Fate has a way of intervening in our lives when we least expect it to. This is certainly the case with Christine Said. One phone call changed her life and granted her a once-in-a-lifetime experience she would never forget.
Photo by: Artwork by Ray
Christine was born in Achrafieh. Her father is from Jezzine and her mother from Rmeich. “We’re from the Jnoub!” Her exclamation clearly shows she is proud of being Lebanese. In the summer of 2003, when she was just 10 years old, she moved with her family to Los Angeles, California. It was a sudden and unexpected move. “I didn’t really have a chance to say goodbye, or take any of my belongings that were precious to me.”
When asked what memories she has of her childhood in Lebanon, her mind jumps from one memory to another, lost in sweet nostalgia. “I remember my family gatherings. We would always meet at my grandma’s house, and either celebrate a holiday or a birthday, or just each other’s presence. There was always music. I also remember both of my parents’ villages. We had a little “dekken’’ (market) at the bottom of our hill, so my brother and I used to go there all the time and used to be obsessed with the Tarboush sweet (a chocolate- covered marshmallow treat sitting on a thin crispy wafer). It’s something we used to bond over.”
She has maintained and nurtured her Lebanese roots even from abroad thanks to her parents, who continued to speak to her in Arabic. As part of the Lebanese diaspora, Christine admits she struggled with this new identity at first.
“To be honest, my entire life, I’ve always been going through an identity crisis. I had such a strong Lebanese background, coming to America I didn’t know what I was. I wasn’t American to other Americans, and to Lebanese people, I wasn’t Lebanese either. As I grew older I realized being part of two cultures puts you at a slight advantage. It helps you adapt at a younger age and become globally aware. Appreciative.”
Singing was always a part of Christine’s life, “practically ever since I came out of the womb,” she jokes. “I don’t remember a time where I wasn’t singing.” Amazingly enough, she never had any vocal training, aside from being an active member of the Our Lady of Mount Lebanon Church choir for seven years. It was there, singing her heart out and showing her talents to the community, that she was discovered by a recruiter for the famous Lebanese TV show Ahla Sawt (the Arabic version of The Voice).
“My church allowed me to showcase my voice, which is why I’m so attached to it, and I get excited every time I have a chance to go up there on some Sundays and join them during mass. I guess you could say I found my voice literally through God.”
Christine had just graduated from UCLA with a pre-law degree in Political Science and Global Studies and was taking a break from singing. Just before applying to law school she received a call from a member of her church, telling her that a big-time Lebanese producer wanted to contact her.
“I’m interested in entertainment law, so it’s always going to be about music.”
“I thought it was a scam at first,” she said. “But they kept calling and calling.” She applied to the show as an English singer and eventually was on her way to Lebanon, for the first time in 11 years. “I’m always thinking back to Lebanon, all good, nostalgic memories. Going back to Lebanon was a bit frightening at first, because I had such a perfect memory of what my Lebanon was, that I was scared of going back and having that image shattered. But if anything, the image just got better. This country will always leave good memories with me.”
At first, being on the show was overwhelming and stressful, but as soon as she got on stage and started to sing, she was HOME. Stage fright is not a word in her vocabulary.
“As I went on, I saw that people appreciated not only Arabic singing but also English and French. It was such a beautiful thing to know that Eastern and Western cultures were coming together in such a beautiful way. Music is not defined by language. It’s universal.”
During the production’s fifth live show, the semi-final, her coach, Kadim Al-Sahir, encouraged her to sing a song in Arabic.
“It was my first time singing in Arabic in front of millions of people. It was nerve-wracking. I felt my heart was going to beat out of my chest at some point. But I was confident enough to know that, if my coach saw what I had in me, that I was going to be fine, and that me singing in Arabic was going to help me way more than hurt me. My fans were also the main factor behind my success. They supported me through thick and thin, I couldn’t have asked for a better fan base. If I didn’t have their support through my courageous act of singing in Arabic as an English singer, I think I would have regretted singing that song. I owe it to them!”
She describes music as the only way she can truly express herself. “It’s so easy to just say how you feel, but you can express it so much better in a song by the way you sing it and how you sing the words. It’s a form of expression so specific to you and no one else.” She is inspired by the voices of singers such as Adele, Sara Bareilles, Majida El Roumi, and Whitney Houston. “Those who sing with passion and an uncompromising spirit. They wear their heart on their sleeves, which is what I do when I sing. It’s as if I expose myself to the world, and I instantly become so vulnerable. They taught me that… I think it’s beautiful.”
After the show, Christine returned to the United States, although not empty-handed. “The show built my self-confidence and I am forever grateful for that. I learned a lot about the music industry and had the pleasure to spend time with a music industry legend, being toured and coached by him. It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience.” Although she has gained thousands of followers on social media (around 231K on Instagram and 86K on Facebook) since being on the show, she admits she’s not very active. “It’s a way for me to inspire people and express myself when I want to.”
To young people who aspire to become singers in Lebanon or abroad, she gives one piece of advice: “Honestly, always stick to your style. Do what makes you happy. Don’t try to conform to what others want you to sing. I had to sing a song I wasn’t into and it was the worst performance I ever did. When you stick to the music you love, that’s when you shine the most.”
What is Christine up to nowadays? She is working as a paralegal, applying to law schools, and is excited to start a new chapter in her life.
“Singing is definitely something I’ll keep on doing. Music is such a big part of my life. You can’t shut this thing out. There’s never any way you can shut something out like this. Even if I don’t end up singing, I’m interested in entertainment law, so it’s always going to be about music for me. Whatever I choose in life, it will always be centered around music. It’s a God-sent talent and I have to share it with the world.”
Twitter: christinesaidd (2 D’s)