Seated in the back of a squalid " Cafe Cantante " in old Havana, where the only non-Cubans beside myself were the wandering ghosts of Garcia Lorca and Hemingway, I caught myself humming, along with the sexagenarian singer on stage, the famous tune of the divine Asmahane "ya habibi ta'ala". After looking it up, I learned that the song is titled in Spanish "el huerfanito" (the orphan). Its topic is, as in the Arabic version, the loneliness, the absence of Dad, Mom and Uncle ... Yes, songs have their impenetrable mysteries, and composers go fishing quite far, sometimes casting their nets across the oceans. The purpose of my introduction is not to start a polemic regarding which version came first (I know but will not tell) but to explain how I came to be obsessed by the against-natured fusion of Arabic and Cuban music. Arabo-Cuban music was born.
It took me two years to find the Cuban musicians and the Arabic singer who would bring to fruition this unique musical experiment, and one year to rehearse, record, mix and organize the tour. Having lived in La Havana, the choice of musicians was relatively " facilito. " I proceeded to a "ven tu" (join-us in musical jargon) choosing the best of the "músicos cubanos".
The choice of the Arabic singer, on the other hand, was a real crux. I organized auditions during which more than 100 girls tried out. Ungraceful ones who sang well, pretty ones who sang flat and gorgeous ones who could not sing. I saw brunettes, blondes (all fake) and even a red-head. I heard all kinds of sounds till the day when a friend introduced Hanine (her real name). She was in her last year at the Conservatory, studying singing and Oud; she had a voice of honey and a degree in law; she was smart, beautiful... in brief, a music producer's ultimate fantasy. The project had at last all the ingredients for success.
Fulgurating success was quick to come. The album "Hanine y Son Cubano" entered the Lebanese market the thundering acclaim, and remained, for a whole year, the Top 1 best-selling album. It met with similar success in Mediterranean countries and the rest of the Middle East paving Hanine's way to an international career.