In our second collaboration with Geox, we sit down with the unstoppable Rula Zaki - singer, teacher and, of course, mother of two - to talk work, play and priorities and why you won't catch her in stilettos.
When we meet up with Rula Zaki for a little shoe shopping at Geox prior to our interview, her eyes skim straight past the rows of electric blue and watermelon pink heels, even the cool strappy black wedges, and she selects a pair of chic white sandals with a silver buckle. “I’m a mum,” she offers in explanation at our perplexed glances at her choice of flats (in the competition between heels and flats, our girl brains are unintentionally and automatically geared towards towering stilettos, especially Geox's that are uber-comfortable). “I’m on my feet all day, so I prefer flats,” she says. But any girl can tell you that flats too can cause pain if the sole is too thin or the leather is too stiff. Luckily, Geox does flats too with equal gusto and serious style credentials. The shopping trip is a family affair with her two boys, Kareem, 12, and Tameem, five, and her husband Mohamed, a high school principal, all in tow. And it turns out these family-fuelled outings are a fixture in Zaki’s life, with the kids always included as much as possible. “I’m just more happy when they’re with me,” she says simply.
Music teacher by day, singer by night, Zaki been singing since the ripe old age of nine – in thirteen languages no less – performed and received accolades around the world, charted a number one hit, released an album, and has two more in the works at the moment – both a main album, titled 3ally El Mazzika and a children’s one. We just so happened to be treated to a sneak peek of some of the tracks from her forthcoming album in the car, where her kids know all the lyrics and belt out the tunes right alongside her jealousy-inducing voice that plays out on the sound system. Her voice has also graced the Arabic versions of Cinderella and The Little Mermaid and has been featured on myriad television ads including Nestle and Vodafone. She’s a busy woman, to say the least. And yet despite a prominent singing career and working as a music teacher at BISC, she’s the very definition of a hands-on mum and unequivocally puts her children first. We speak to the expert juggler about work, play, and priorities.
What are some of the biggest challenges of being a working mother?
Look, the most important thing is my family and my kids are my priority so I work around them – that’s why I took a part time job teaching where I finish about halfway through the day. They offered me a full time job but I said no, I’d rather be part time to have more time for my kids when they come back from school, with homework and feeding them and playing with them and just spending time with them, because the most important thing for children is what they learn at home.
In this field, many people get really pulled into the job and they can’t spend time with their family. I’m very lucky to have a flexible enough schedule that I can spend time with my kids because some people don’t have this – especially people in music. It’s a catastrophe. I know people who are considered ‘famous’ and, haram, they can’t spend enough time with their kids and this is sad. For both the mother and the child. I hope I can continue to give my kids all of my time.
What are the greatest benefits of being a working mum?
I guess that maybe I can be both a role model to them with my job, and at the same time give them all my love and take care of them. I think that one of the main things that Mohamed and I agree on is family first and then work. Of course when you have kids it’s a more complicated equation, but you can still do your work and what you love but not to the extent that you get pulled away from your family. I also get to teach them what I know, in terms of music and singing.
What do you think your kids are learning from you?
Reading, writing, a lot of stuff – I make sure they learn in a fun way so they don’t feel like they’re learning. Like, for instance, if we’re travelling somewhere I bring with me books, a journal, writing material so that we do some work and then we go out and play. And for me most important thing they learn is respecting everybody, have good manners, and no lying!
How do you manage the home/life balance?
Right now I’m very happy because during the day when the kids are at school, I’m teaching and then I finish early and then I can work on my songs in the studio, and then when they come back, I play, I teach, I do homework, I feed them, all that stuff. Then when they sleep I go to the studio or perform if I have a concert.
I also have Warda, their nanny, who’s been with us for a very long time, and she’s like family. She’s the one who told me yalla have another kid and I’ll help you! She’s like a second mum to Kareem and Tameem and she loves them and they love her. So if I have to leave them, I trust her.
Do you find it hard to leave your kids when you can’t take them with you somewhere?
I don’t like to be away from them. I don’t like to leave them at all; out of the question! If we have an event at a hotel for a wedding or a corporate event, we take them with us. We’ll take a room at the hotel, and I’ll go sing at night but we’ll all spend the day together.
Did your husband support your decision to continue working after the birth of your sons?
Definitely. He knows that this is my career and my life and this is what I studied. And he knows music is my life. And it’s now part of our daily life at home!
What’s your daily uniform? The outfit that takes you teaching to the studio to hanging out with the kids…
If I’m working…well, it’s not jeans! Just something comfortable…comfortable and feminine. I guess I have a certain style as a lot of people talk about my ethnic look, mixing traditional Egyptian materials with pieces from Thailand and lots of lots of colour. And definitely comfortable shoes, though because I’m on my feet a lot.
What’s your go-to item when you need a confidence boost?
My dentures? Just kidding! Most of the time I'm wearing something from my travels.
Have your sons developed a sense of style yet?
Kareem is 12 and he’s beginning to choose his own clothes. Lots of t-shirts and jeans, comfortable stuff because he’s athletic. And he likes colours!
What’s an ideal day off for you and your family like?
Just being with my husband and kids outdoors… My husband and I are very into outdoor activities because now with all the technology available, we don't want to bring them up glued to screens. So we do things like zip lining or in the summer we’ll go to the beach - Kareem loves wakeboarding. In Cairo we’ll go to the cinema or something around food! We love food.
When can you be persuaded to wear heels?
Only when I’m performing! I mean…I’ll wear heels occasionally but they’re quite low…