The Golden Voices of Lebanon
Bruno Berberès is a true «talent hunter» … Casting director, artistic director, producer and host of French radio and television. Since 2012, he finds the talents of France for The Voice on TF1 or even Eurovision, in collaboration with the Golden Voices in Cannes. Gift of Life, founded by Lina Shehayeb invited Bruno Berberès to Lebanon to discover new voices. In October 2019, Gift of Life and the Golden Voices organized a contest to select Lebanese candidates.
The contest will offer Lebanese talents the chance to shine abroad, hopefully, become future ambassadors for Gift of Life. This association offers life to children suffering from heart problems. Meeting with Bruno Berberès, Lina Shehayeb, Vanina Aronica, President of Golden Voices and Tania Kassis, jury member and founder of the Academy of Music bearing her name.
Bruno Berberès. You are the casting director, what are the criteria for the selection?
I’m artistic director and in this context, I did a lot of shows, musicals, such as The Ten Commandments, Le Roi Soleil, Sister Act, Star Academy, and The Voice. My story with the Lebanese is profound, especially with Hiba Tawaji in The Voice, Mike Massy in Jesus, Anthony Touma, who was one of my favorites … Regarding the criteria, I would say that there are no precise criteria. The minimum is to sing right and be in the rhythm. I always expect from an artist to be sincere, authentic and not déjà-vu. To bring his fragility, his strength, his happiness, his misfortunes on stage, to offer them to the public and make him feel concerned. I like working with artists on their musical identity, who they are and what they want to express.
The candidates were divided into 4 categories, what was the level of participation and which category was the most successful?
I personally believe that there are two categories: the first includes those under the age of 15, these are the children, the juniors. For the second, I can not tell the difference between a 28-year-old and a 32-year-old.
What do you think of the level of Lebanese candidates?
I think the Lebanese candidates have a very good level. Except that I would have loved to feel more of Lebanese culture in the performances. If you close your eyes and listen to the candidates, you may think you are in Brussels, Paris or Lyon. If we take the example of Hiba Tawaji, the French remember only Les Moulins de mon cœur, sung in Arabic. It was daring to sing Les Moulins de Mon Coeur in Arabic in front of a French jury. But at the same time, it’s more authentic.
Do you give priority to a certain style on other styles?
The music goes from A to Z, not to neglect any letter. Everything must be represented, the classic, the metal, the rock, the variety … We can love everything if it is well done. Art is not sectarian. Music, painting, art must bring everyone together. The Voice is broadcast in more than 80 countries. The particularity of the French show lies in its diversity.
«Music brings everyone together»
Have you found voices? How many candidates have been selected?
I will not be able to tell you. All I can assure you is that by watching the next season of The Voice Adults, there will be Lebanese candidates. Last year, there was none, nor the one before. If I tell you, I lose the element of surprise. I work for the TF1 channel where you have to keep the secret. You have to watch The Voice in January 2020 on TF1.
Lina Shehayeb. How did you create the Gift of Life association?
From the age of 16, I was involved in humanitarian work, helping young offenders in Lebanese prisons. I pursued later several humanitarian commitments in New York, where I lived and worked. I am an artist and a businesswoman. In New York, I first worked 10 years in marketing and sales in the “Fashion District”, and worked 14 years in finance with Prudential Securities. I returned to Lebanon, armed with this solid experience of 35 years to found this association. Gift of Life Lebanon was established in 2015, in partnership with Rotary International and AUBMC, the most successful Medical Center in Lebanon and the Middle East.
What is the aim of the association?
Gift of Life aims to save the lives of children with heart problems who can not afford the cost of treatment. During four years, we have cared for 400 children, and more than 1000 have benefited from consultations with volunteer doctors from AUBMC.
How do you collect funds for the association?
As I mentioned earlier, we are partners with the Rotary Foundation. We get 90% of the funds from overseas, mainly from Rotary clubs that the Rotary foundation matches and foreign donors such as Lebanese-American expats. Investing in humanitarian aid provides a ray of sunshine for these sick children, who will have the chance to live.
«Happiness to contribute to change in a patient’s life»
How did you get the idea of partnering with the Golden Voices and why did you choose Lebanon to select candidates?
I am a member of the Board of Directors of the Monaco Better World Forum Organization, which last year gave an evening in Monaco in the presence of HSH Prince Albert. During this evening, a documentary about Gift of Life was screened. This is also where I met the artist Vanina Aronica, the president of Golden Voices.
Vanina Aronica, tell us how you knew Lina Shehayeb.
I am an opera singer and I have an academy of music and cinema in Cannes. In this context, I discovered talents for Bruno Berberès, the artistic director at TF1, who spots the voices for the show The Voice. Every year, I organize a competition after which I give a charity concert in Cannes. When I met Lina, I asked her to attend this competition and to be the humanitarian charity of the concert. Lina Shehayeb. Indeed, that’s how I discovered this event, its organization and got to know Bruno Berberès. We discussed together how to organize a similar competition in Lebanon. There is a little chance for the Lebanese to be selected to be part of the Arabic format of The Voice, compared to 100 million Egyptians and 30 million Syrians.
What is requested from the selected candidates?
Lina Shehayeb. I want these candidates to take responsibility for supporting this association and eventually becoming its ambassadors. We regularly organize gala evenings, concerts, so that these children could sing in Lebanon for a cause, for Gift of Life Association, which helps children with a heart condition. We already have good partners in Lebanon, actors, and singers who support us. Every year, Miss Lebanon meets the children at the hospital, and for three years, the students of Tania Kassis Academy participated in the gala evening of Gift of Life or the Christmas Concert that we organize at the Assembly Hall in AUB. They arrive holding up the Lebanese flag and proudly perform the national anthem. It would be wonderful if some participants represent Lebanon at The Voice France and come back to also support Gift of Life with their beautiful voices.
What is the difference between Gift of Life and other similar organizations in Lebanon?
We organize events, we meet students in schools, such as the College Protestant, IC and others. We do not ask for financial help, but we expose students to the case of children who need their help by telling them: this is your responsibility. I explain the case, the first time. By helping Gift of Life save the life of a sick girl, the students of Collège Protestant were honored with the Order of Merit of the French government, during an evening at the Ambassador of France residence. However, our collaboration is not limited to schools in Lebanon, it also extends to schools in Switzerland and Kuwait.
How did you choose the jury?
I just chose the right people. Soprano Tania Kassis is my great friend, she has her own Academy of Music. Anthony Touma has won enough to bring the whole team to Lebanon. Joe Cambar, whom I met in Lebanon and the United States, is an excellent music teacher for people who like to sing.
What is your motto?
How to be helpful and how to find inner and outer peace by serving the community … Everyone seeks happiness, and happiness ultimately is what we do, what we give. When I give the example, I would like these children to do the same, to walk in my steps. This is true happiness, to give without expecting something in return. My team is made up of young and old, who put their heart in the service of people. The Association is in Baabda, the place where I live and work.
Tania Kassis. Is this your first experience as a jury member?
Yes. I judge a lot the students who integrate my Academy. I am aware of the potential of students and what can be done in their voices.
Was it hard to deliberate on the jury?
It was rather difficult for the students I knew. I knew by the evolution of the pupils, how they sang. But it’s always interesting to have the opinion of someone who discovers a person for the first time. I was waiting for all the members to vote, to vote finally for the person who made progress. However, I consider that stress plays a very big role.
«The musical education and training are essential»
What prevents the Lebanese to be at the international level?
The lack of musical education, courses, and training are essential, alongside talent and stage presence. The Lebanese are not used to perform in front of a jury. Participants had stage fright and were stressed on stage.