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Samaan Raja Ferizali, presenter, narrator and voice actor reading at the launch of Arabic audiobook version of Harry Potter on storytel. Photo: Virendra Saklani/Gulf News Image Credit:

Samaan Ferizali is the voice of a thousand people — children and men, good and evil, elation and devastation, right and wrong.

This is not an internal disconnect, but his life’s work. As the narrator and performer of dozens of Arabic audiobooks, he can transform into virtually anyone — and in the process, transport his listeners to impossible worlds. Like ‘Harry Potter’.

Ferizali last week launched the Arabic audiobook of ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’, the first of seven in the series to become available on listening platform Storytel. The world-famous children’s book franchise was first introduced by British author JK Rowling in 1997.

Speaking to Gulf News tabloid!, Ferizali’s booming voice is impossible to ignore. He trained it over years of broadcasting, dubbing, documentary narration and voice acting.

“I was born in Damascus in 1973,” said Ferizali in his smooth baritone. “I lived in Syria and studied in its schools. I started in this line of work since 16 or 17 years, first as a broadcaster. With all my respect to newsreaders, my ambitions grew bigger than that.”

Ferizali considered himself one of the few known voices in Syria at the time, but said others were better than him. This was not because of his own modesty, he suggested, but because of his love for the others.

“I don’t consider that anyone is competing with anyone, because another person has something that makes them special that I don’t have, and in return, I have something special that they don’t have,” he said.

The father of two — his son is 18 and his daughter 16 — was delighted to be selected from more than 80 voice artists to bring ‘Harry Potter’ to an Arabic-speaking audience, in collaboration with Pottermore Publishing.

“To be the narrator of ‘Harry Potter’ adds huge value to my work. It’s a unique undertaking for me and I’m very lucky to be chosen,” said Ferizali.

HALF A BILLION READERS

According to the official Pottermore website, ‘Harry Potter’ last year hit the milestone of selling half a billion books worldwide in 80 different languages. The books were also turned into film adaptations starting in 2001, ensuring that several generations of readers and viewers would form emotional connections to the central characters.

For Ferizali, this presented a new challenge.

“I have to feel the script, feel the characters, so that I can extract the voice that’s closest to the truth — even if it’s a fictional character that only exists on paper, I had to give it a body with my voice. But with ‘Harry Potter’, people already know these characters through the films, or even just the stories — so I was more cautious,” said Ferizali.

His research included listening to the ‘Harry Potter’ audiobooks in several languages — from English to Swedish.

“Even if I didn’t understand Swedish, I would listen to the way it was being performed. Not so that I can copy what they did, but so that I can reach something more unique. The Arabic language has its own characteristics and its own particularities, so the audiobook had to have its own special character, something that sets it apart,” he said.

Ferizali is adding his voice to a mammoth legacy. The original ‘Harry Potter’ book series contains more than a million words — and fans around the world have read them what seems like a million times over. As happens in an ensemble series of this size, some of the characters come and go in different parts and even in different books, but Ferizali nonetheless fleshed them out through his vocal performance.

“One of the biggest challenges was memorising the characters; I was inventing characters for these personalities, so how am I supposed to remember them all? Characters can sometimes disappear and come back in another part — how would I remember? So we created an audio library,” said Ferizali.

“Sometimes we would have already recorded something, but someone comes up with a better idea, so we record it again, until we reach the best result possible,” he added.

Every ‘Harry Potter’ fan has their choice of most-loved character, but did Ferizali have a favourite while recording?

“Several. I really love Dumbledore. He’s so wise. [Laughs] And I love Voldemort. He is the opposite to Dumbledore. I created a special sound for him — he’s something of a snake, so there had to be a hiss to his words. And Hagrid, for instance, the giant with the heart and soul of a child,” said Ferizali.

LEARNING BY EXAMPLE

Ever since he was a child, Ferizali loved to perform and imitate others, which gradually led to him finding his own voice. The big screen was one source of inspiration.

“There were a lot of teachers — not necessarily directly teaching me, but I was constantly listening. For example, there was the late Lebanese actor Mahmoud Saeed, who had a dangerous voice. He was my role model. He famously played Khalid Bin Al Waleed in the popular [historical epic] ‘The Message’. I would listen to him, listen to the way he changes his voice here and there, and I would copy him,” said Ferizali.

Eventually, Ferizali became a force to be reckoned with in his own way. Aside from ‘Harry Potter’, are there any of his works that are particularly special to him?

“I don’t want to say that I’m claiming this myself, but I will say what has been said to me. There are stories that became famous because I recorded them and because they became audio through my voice,” said Ferizali, listing the thriller ‘Ohoud Al Dam’ by Hassan Al Saed as an example.

The most important thing he had to master, and for any narrator to master, was the ability to feel the script that he’s reading “as if he is the one who wrote it — as if he stems from it. As soon as this happens, I’m able to read it and deliver it to listeners with its true intention,” said Ferizali.

Did you know?

Storytel launched in 2005 and currently operates in 18 different markets. It launched in the UAE in 2018 in order to service the Arab world. The Arabic audiobook of ‘Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone’ is now available to subscribers, with the rest of the series expected to release throughout 2019. A subscription to Storytel is $9.99 (Dh36.6), with a 14-day free trial available.