lady Gaga, P!nk, James Taylor, Steven Tyler, will.i.am, and Gloria Estefan will perform in King’s honor at the ceremony, hosted by Jimmy Kimmel.
El Haggar is a vocalist and oud player from Cairo, Egypt, who met King last spring when she received an honorary doctorate at Berklee. He was assigned to be her chaperone and they immediately connected. When King learned that El Haggar was Egyptian, she shared with him her interest in Arabic music and said she wished someone would create an exchange in which Middle Eastern and American bands performed together in each other’s countries.
King was inspired by the MusiCares honor to invite El Haggar to write and perform the new arrangement with her at the event. She reached out to him through Berklee’s President Roger Brown. Said Brown, “Carole wrote me to appeal for more scholarship support for Ahmad when the trouble in Egypt caused his family to suffer difficulties that threatened his ability to stay at Berklee.”
“I saw the MusiCares event as a perfect opportunity to introduce both Ahmad and the idea of multicultural musical collaboration to the music industry and the world,” King said.
Once the performance was confirmed, King came to Berklee to rehearse with El Haggar. While he was nervous, she put him at ease. “The most amazing thing is how she gave so much energy and effort. She was really passionate about the idea and the collaboration and always spoke so positively,” said El Haggar.
El Haggar’s goal is to improve opportunities for Middle Eastern music to reach a wider audience. “I'm really hoping that Arabic music would be presented better to the world and that it could have a space in mainstream music. Few crossover artists from the Arab world have really made an impact in the Western world. I'm hoping that there can be a basic understanding of the music.”
“Music has the power to reach people across political and cultural differences,” King added. “I’m hoping that someone with organizational talent will be inspired to create an ongoing musical bridge to connect cultures around the world through a series of collaborative concerts.”
This isn’t the first time El Haggar has put his stamp on a pop favorite. His Egyptian rendition of Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy” has over 100,000 views on YouTube. Before coming to Berklee, he attended the Higher Institute of Arabic Music, where his education focused on traditional Middle Eastern and Western music.
King is being honored as the 2014 MusiCares Person of the Year in recognition of her extraordinary creative accomplishments as well as her significant charitable work, which has included an impressive range of philanthropic activities over the years. In addition to her continuously evolving musical career, King is actively involved with environmental organizations in support of forest wilderness preservation as well as a range of political causes.
Berklee College of Music alumni are nominated for 36 Grammy Awards this year.