PARIS: In May 1987, Cairo-born French-Italian singer Dalida – one of the biggest non-English speaking music stars – took her own life. His 54 years had been filled with both great successes and great tragedies. Three of her partners had already committed suicide and Dalida had attempted suicide in 1967 after the suicide of her lover, the Italian singer and actor Luigi Tenco.
Despite the trauma of his personal life, his career has been a story of almost unbroken achievement. She packed theaters around the world, her songs (sung in nine languages) sold out in droves, and she was even a hit on the big screen in films including the 1986 release by legendary Egyptian director Youssef Chahine. “The Sixth Day”.
In France, where she lived most of her adult life, she was an undisputed superstar – a 1988 poll published in Le Monde ranked Dalida second, after General de Gaulle, among personalities who had the more impact on French society. She continues to influence pop culture today, with many of her hits being remixed as dance numbers.
Here, her younger brother Orlando — with whom she co-founded their own record label in 1970, to give her more control over her career — shares his memories of his legendary sister with Arab News.
Tell us about your childhood with Dalida. How was she as a child?
Dalida — who was called Iolanda at the time — grew up with my brother and me, the youngest. My name was Bruno, but when I arrived in France and started my career, I was given the name Orlando. We grew up with the same education, in the same neighborhood, the same atmosphere, and yet we were totally different. If my brother and I had a very joyful, very happy childhood, this was not the case for Dalida. She was a little sick when she was little (she had an eye infection and had several operations) and, growing up, she always had this desire to go somewhere else — a desire to know the world, to to raise, to learn, to be cultivated. . She always had this goal: ‘One day you will see who I am.’ She wanted to “become someone.” It was built with this objective in mind.
How connected did she feel to Egypt?
We lived there; we were born there. We bathed in its atmosphere. Egypt, at the time, was a country of unique gentleness, with an extraordinary cultural mix — all these languages, all these cultures, all these religions, all these people who rubbed shoulders, who frequented each other… He there was no embarrassment, no aggression. There was such a sweetness of life. We had a beautiful childhood in Egypt. Dalida adored Egypt, she always remained faithful to it and, moreover, after a few years she began to sing in Egyptian.
What made your sister such a special talent?
This particular talent, we cannot explain it. She had many talents, which were enriched by her voice, this tone which belonged only to her, indefinable; this warmth of the voice, this radiance of the sun. I think above all that his voice was born from the Mediterranean, it is a voice tinged with the sun, from the Orient. And the fact that she is of Italian descent and sings in French meant that she had a particular accent. Since 1955, this unique voice and the personality that accompanies it have conquered the world. Dalida has created immortal titles in all languages. To talk about the Middle East, “Helwa Ya Baladi”, for example, has become an anthem for the whole Arab world, and “Salma Ya Salama” too. The hundreds of songs by Dalida, all different, make it unique, because everyone finds something that touches them, a slice of life or the presence of Dalida. She knew how to do everything. She went with truly amazing ease from a song like “Je suis Malade” or “Avec Le Temps” to songs like “Gigi L’Amoroso” or “Salma Ya Salama” or disco. Perhaps thanks to her place of birth and to this plural culture, which remained in her memory and accompanied her during her adolescence, she had the chance and the power to sing in all languages. She tapped into that mix and it made her career. Dalida will remain unique.
What do you remember from his sudden success? How did this affect her? And you?
I was the witness of his story, and I became the witness of his memory. Dalida and I were accomplices, fans of theatre, cinema and song. And I always encouraged her even though I was younger than her. I have always accompanied her on her journey, her desires, her dream. I have always been her confidant, even when she left for Paris. When it was my turn to arrive in the capital, I sang a little too, but after five years I joined the adventure at her side and I never betrayed her — I served her and I continue. It is therefore a career that we lived together, and I was a spectator, an admirer and also, later, its producer. In 1966, I became its artistic director and in 1970, we founded our own company. Even today, I take care of her as if she were still there. Dalida made me her sole heir because she knew that I would continue to defend her memory and her interests, and that’s what I’m doing.
When did you first notice that his depression was getting worse? Was it something she struggled with throughout her life?
She used to say, “I was successful in my professional life, but in my personal life, I wasn’t successful. Why? Because she gave everything to her work, to her audience. She wanted to be Dalida, so she became Dalida. She did everything for Dalida and put aside her private life, which suffered. That’s the reason why she couldn’t keep the men in her life, because after a while the men saw Dalida in front of them, not Iolanda. She always put her job first, and that’s why she ended up on her own. It couldn’t last.
Towards the end, she realized that she was alone, childless and without a companion by her side. She began to realize that giving everything for her career – even if that was what she had wanted – had taken away her life as a woman, a wife and a mother. And, little by little, all this led her to have dark thoughts, depressed her. But despite the dramas, she also had a life full of joy, satisfaction and happiness.
She experienced this terrible tragedy in her life of having three partners who committed suicide. These are things you cannot explain. After a while, she had had enough, maybe she thought she had done everything, and had everything. I don’t think Dalida needed time to do her job either; she wanted to escape time. She wanted to leave in full glory and in full beauty.
What do you think she was most proud of?
Dalida was not proud. Despite her status as an international star – an icon still today – she was always a humble woman. She never thought she had “made it”, so she kept it simple, knowing who she was. It was Iolanda who built Dalida — this blonde international star — but also this timeless Dalida.
What kind of cultural legacy do you think she left behind?
Dalida is one of those rare artists who have had a passionate bond with her audience. People loved Dalida passionately, even the new generations. Today, people who weren’t even born when she left us love her and listen to her songs. In Montmartre, the bust in Place Dalida, installed in 1997 following a decision by the mayor of Paris at the time, Bertrand Delanoë, has become a cult place. Statistics show that in Montmartre the two most visited monuments by tourists from all over the world are the Sacré-Coeur and Place Dalida. And now there is even a circuit that starts from Dalida’s house on rue Orchampt, goes to her final resting place in the Montmartre cemetery, then returns to Place Dalida where her statue is, which tourists come to touch like a lucky charm. .