Dubai-based singer Neha Pandey dedicates new track 'Helwa Ya Baladi' to the UAE

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Neha Pandey, singer, Dubai, Helwa Ya Baladi, UAE, Covid-19, song, track, Arabic

The singer tells us why this cover version of a classic Arabic track was special and how she recorded it while adhering to social distancing guidelines amid the Covid-19 crisis.

By Enid Parker

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Published: Sun 19 Jul 2020, 1:17 PM

Last updated: Sun 19 Jul 2020, 3:46 PM

Dubai-based singer Neha Pandey has been keeping busy working from home amidst the coronavirus crisis. She channelled her 'soul connect' to the Middle East to launch a cover version of Arabic track - Helwa Ya Baladi - a classic originally sung by Egyptian-born singer Dalida in 1979. Translating to 'Sweet, O Country of Mine', Neha dedicates this song to her second home, the UAE, where she has resided for many years.
We caught up with Neha to find out more about her new track.

What motivated you to work on this cover of Helwa Ya Baladi?
I was suggested this iconic song by two of my Arab friends, one of whom is Emirati. I had a deja vu moment when I heard it. Belonging to secular parents I would hear music from around the world even while growing up, and this brought back memories of my home town Dehradun in India, where I spent a fraction of my childhood.
Besides, I also understood the song's meaning and how anyone can connect to it regardless of their geographic positioning. I have always felt a soul connect with the Middle East and its magical style of music. Helwa Ya Baladi was sung by a European singer, Dalida, who was raised in Egypt. It makes the song instantly special and gives it a truly global appeal; it evokes a feeling of love where language and community is no barrier, which is something the world needs more than ever now.
I love, appreciate and respect all cultures. I believe in music without boundaries and I live by this. You may not speak a language but that shouldn't stop you from trying it in a song. This song conveys how one's country is beautiful and I'm sure many people, whether locals or expats, will be able to connect to it. I dedicate it to UAE where I have lived for a long, long time. This country has offered me so much love and this is just a little gesture of gratitude from me to the wonderful leadership of this beautiful nation and its wonderful citizens, especially in these tough times.

What can you tell us about the track?
For Helwa Ya Baladi, I collaborated with Jonathan Ramgopal on keyboard and Fredy George Antony, who edited the video. We recorded the song at our respective music pads, in complete isolation and responsibly. So this is pure in many ways to me since it was done at home without any access to the typically "produced" sound environment. Hence, it retains this raw feel and appeal to those who love something 'unplugged' and real. It is a simple song and can be interpreted in a few ways. I found it an emotionally enriching experience.

How did you manage to record it during this time? Do you believe that people being home will ensure your song reaches a wider audience since many have turned to digital platforms for entertainment?
While there was the option to record at a professional studio, I wanted to stay responsibly socially distant, plus this was completely a personal take without any commercial inclination. I just aim to entertain people for free online, especially at this time when a lot of people are staying home and tuning into digital entertainment.
Hopefully people will like it and appreciate my effort. I have always believed in tolerance and I do my bit by sharing my ideologies through the music I choose or create.   

What's the biggest lesson the pandemic has taught you as a UAE resident and as a singer?
The lesson is of gratitude, despite the losses we all may have experienced at different levels during this pandemic. For me - gratitude for being gifted musically by the almighty and staying in one of the safest countries in the world, UAE. Hence I dedicate Helwa Ya Baladi to UAE. Though times are indeed tougher than ever, we all have our own coping mechanisms and for me my music has become even a bigger respite than before. It is a great anti-depressant as we all know, regardless if you have it as a profession or not.
Mental health issues are also on the rise and I am belting out as many tunes I can during these times to help those around me. It is amazing to see some people getting creative even though times are gloomy. As the famous quote goes, "Tough times don't last but tough people do."

How do you keep yourself motivated as a creative person?
Losing and failing have been the foundation of my creative journey. I am an eternally optimistic soul even if I feel low at times. Not having a godfather in the music industry and too many challenges and barriers made me push harder through tough times. I push boundaries. It is an ever changing world. It is not easy to find the sweet spot but we have to take some risks as creatives.
Honestly, creativity belongs to everyone. I believe there is an unparalleled creative potential all around us. It is perhaps the most potent transformative tool that we have at our disposal.
I have always been a self-motivated person which helped me sail through the worse situations in life. I always believed in the magic that life holds and it is a conscious effort on my part to focus on the brighter side especially in these difficult times, turning tears to tunes, making a conscious effort to be thankful for little things which we would normally take for granted, like family and real friends.
This crisis with its social distancing has narrowed down my circle and instilled in me more resilience and perseverance than ever. I engage in activities with my son and plan ways to stay productive as I stay home, trusting in the universe.
I wouldn't deny that I do occasionally feel challenged with the situation but I know it is God's way of helping us realise what is really worth living for. It is very important to stay de-cluttered from expectations and elements that do not enhance your positive growth and let the creativity flow!

What's next for you, career wise?
A few more independent songs are what I have been looking forward to. A lot of projects are on hold due to Covid-19, but we will be back with a bang pretty soon!"
You can listen to Neha's new track, Helwa Ya Baladi, on her YouTube channel, Neha Music Beats.

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