Written by Zaid Bawab
In Beirut we met. I thought I would be meeting another celebrity whose in-person character would be different than what I have seen on screen, only to find out that “what you see is what you get" when it comes to Bruno.
With an unapologetic yet classy attitude and look, a voice that makes you feel like you are listening to a Disney magical musical performer (with a Lebanese twist), here is Al Bawaba’s exclusive Q and A with Bruno Tabbal who was once part of the Middle East’s biggest reality talent show “Star Academy,” in its most watched first season.
Let’s start with your debut ‘Rjaa’? Do you still remember how you felt when you saw the final product for the first time?
Oh I teared up! It was such a challenge for me to grab my courage and do this after seven years of wandering... It felt like having a baby, literally! Proud and uncontained!
Why didn’t we see Bruno follow “Rjaa”’s same music vibe later - with the same commercial mainstream sound?
Depending on what you look for as an artist. If you want to make money, why ditch a safe niche, right? All I ever cared for, and this is quite risky and dangerous I admit, is to explore, take people to new places, innovate constantly. I was never good at trading, selling, dealing with money... I love "Rjaa" and everything that came afterwards!
What is your favorite release from what you have released so far?
Hum.. tricky one. I really can't answer. Each has its own identity and style, both in sounds and music videos. It is very hard for me to pick... 'Out There' is the most breathtaking, 'Santa Claus is Coming to Town' the funniest, 'Ana el Majnoun' the most romantic... All I can say is that 'Ma Fi Habib' is definitely the most personal though.
You worked with composer Jad Mehanna in most of your solo releases, the same applies to music composer and producer Michel Fadel in addition to some other recurring names like Ahmed Abdelnabi. Is Bruno loyal to the people he works with? ِ
On very! I need to love people I work with and feel safe. That applies to everything I do in life. "If the heart isn't present, the hand is never powerful" (Barbey d'Aurevilly). And that is my biggest cross to bear. I'm not pragmatic.
Mafi Habib (2013)
Are there any people you would like to mention that we don’t see who are always by your side to support you or behind the final results that we see on screen?
There are a lot of people in the scene who respect me and whom I respect greatly; those never fail to give me a place whether on air (Tv, Radio) or people from the press who believe in me and answer present always. Elssy Baddour, Viny Roumy, Michel el Murr, Joe Maalouf, Hala el Murr, Firas Haleemi... (I pray I didn't forget anyone!) you are my guardian angels!
Does your music taste match the songs you are releasing?
Certainly. As I told you: I only do what looks like me. And that is why my very own signature is evident.
Bruno’s name is usually attached to Cynthia Karam since the Star Academy days. Does that attachment bother you or her sometimes, or is it a connection that you encourage intentionally?
We resisted it a bit at first, feeling it could affect the "single artist" identity of each of us. But as time went by, we realized how genuine and sparky it was when we were together on screen, and how much people loved us together. We also carried on doing things individually, so it did not affect either one of us professionally. After all, Cynthya is my soul mate in life, so why should't it translate on screen with as much magic as in real life?
Would Cynthia give us the same answer? And who cares for the other more?
You have to ask her (laughs). I bet she would.
I think she cares for me more in the sense of how much it shows to the outside. But everyone knows I protect her like a prey. And that she is my top priority.
You have to ask her about that as well.
Was releasing a mutual album for you two ever discussed and is it something that could ever happen in the future? Could a mutual acting project be in the making at some point?
Most probably. Were are bonded with no escape.
L'hymne A L'amour (Live Cover)
How is the Arabic music industry today different than how it was during the hype of specialized music channels like Melody TV? Was it easier to make it then than nowadays?
Oh it's in a terrible state. Never has our music been so trashy, tasteless, repetitive, lazy, etc. Sorry I give quite a dark picture but that is how I see it. Add to it the economic crisis worldwide and the transition from physical support to digital... It is very hard times for music production.
What do you think now when you see young contestants in TV singing talent competitions?
Talent is always present. But it is what you make out of it that counts.
Do you train your voice? What is your routine and how do you prepare yourself for a live performance or studio recording? Any specific rituals?
I sometimes reset with a voice coach for a few sessions, just like you need muscle training. And whenever I have a studio session or a concert, there are a few exercises to do of course to warm up, as much as drinking a lot of water constantly. Another tip : Honey is my throat's best friend!
How do you respond to those who say you have a similar sound to lebanese singer Mike Massy given that you have already performed on stage together before?
Oh do they say this? Mike is an extremely talented artist, and it is lovely to be compared to a talented artist! Besides, I personally know Mike and yes we had the chance to perform together in ONE LEBANON concert once. We are from the same generation and culture, so I find it natural to be compared.
What changed about Bruno from Star Academy days until today and what is still the same about him?
Wisdom. Learning how to hold my horses.
A question I assume you got tired from, but are you still in contact with your Star Academy colleagues?
Yes! We have a whatsapp group and make our best to meet every now and then. We shared an experience that only we can understand. And that is a lifetime bond.
Which from your former Star Academy colleagues or from the contestants who appeared in the show in later seasons do you follow and like their work?
I'm not very much of a good follower. I guess having been in it was like an overdose for me! (laughter)
We feel like the music videos you direct are crafted shot by shot, is the art you present targeted for everyone or could some viewers misinterpret it or not get it?
I like to think of myself as a very good storyteller. And the best stories are the simplest put. I don't go fetch philosophical or pretentious situations or shots. I simply dig deep into everyday's intimacy.
We notice you sometimes try to add a tribute to classical Lebanese art in your videos like referencing Jubran Khalil Jubran’s paintings in 'Metel el Harameh’s music video or “Alo Hayati” Lebanese series reference in “Quando”’s music video. Why are those references there?
Yes, it's true. I like to pay tribute to eras where art was so simple yet so touching. And artists treated the audience with respect and consciousness.
'Quando Quando' Cover (2015)
Could we say that Bruno believes in the saying “The more local you are the more global you will reach”?
Absolutely. And you work very hard and long enough to reap this.
What’s with you and appearing shirtless in your music videos?
Every appearance serves the story and situation. I never appeared shirtless for the sake of appearing shirtless. I'm not even fit and don't want to subkect the audience to this! (laughter) No, it's always to serve the context.
Layli Wara Layli (2016)
How did you react to “el3ama” sarcastic commentary on your videos? And do you believe bad publicity is good publicity?
I found them irrelevant. But if it made some people laugh, why not.
What are your thoughts on the “comedic” and sarcastic way traditional and social media are handling artwork and entertainment nowadays?
Oh that is a very sensitive subject. Nowadays every buffoon that clowns becomes an "entertainer". There used to be codes, guidelines, intelligence and most importantly finesse and subtlety in comedy. Vulgarity and vexation are the keywords currently. With societies that lack culture and elegance, what do you expect?
Many of your videos attracted controversy and some even were not aired on TV for sexual connotations at a certain point like the collaboration with Cynthia Karam “Quando, Quando” and later “Metl Al Harami." Did Bruno master the controversy game to a point where he started doing it intentionally for more views and publicity even if that was not intentional at first?
Controversy means there's a stimulation for debate, exchange of ideas. And I find this healthy and progressive. Again, my music videos depict a certain situation and serve a specific context. Nudity in Metel el Harameh for instance, marries the sensuality of Rumba. I dare anyone say it is vulgar or crude.
That said, I really don't find anything controversial in my music videos. It's all a matter of perspective.
Metel El Harameh - 'Casi Un Bolero' Cover (2017)
Do you ever wish you were born in a different country? Do you think your chances would have been better there?
Don't we all in that part of the world! (Laughter) No seriously, because of certain social and economic conditions, sometimes narrow mindedness too, we feel the pressure of living in our part of the world, yes. But then we remember the warmth of people, the protective values of family, and we acknowledge that this is what really counts and how lucky we are. That shouldn't refrain us from militating daily for better living conditions, freedom, equality of sexes, sexual orientation, respect, order, quality of life, etc.
On an artistic level, I am here by choice. As I said earlier: it depends on how you see yourself. If you care about the money and quick fame, it is very easy to reach nowadays. But what if what you seek is building a solid reputation and securing a genuine place in people's hearts?... Besides, an artist is the "child of his environment." I belong to this land and I shall shine from it.
Does Bruno have a philosophy in life to accept the success of others? If yes, what is it?
Being happy for other people's success sends positivism and happiness that goes around back to you. Karma...
Success isn't snatched from a person to the other. There's plenty and different kinds for everyone.
How much of a one man show is Bruno? And would you say you are a control freak?
THE definition of a one man show, and a total control freak!
You acted in the Lebanese series “Arees w Aroos”, how did you find acting for TV? And are we going to see more of you on the small and big screen?
It was a very pleasant experience, absolutely loved it on all levels! I surely would love that again, cinema mostly, but I don't rush things, as I you know even for my music. I let the right thing come in the right time. You see I have this philosophy: it doesn't matter how prolific I am. I like to enjoy fully every endeavor I take.
How is acting in a series different than acting on stage, given your latest acting experience in the play “Mestarjileh” alongside songstress and actress Brigitte Yaghi, and your role in “Gharam aw Entiqam.” How would you describe and rate your experiences in those plays?
Oh there's a wide difference in technique and everything! On stage, you can't "fake" the feeling: the direct connection with the audience dictates you be "in character" all the time, no cheating! And imagine having to reproduce the same state and emotion every night for months sometimes! So theatre actors have much more merit.
I Love theatre above everything. The thrill is indescribable. "Theatre is Life". I am particularly very proud of my part Chevalier de Danceny in "Gharam aw Intiqam" (Dangerous Liaisons' adaptation). I went as far as dying my hair, beard and eyebrows in platinum blonde to serve the part.
What about directing music videos for other singers? Is that something you are still open to especially that you did it earlier in your career?
Certainly, why not!
And do you prefer yourself behind the camera, in front of the camera or on stage?
Impossible to divide. I love each, I am each equally.
What does being a filmmaker add to you as a singer and performer?
The ability to see yourself correctly and to know how to promote yourself as well as to reproduce visually the mood of the music properly. It gives you a lot of freedom and independence too (which I am very fond of).
Would you describe your steps as slow? And is that a choice or a pace you are obliged to follow?
My steps are sure, tasteful and enjoyable for me. I like it that way.
How do you usually choose a song to cover?
It has to touch me first of course, it has to mean to me. But it also has to match my voice. And last but not least, my cover must have an added value an personalized twist.
'Out There' Cover (2015)
‘And Yet’ is the title of the book that you wrote and was released nearly three years ago, did the book get the feedback that you were aiming for? And can we say that writing was a healing process for you?
'And Yet' is a very dear experience for me. It was of course a healing process but also a part of me to share with people. After all, I am a open book and I love that. On the signing day we sold 430 copies! And had to make two other editions in 6 months, which was totally unexpected for me. I am very happy with the outcome of 'And Yet'.
Was it the right time to write such a reflective book at a relatively young age or do you think you could have waited until later in life?
I have all the time in the world to write other reflective books, don't you think so?
Did you suffer from depression at any point in life? If so, how do you deal with it?
I did. And I never hide it. Being suddenly rushed into the spotlight is a very dangerous thing of which I speak precisely in 'And Yet'. Being also an artist and very receptive to the state of the world around you makes you hyper sensitive and anxious.
This cocktail led me to a difficult period that I overcame with a lot of courage, help and love from those around me and thanks to the healing miracle of my mountains, nature...
Did you ever think of quitting everything, the media, the limelight and working in a different field?
Every day. But they say doubt fortifies faith...
Your brother Ralph seems to be really supportive of your work and takes part in it from time to time. Is your family supportive of what you do generally speaking, and did their perception change of what you are doing in life from 15 years ago until now?
Ralph and my parents Claude and Michelle. They are soldiers. No matter how disapproving they can be, they always systematically grant me their support. They tell me they are proud of me, and that means the world.
How much have we seen already from what Bruno can offer and his potential?
I have shown everything from the 40 year-old Bruno. There still are the 50s and 60s and...?
On a good chill day, where would we find Bruno? Where would he probably be and how would he be spending the day?
In my mountains. climbing, hiking, camping or simply gardening. The epitome of happiness and purity. Back to innocence.
Did you reach that moment when you feel like your hard work paid off and that everything makes sense and is coming together or are you still waiting for it? Do you think that moment exists and could happen one day?
I am proud of what I have achieved, and I have worked hard and still do. But thank God there is no complete satisfaction, for it would be the end of it.
What is your favorite Disney Film?
Pobably 1959's Sleeping Beauty. Mesmerizing fresco of accurate reproduction of the medieval times! And Disney's most elaborate animated film at that time. It still spell binds me!
Batman or Spiderman?
Celinedion or Kylie Minogue?
No that's cruel! (laughter) sorry: BOTH.
Ed Sheeran or Sam Smith?
Sam Smith's voice, Ed Sheran's writing.
Julia Butros or Carole Samaha?
Oh my God... why are you torturing me?! (laughter), no sorry... impossible!...
Cynthia Khalifeh or Cynthya Karam?
Cynthia Kahlifeh is "habibteh"! But definitely Cynthya Karam.
Bruno or Bruno Tabbal?
Bruno Tabbal. With pride.
Does Bruno still believe in dreams? And what is yours at 40?
What would we be without our dreams? Hey! How do you know I'm forty??! (laughter) I always dreamt of my farm and agriculture domain in my mountains. And it's on the way.
Does the future scare you? Is there a certain image of your future self that haunts you?
Yes, I'm a highly anxious person, sadly. I wouldn't want to get into old age with disability or disease, I want to stay independent and autonomous till the end. Otherwise old age doesn't frighten me at all.
How would Bruno like to be remembered? What would you want people to say about you when mentioned?
Integrity, boldness, faithfulness. Patriotic, generous, different. A good citizen and an genuine artist. Themes like that.
Finally, are there any projects or releases in the making?
We are planning to release a music video Cynthya and I by the end of summer. It will be fresh and full of love, and we hope contagious as well!
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