The Saudi Who Dared to Sing
From a star turn on YouTube to deranged email attacks, Rotana Tarabzouni has heard it all. But she refuses to be silenced.
Rotana Tarabzouni has been singing for as long as she can remember. As a child, after finishing her homework she would grab a hairbrush, pose in front of her bedroom mirror and sing for hours. Blasting her favorite records, she strained her vocal cords to get her voice as high as Christina Aguilera’s or to compete with Celine Dion’s—two among the select English-speaking artists available at the sole record store Tarabzouni had access to in Saudi Arabia.
Born in Dhahran, a city in eastern Saudi Arabia, twenty-five-year-old Tarabzouni grew up in a culture that restricted her apparel and her voice. She long felt suffocated by the strict religious guidelines she was raised to abide by and the country she called home. She had always abhorred the body-swallowing abaya and head-covering hijab, which she only wore when fearful of the eyes of the religious police. Tarabzouni wanted to study abroad, but it wasn’t the gender segregation in restaurants, or the strict rules …
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