Karim Shukry Zaloum/Alain Zaloum

Karim Shukry Zaloum/Alain Zaloum
by Sherif Awad
In 1956, leading composer, singer and actor Mohamed Fawzy was sitting with a group of friends
when he heard the voice of a young man covering an American song originally belonging to Frankie
Laine. The young man’s name was Karim Shukry and he was performing a
Franco-Arab (mixing Arabic and English lyrics and Middle Eastern rhythms with
Western influences) rendition of the well-loved song. Unlike many Egyptian
singers of the day, Shukry sang in Arabic mixed with English in hopes of reaching
an international audience.
Little did Shukry now then that he was on the verge of popularity and that Fawzy
would be his ticket to fame. The talented Fawzy composed the song Take Me Back to
Cairo for Shukry, and it quickly became a popular hit, especially among Egyptian
diaspora longing for their homeland.
Shukry’s soulful voice was so poignant that when the then-minister of culture
Tharwat Okasha heard Take Me Back to Cairo, he was asked Shukry to shoot an accompanying video with ancient Egyptian monuments background to be used as an anthem to attract tourists from all over the world.
The song was followed by many in its style like Meshmesh Beih (Mr. Apricot), Samara and Inshallah and it can be said that the popularity of Shukry’s music then paved the way for other recording artists
from the Middle East to break from tradition and find success beyond regional boundaries. In fact, years later, the same  song was covered by Egyptian singerSamir El-Eskandarany who became a
singing icon in the Franco-Arab genre.
Unbeknownst to many, Shukry’s full name was Jean Shukry Zaloum. He grew up in the Cairo neighborhood of Heliopolis where he attended Saint Georges School. While attempting to carve out
a career in singing, Shukry used to work as regional manager at the Cairo offices of
Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer (MGM), set above Metro Cinema in downtown Cairo. “Starting from 1961, Shukry used to finance his music recordings using his own money,”
says his son Alain Zaloum. “To cut the production budget, Shukry used to record
at dubbing studios in mono quality and in one take. His MGM boss often called him
at the studio to make him come back to the office.”
A steady job by day and singing career by night both promised a good future
for Shukry and his family, but in 1964, things went downhill when Zaloum lost
his MGM job after rumors flew about him being of Jewish origins. Shukry, who was 
counting on his singing career, discovered
that it was also affected by the same rumor. That year, he decided to leave Egypt
with his wife and two sons, heading for
Quebec where his wife’s Italian family
“During my early childhood, I did not
understand what it is my father used to
do for a living,” remembers Alain Zaloum.
“However, bit by bit, I started to understand that he used to sing when his Egyptian records were pulled up on several
occasions. In Quebec, he continued his
movie-related work by making advertisement and posters for local cinemas.”
Shukry, who took on the professional
name of Jean Zaloum, later ventured into
movie production, distribution and even
constructed a small Quebec theater complete with 320 seats. While growing up,
Alain used to visit his father’s set and became interested in photography, and started to shoot home movies with his friends
on super 8 film. Years later, Alain traveled
to America to study filmmaking at USC
School of Cinematic Arts in California. “It
was a terrific period because I got to know
many of the symbols who created the new
American pop culture,” he says. Our lecturers were the likes of great filmmakers
Orson Wells and Sam Peckinpah.”
After obtaining his bachelor’s degree,
Alain discovered that most of his graduated colleagues went separate ways and that
he did not have much of a network anymore. “I stayed one year to work behind
the scenes in Hollywood as crew member
helping in lighting or catering,” he recounts. One year later, Alain went back
to Montreal. “I got the same jobs there
but the rent was cheaper. I then started to
write my own scripts to work with other
producers until I ended up working with
my father in the 1990s.”
Gary Busey, one of Hollywood’s character actors, often plays eccentric villains.
Among his starring roles were in two
films directed by Alain Zaloum: Canvas
and Suspicious Minds. “In real life, Gary is
a very nice guy and very dramatic,” Alain
says with laugh. “We bumped into each
other when I was living in LA. Also, my
father and I collaborated with Billy Zane
who then became the villain in Titanic. I
made use, like many filmmakers or nonfilmmakers, of a tax reduction law that
encouraged people to invest in cinema
during the 1980s. Many Canadian greats
launched their career during this period,
including renowned sci-fi horror writerdirector David Cronenberg and comic
writer-director Ivan Reitman.
Today, Alain Zaloum continues to work
on shooting, editing and streaming on
digital medium. “It is a big challenge because my early start was in independent
cinema then moved as well to cable television in order to stay in the business,” he
says. “I worked in cinema when it was so
expensive and technologically challenging to shoot a film. Right now, the digital medium opens up to wider creativity.
However, those changes had their influences on some veteran producers who find
it too hard to raise money for their new
films from the new services like Netflix or
Amazon,” says Zaloum who is also facing
similar challenges in assembling the budget for his new film that he would like to
shoot in Egypt. “An Egyptian producer
told me that it is difficult to get cash from
Egypt and so it will be only services on location.”
Jean Zaloum finally did make it back
to Cairo in 1997 where he was given a
tribute award at the Cairo International
Film Festival as an Egyptian who excelled
abroad in filmmaking. Sadly, he left our
world four years ago, but his memory, his
films and his music still inspire his son
Alain. “When we came to Canada, my
father stopped singing and so his songs
are the most enduring legacy that brings
up strong emotions every time they are
Alain Zaloum’s new film will be shot between Egypt and Canada and brings the
story of their family back to life again 

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Sherif M. Awad
Sherif M. Awad
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