She may be only 10, but Azza al Harthy has already made a name for herself after coming second in the Million’s Poet for kids competition. Kate Ginn catches up with her.
For a new celebrity, Azza al Harthy is surprisingly down-to-earth. The schoolgirl needs to adjust to being well known across Oman and the whole Arab region after coming second in the recent Shaer Al Million, the children’s version of the hugely popular poetry talent show Million’s Poet in Abu Dhabi. A television audience of millions watched the little girl beautifully recite two poems, capturing viewer’s hearts in the process.
At her home in Fanja, Azza is settling back into normal life as best she can for a mini VIP.
“I cannot describe how happy I am,” she says. “You put your head up for your country and I hope I have made my country proud.”
Talking to Azza for five minutes and it’s clear why she claimed second place. Her voice is clear and strong, every word enunciated perfectly and there’s a singsong quality to the way that makes everything she says sound so melodious.
She also likes to talk, a lot.
For her age, she’s incredibly confident and eloquent. It’s more like being in conversation with an adult than a 10-year-old girl.
Azza’s success in the UAE has seen her become something of a media star since her return to Oman with a whirlwind of interviews, including an appearance on our sister Arabic radio station, Al Wisal 96.5, which she describes as being “very nice and a great experience”.
“I’m happy and excited,” she adds when asked about being at the centre of all the fuss.
Her success did not happen overnight and would seem well deserved when you discover that she practiced for two years for that moment in the spotlight. The hard training paid off in the end.
It’s even more staggering to learn that Azza started reciting complex poetry when she was only five years old and, according to her mother, her ear for the spoken word was evident even before then. As a young child, she always loved listening to classic songs as well.
Her parents realised just how special she was when, at the age of six and a half, she presented her mother with a 60-line poem for Mother’s Day that she’d written at school.
“I feel happy when I speak poetry,” says Azza. “My favourite is poetry about Oman because I feel the national spirit.”
Azza’s talent was noticed long before Million’s Poet with local poets asking her to accompany them on recitals. It was one of these who suggested that she enter Shaer Al Million.
Now in its seventh season, the programme has been described as “American Idol for poets”, with the adult final this year attracting three million viewers as it beams live on Abu Dhabi TV and satellite channels. Hundreds of hopefuls apply to take part. Eliminations are based on the votes of the jury and the television audience.
The show has also been credited with revolutionising a traditional art form and bringing poetry to prime-time television, as well as reconnecting a young Arab generation with a centuries-old tradition.
Nabati poetry, as it is called, is a unique feature of life in the Arabian Peninsula and is known as the “the people’s poetry” or “Bedouin poetry”.
Azza chose two poems, including one about Sheikh Zayed, the founding father of the UAE. Second place earned her a gold medal and prize money of up to RO2,000 (which she hasn’t received yet).
“My mum and dad were so happy. They were hoping I would get first but they are very pleased.”
So how does the schoolgirl memorise thousands of words, some very difficult to pronounce, when reciting poetry for as long as 10 minutes at a time?
“I have to know the meaning of the words first and then I cram. It takes a long time,” says Azza, who has a younger sister, aged five.
Her proud parents are very supportive.
Away from poetry, Azza enjoys reading and swimming. She’s extremely clever and sharp to interview. When asked what her dreams are, she fires back: “What now or in the future?”
For now, her wish is to meet His Majesty Sultan Qaboos Bin Said Al Said and kiss his hand. In the future, she wants to be an aviation engineer. She also wants to start writing her own poetry.
You can hear Azza on Al Wisal over Ramadan, when she’ll be appearing once a week on one of the shows.
I don’t think it’s the last we’ll hear of Azza al Harthy.
But the final word must go to Azza.
“Thanks for being interested in me,” she says. “It was fun.”
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