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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

After a third rape charge, have Lamjarred’s fans finally woken up to a darker truth?   

With the Moroccan pop star facing his third rape charge, we survey the career of the troubled singer

Moroccan singer Saad Lamjarred performs in July 2016 in Tunisia. He has been charged with rape for a third time. AFP

Is the music career of Saad Lamjarred over? This will be a question in the minds of many fans, as well as the regional music industry, after the Moroccan star’s arrest in Saint-Tropez on a rape charge.

French prosecutors arrested the 33-year-old Lamjarred last week, after a woman filed a complaint, stating she was assaulted by the singer in a nightclub on the French Riviera. Lamjarred was detained in police custody.

The singer was already on bail after a previous arrest. He was charged with the aggravated rape and assault of a French woman in a hotel in Paris, in October 2016. The case has yet to be tried in court.

Lamjarred was also accused of raping a woman in New York in 2010. He fled the United States after posting bail and, despite being indicted on 21 counts, including rape and harassment, the case was dismissed after the accuser withdrew her complaint.

But this latest development seems different. Support from fans, who flooded social media when it came to the 2016 case, seems to have dimmed.

And according to the French news site Le 360, Lamjarred’s high-profile lawyer Eric Dupond-Moretti quit representing him on the news of his latest misadventure in Saint-Tropez.

All the developments point to the noose slowly tightening around Lamjarred’s career, which had been steadily on the rise.

His arrival in 2015 promised to change the status quo of Arab pop music, following his breakout single Lm3allem (The Boss). At the time, regional stars such as Amr Diab, Kadim Al Sahir and Mohammed Assaf continued to play it safe, with each release refining the established genre rather than changing the formula. And any attempt to sound modern and keep abreast of new sounds resulted in such songs as Assi Helani’s clubby but tepid Weynak Habibi and the downright embarrassment of Tamer Hosny’s auto-tuned Shaggy collaboration Smile.

However, Lm3allem’s sonic and visual presentation is brilliant. It is built upon a first-rate stuttering beat and a stalking, icy synth riff that sounds exciting and futuristic. Lamjarred’s assertive vocals are also a far cry from the mindless histrionics of his peers, being deep, powerful and joyful.

The arrangements on the track are simple yet subtle and follow the western verse-bridge-chorus structure to a tee. Complemented by a slick video that resembles images from a Hassan Hajjaj artwork, the track amassed more than 600 million views on YouTube.

Lamjarred’s subsequent singles, the groove-ridden Ghaltana and the club-thumper Let Go, cemented him as the Arab world’s biggest hope for an international pop star.

The artist had been steadily moving in that direction, with last month’s single Casablanca a classy piece of French dance pop with elements of flamenco. With 61m views already accrued on YouTube, Lamjarred was well on his way to global stardom, only to have that halted by this most recent allegation (yet, notably, not by the previous two).

The news coverage has finally shifted, perhaps permanently, away from Lamjarred’s formidable skills as an entertainer to examine darker aspects of his psyche and alleged violence against women. But it will take time to find out the underlying causes of the alleged behaviour he’s charged with.

Lamjarred grew up in a seemingly stable household.

Born to a family well established in Morocco’s cultural scene – his father, Bachir Abdou, is a singer, while his mother, Nezha Regragui, is an acclaimed actress and comedian – Lamjarred focused on the creative arts from a young age and studied at the National Conservatory in Rabat.

In a 2015 interview with The National, he praised his parents for being his biggest inspiration.

“They are both my favourite artists and I have to take their opinion before dropping any projects or any songs in the market,” he said. “Of course, their experience of 30 years can always help me.”

That was a few months before the 2010 rape case was withdrawn, after which Lamjarred maintained a low media profile, broken only in May 2016 when he made a speech to the media before his performance at Morocco’s Mawazine Festival. Labelling the 2010 accusation as false, he chalked the experience down to a side-effect of fame.

“This is an old story and the reason behind this is the fact I have been blessed with fame,” he said. “A lot of big stars have faced similar situations. These accusations that have been made towards me are false.”

But with two more rape charges since, fans and the music industry have started to wonder what is behind the smiling facade.

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