Young Jordanians on lockdown showcase 'talent from home' for hit contest

Amman (AFP) –


An online talent contest created to keep young Jordanians busy as they sit out their country's coronavirus lockdown has proved a hit, with thousands participating and millions watching.

Mahmoud Azzazi, 22, lives in a working-class neighbourhood of the capital Amman and is studying culinary arts, but has been turning his mind to music during the lockdown.

He was among the prize winners for his rendition of the song "Sway", made famous by the likes of Dean Martin.

Jordan's culture ministry launched the "My talent from my home" contest in late March, and says it has since attracted more than 67,000 participants and 18 million views on social networks.

With children under 16 prohibited from leaving their homes except in case of emergency, and with schools and universities still closed, the contest has provided a creative outlet for many young people.

Azzazi said the win had encouraged him to work on his voice.

"I hope to become a professional singer in the future," he said.

Jordanian authorities imposed a strict round-the-clock curfew on March 21, with hundreds arrested in the following days for breaches.

Daytime movement restrictions have since been eased, but the curfew remains in force at night.

"I want to fly, nobody can clip my wings," Taleen Hindeleh belted out from her bedroom in Amman, in a prize-winning rendition of a song by Lebanese artist Hiba Tawaji.

Contestants are divided into two groups -- those aged 10 to 14 and 15 to 25. Categories include music, poetry, drawing and storytelling.

Participants must post a short video on social media with the Arabic hashtag "my talent from my home", which is picked up by the culture ministry's Facebook and YouTube accounts.

Five artists judge the videos -- the number of views and likes on social media are considered -- and Jordanian television broadcasts a selection of award-winning entries each week.

Hindeleh said being in lockdown at home in Amman with her father, a professional singer, had its advantages.

"He guides me and coaches me", said the 20-year-old student, who also plays piano.

Jordan has officially declared 461 cases of novel coronavirus, including nine deaths.

- Welcome distraction -

A hundred prizes are awarded weekly, with the winners announced on television and on the culture ministry's website.

Prizes range from 100 to 1,000 dinars ($140-$1,400) -- not bad in a country where the monthly wage is around $600.

Ebaa Akroush, a 24-year-old music graduate, was one of the first-prize winners in the contest's opening week for his performance on the flute.

"I didn't expect to win because the video was poor quality", he said.

Akroush said he had initially made a short video to share with his friends, but added the hashtag after hearing about the competition.

"Now people are contacting me with questions about the flute", he said from his balcony in Al-Fuhais, near Amman.

Locked down in Ajloun, north of the capital, 25-year-old Nabil al-Rabadhi won a prize for his performance of "Enta omri" ("You are my life"), by legendary Egyptian singer Umm Kalthoum, played on the qanun -- a stringed instrument similar to a zither.

He said he felt it was important to showcase a traditional Middle Eastern instrument, while many other contestants were using Western ones.

"Thanks to the curfew, I'm spending more time playing each day", Rabadhi said.

The contest is scheduled to run until Eid al-Fitr, which marks the end of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan and this year falls later in May.

And while some seek the limelight, others, young and older, are happy just to be part of the audience.

Roula al-Jmaili, a 45-year-old housewife from Amman, said the contest provided a welcome distraction from "the curfew and boredom".

Issa Qaysar, a 24-year-old music arranger from Al-Fuhais, said he hoped the competition would continue.

"There is great artistic talent that deserves to win and be supported", he said.