Though Jennifer Grout, the 23-year-old American singer, doesn’t speak a word of Arabic, she has a rare talent: singing Arabic songs, including Arabic traditional ones, so fluently, so softly and so beautifully.
When Grout participated in Arabs Got Talent last year, she was among the top three finalists, with thousands viewing her spine-tingling performances of songs by Umm Kulthoum on YouTube. More recently, a video of a different kind has been drawing attention to Grout — one showing her announcing her conversion to Islam, which was posted online last month.
While she has actually converted to Islam, though “unofficially”, Grout told tabloid! the posted video is not real.
“Actually the video that everyone has seen is part of a Moroccan film I made before my performance aired on Arabs Got Talent.”
“And I originally was upset, and mostly scared, that it ended up on the internet, because I hadn’t even gotten the chance to tell my family and closest friends about Islam before there were headlines everywhere saying I’d converted. However, now that it’s out there, maybe it’s a positive thing — I am not ashamed of what I believe in,” she added in an email interview.
The posted video shows her declaring, in the presence of two men, the shahada, the declaration of faith that is one of the five pillars of Islam. In the shahada, the person states that “there is no God but Allah and Mohammad [PBUH] is His prophet”.
Grout, who lives in Morocco, explained that she has not gone to the mosque to “confirm her conversion with an Imam or get it on paper”.
“But I say the shahada from my heart. I have recently started to perform the [five] daily prayers.”
She also plans to fast during Ramadan later this year and she is also “trying to be more generous so to practice zakat”.
“Those are the most important things, and of course I’m trying to educate myself about it, to know more about the meaning of the Quran, Islam’s history... I read somewhere that Islam is not a state of being, but a process of becoming, and that really rings true for me.”
Grout’s attachment to religion comes two years after she was “atheist and against religion, thinking that it was harmful rather than helpful to the world”.
But when she met her Moroccan fiancee a year-and-a-half ago, he unconsciously made her change her view.
He is, she says, “the most courageous, persistent and loving person I know... I admired him, and so I wanted to make the relationship work — he being Muslim, one of the biggest factors in doing that was to at least understand Islam. By making an effort to understand and opening my mind to it, suddenly strange and amazing things started happening to me, like huge coincidences and feelings/sensations I’d never had before. That’s how my “process of becoming” originally started. So it is a fairly recent thing for me.”
Today, Grout lives and works in Marrakech with her fiancee, a Berber musician, with whom she performs. She also performs Arabic music at a riad, (Riad Kniz, an old house in Marrakesh converted into a hub for traditional cultural activities), where she sings and plays the oud, a musical instrument. She is also sings at parties and weddings.
When Grout took part in Arabs Got Talent last November, she made the news. First for being an American singing in a show for Arabs. Secondly, for being so fluent in singing Arabic traditional songs, without being able to speak the language.
A rumour spread that she must have Arabic origins — something she denied in her interview.
“I thought that it would be a great opportunity to show my talent to the Arab world,” she said. “I had a wonderful experience on AGT! I got to travel to Lebanon and meet many amazing talented people along the way. Plus it earned me fame as an artist, which is something I’ve always dreamed of having.”
Asked about her future plans, Bostonite Grout, who holds a bachelor’s degree in classical singing from McGill University, said she is going to perform at the opening ceremony of a karate championship later this month and will sing at an Egyptian wedding.
Moreover, she dreams of singing Arabic music around the Arab world and as well for Arabs in America. She plans to pursue both Arabic and Moroccan Berber music. “One is studied music, one is folk music... each allows me to express myself differently,” she said.