Jehad Shehada is the top vote-getter in the We Are Not Numbers Gazavision contest.
“Why can’t I do, and focus on, both of the two things I love?” asks the 23-year-old Jehad Wajeeh Shehada. He’s about to graduate from university in biomedical engineering, a top student in his field. But Jehad also loves music.
Jehad comes from a big family of 10 people, four brothers and three sisters. They live in the Al-Zaytoon neighborhood of Gaza City. Like the majority of Palestinians in Gaza, his financial situation is rough. Jehad could not afford college, but managed to get a scholarship to study at Al-Azhar University. His father worked for the Palestinian Authority, and he’s one of many whose salary got cut off. Jehad doesn’t work either because he can’t find a job.
Jehad has always known he has a good voice. Ever since he was 7 years old, he would melodically recite the Quran (also known as Tajweed reading). But he was too shy to let anyone hear him read out loud. He struggled with shyness until the 10th grade, when he had two Quran classes. Some other boys tried to read the Quran in a Tajweed way, but failed. That led him to decide to “go public.”
On the first day of 11th grade, he raised his hand in class to read. Everyone was shocked, and the class became quiet. Jehad blushed, his heart skipped a beat and his legs quivered. But he was satisfied with his performance, and was glad to overcome his fear. After that, Jehad became the first person in class to read the Quran, and then progressed to a stage in front of the whole school.
Later, he entered the Najim Al Azhar Quran-reading contest and qualified for the finals. He took second place; it was a day to remember for the rest of his life.
When Jehad began to branch out into music, it was by listening to the iconic Syrian tenor singer Sabah Fakhri. His genre is called Qudud Halabiya, which literally means “musical measures of Aleppo,” a form of Syrian classical music. Jehad also listens to Um Kolthoum and Abdel Haleem. He loves old-school music imbued with deep meaning.
Jehad couldn’t afford music classes and doesn’t have a camera to film himself or a microphone to sing into. “I use my phone, and the quality of whatever I produce is not good. That prevents me from the best on my social media accounts.”
So, he depends on “feeding his ear” to learn and improve. He practices all the time. He listens and observes. Then he applies what he learns. “Singing is like the English language. The more you practice, the better you get.” said Jehad.
Many people in Gaza don’t believe in the power of music and singing. They view singing as trivial and thus worthless. Thus, it is difficult to pursue a career in this field in Gaza. Jehad’s father was, and still is, against this path for Jehad. Sometimes they stop talking to each other. His father says, “It’s not an honor when someone comes over to me to tell me ‘your son is a singer.’’’
Yet, Jehad keeps trying to talk to his father about it. He wants his father to understand him and why he desires to sing. He understands his father’s concerns, despite of their sting: “He doesn’t want me to be distracted from school, especially when I’ve been one of the extraordinary students since I was young.”
Society in Gaza believes one’s future is based on what is studied in college. Thus, Jehad is focusing on biomedical engineering at university and maintains a good GPA. And he loves his studies. But he believes music can be equally as influential on the world.
“Um Kolthoum (the iconic Egyptian singer) never really died. Her songs are still on the top, and every new generation listens to them and love her for them. It’s like immortality, in a way,” he explains.
His role model is a physician named Dalal Abu Amna.
“She’s an artist and a doctor at the same time,” he says. “She’s Palestinian and switches between singing and medicine. And her husband supports her. That’s really superb!”
And Jehad is on track to do the same. So far, he has managed to excel at both his loves: engineering and singing.