Benaouda Lebdai – Dalida, daughter of Egypt

Dalida died more than thirty years ago and we thought we had said everything about this exceptional and especially endearing singer. The international star she was had no secrets from anyone. Indeed, the great voice of French song mixed her personal life, in particular her love life, her moods, her desire for a child, the misfortunes that she experienced through the suicides of her companions with her creations . Whole, sincere, Dalida killed herself on May 3, 1987, a gesture that says a lot about her depression. She sang “I would like to die on stage” and it was the case, since she was at the height of her glory when she decided on this gesture, leaving a short word that simply said “forgiveness” to her family, to her friends, to his fans.

She sang everywhere in Europe, in Asia, in Africa in particular in Algeria and in Senegal, in Canada, in Latin America with a consecration at Carnegie Hall in New York. We thought everything had been said about Dalida, by Iolanda Gigliotti, born in Egypt on January 17, 1933 but who managed to live from her passion from Paris. But now, a little piece of work called Dalida in Egypt, Which tells in four languages, French, Arabic, Italian and English, the other Dalida – the Egyptian Dalida with magnificent photos that show the first life of the international star.

Read also Dalida: the ten key figures of her life

A story by a recognized specialist

Jacqueline Jondot, specialist in English-speaking Arabic literature, professor at the University of Toulouse, is the author and the designer of this work * which she dedicates to the young Cairotes of the revolution of January 25, 2011, when in Tahrir square also resounded the beautiful song “Helwa Ya Baladi” by Dalida, who had recorded it in Arabic, a hope for a whole youth. This postcolonial work is worth a detour, because it tells of a life not secret but killed by the media. Jacqueline Jondot does not deconstruct the portrait of Dalida, on the other hand she brings an essential dimension of Dalida, in this case the soul and the deep Arab-African-Italian culture of the international star. It is true that it has always been said that she was born in Egypt, just like Claude François, but the connection with this part of Africa stopped at this fact.

The interest of this biographical history which goes to the essential rests on Cairo archives, on a personal research of Jacqueline Jondot in Cairo, a city that the author particularly likes. Thus, short texts highlight a founding datum of Dalida’s personality, his belonging to multiple cultural spheres which characterize migrants and which make them open, tolerant, rich from within.

Read also Google celebrates Dalida, born 86 years ago

The migration issue already

The dimension of the migratory question was part of the sensitivity of Dalida, because her grandparents fled poverty in Italy by emigrating to Egypt in 1890. Throughout her childhood and adolescence, Dalida lived in the midst of diverse social communities and nuns. Iolanda Gigliotti spoke fluent Arabic, felt totally Egyptian of Italian origin, a country dear to her heart. Her family loved music and theater in this Cairo of the 1950s, so they had a happy childhood in Choubra, a residential area of ​​Cairo.

The childhood injury of being an Italian girl during the war

For me, the author put her finger on a wound of the child Dalida, in this case the suffering, during the Second World War, of the Italians who were suspect because of the Italian-German axis. Dalida’s father was interned in camps with many Italians, which deeply affected the young Iolanda – a trauma from which her father never recovered. One of Dalida’s strengths in getting out of it probably comes from this family history. The link with Pharaonic Africa of Dalida is strong.

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Iolanda, a pharaonic goddess

The work shows, photo in support, that she embodied the role of the pharaonic goddess Isis. Although graduated in secretarial work, it was the world of fashion and song that attracted Iolanda the most in the bustling Cairo. She received the second Miss Ondine Prize, photo in the Cairo newspapers. She climbed on the podium for the Miss Egypt competition, which propelled her to the front of the stage. She worked in a fashion store, which communicated her a sure taste, a class and a port of royal head. Noticed by an American producer from Columbia, she was hired for a film in which Rita Hayworth played, of which she was to be the understudy. The film never saw the light of day. Nevertheless, Rita Hayworth and the Egyptian actresses inspired her a lot.

Dalida was involved in Cairo cultural life, she was first actress in Egyptian films with Samia Gamal, Farid El Atrache, Omar Sharif, and many others! Dalida was also a singer of peace in the Middle East with the song “Salma Ya Salama”, on lyrics written by Sayed Darwich in 1919 and which she repeated! Later, despite his great celebrity, his heart was still attached to Egypt.

Dalida, the second Cleopatra

Indeed, the great director Youcef Chahine adapted to the cinema the novel by the Lebanese Andrée Chedid, The Sixth Day. He called on Dalida to play the poignant role of Saddika, the woman of the people, who accepted with great enthusiasm. She learned rural Egyptian Arabic, returned to a role a thousand miles from the star life she lived in Paris. She embodied this role of composition brilliantly, ignored by the French press.

Anyway, she insisted that “the premiere” for the release of the film took place in Choubra, her childhood neighborhood. She arrived there as Cleopatra like the latter when she entered Rome! Jacqueline Jondot recalls that if for the Egyptians the great singer Oum Kalthoum was the fourth pyramid of Egypt, Dalida was declared the second Cleopatra, a queen, representing eternal Egypt for the Egyptian people.

It is not surprising that after his death the ultimate tribute was inscribed on a papyrus. Cairo is the heart city of Dalida, as reported by Egyptian actor Samir Sabri. This small work with photos of Dalida the Egyptian, archival documents reveals in my opinion the real Dalida, what is deepest in it, its Egyptianness and its dimension of great migrant, a hope for those who want to succeed in life while staying true to their sources of inspiration. Dalida was therefore Cleopatra, a symbolic link “between the two shores of the Mediterranean”.

* Benaouda Lebdai is a university professor in colonial and postcolonial African literature.

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