Omar Benamara

© Yves Cochois

Omar Benamara’s career is one of the most singular and atypical artistic paths in his generation. Although he comes from Algiers’ pure musical tradition, he presently sings at the Paris National Opera. His long experience and practice of classical Western music have given him a new perception of traditional music. This has allowed him to make a remarkable comeback to his cultural origins as an interpreter of the great nubas (cantatas) from the Algiers’ School of the Arab-Andalucian repertoire. For the 20th anniversary of Algeria’s independence in 1982, he sang both Mozart and pieces from the Andalous repertoire on Algerian TV — an experience often renewed since, notably at Algiers’ international festival of classical music in 1987, where he sang Schubert’s “Winterreise” along with Andalous songs.

Born in Algiers at a time of amazing musical cosmopolitism, Benamara started to perform at a very young age in small traditional music ensembles (Chaabi/Andalous). Spotted for his musical talent and vocal skills, he was directed towards classical singing and piano studies at Algiers’ music school, where Western classical music and the traditional style of Algiers cohabited. In those times, the very popular El Anko was directing the chaabi course (a popular music style derived from Andalous music), while the masters Fakhardji, Bachtarzi, Belhocine and Dali taught Andalous music. As for lyrical singing courses, they were ensured by Messrs Gino, Abid and Gauthier, masters of the Italian Bel Canto. Algiers had no less than two symphonic orchestras, one renowned opera house and numerous ensembles of traditional, popular and jazz music.

Following his studies at Algiers’ national music school, he co-founded the city’s polyphonic choir, with which he often toured in Europe. In 1978 he was admitted to the Paris Institute of liturgical music to study choir direction. He later joined the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris, studying singing with Camille Mauranne, a great specialist of French melody, and Peter Gottlieb for German lieder. 

Several times a laureate of singing contests (Prix de la Scène Française, Prix des Maîtres du Chant and Prix du concours international de l’Union des Femmes Musiciennes), he made his debut in 1979 at the Théâtre Musical de Paris Châtelet. He has notably been featured in the famous Verdi, Rossini and Russian seasons. Besides his many engagements at opera theatres in France —Lyon, Marseille, Monaco, Nice, Montpellier, Nancy etc, Paris’ Théâtre des Champs-Elysées and Opera Comique— and abroad, Omar Benamara has performed in many festivals and given a number of concerts. In parallel to his lyric career, he has undertaken the tremendous task of researching and transcribing Andalous music, which he has never ceased to interpret and promote. In recent years, he has been teaching classical singing, and has come up with a vocal technique method for Arab-Andalous singing. His first concert at the Institut du Monde Arabe dates back to 1986.

Omar Benamara
Translated by Dominique Bach

Available album: Nuba ghrib, andalousian music from Algiers