“Keep on pushing:” A UNF student and his voice

Lauren Fox, Managing Editor

It started with wet pants. A terrified six-year-old in Egypt, tasked with singing a four-minute song in his non-native language, wet his pants before giving a performance that would earn him his first standing ovation. That’s how Karim Zabaneh’s award-winning international opera singing career began.

“I was on stage, I saw the people, I start sweating, and I peed my pants,” Zabaneh recounted. “That was the most embarrassing and worst experience I’ve ever had. But the thing that happened next, that’s what pushed me to keep on singing.”

His French teacher– the one he’d been practicing the song with for months– closed the stage curtains and pulled him into a hug.

“She created everything in me, like as a human,” Zabaneh said. “She cleaned me up, she gave me a new pair of pants, and she said, are you ready? So, I said yes.”

Karim Zabaneh laughed and smiled as he recounted one of the worst moments of his life, appreciating that it turned out well in the end. The experience not only taught him the power of his voice but also instilled in him a new approach to life: “keep on pushing.”

Singing for his church initially inspired Karim to learn English and continue performing (Photo courtesy of Karim Zabaneh)

Today, Zabaneh plays 12 instruments, speaks three languages and recently sang a lead role in Disney’s Harmonious. His time working with Disney is far from over; he’s booked to sing in more shows, one of which he said he can’t announce yet. The singer, who was born in Jordan, grew up in Egypt and now lives in the United States. He has had to keep on pushing to achieve his goals and assimilate in a country far different from where he spent his childhood. 

He was 18 when he moved to the U.S., not knowing much English and missing the friends he used to see every day. He spent his first year in America playing on his iPod and coping with culture shock. Then he got his first gig.

“So, I sang the first gig, I sang the second gig, the third gig- I said, it’s kind of boring, I’m not talking between songs, I need to break the ice,” he explained.

He broke out of his comfort zone. He kept pushing. Zabaneh started practicing English at home by talking to himself in front of a mirror. “My mom thought I’m possessed,” he laughed.

Zabaneh picked up his third language and now studies TV production at the University of North Florida, where he’s working toward his second college degree (his first degree is in music). Despite a promising future as a singer working with Disney, he’s also interested in filmmaking. He figures this way, he can work in Hollywood as a filmmaker and work in Hollywood as a singer.

Headshot of Karim Zabaneh (Courtesy of Karim Zabaneh)

His accomplishments don’t end with degrees. In 2020, Zabaneh won Jacksonville’s ‘Oh Say Can You Sing’ competition. He said he was the youngest opera singer in Egypt, explaining he used to be paid “under the table” for his gigs. 

He also enjoys meditation, voice acting and fishing, and he dreams of one day owning a boat. He plays 12 instruments, saying he used to focus on learning a new one each year back when he had more time. He said he doesn’t worry about not being able to pursue all his passions because every day brings a new opportunity.

Despite this, Zabaneh believes he would die without music.

“I can’t imagine myself without music, to be honest,” he said. “I always talked to God, I said, I don’t know. If there was no music in the world if He didn’t create this voice in me, how would I live?”

He said that when he sang in Harmonious, over a million people were watching. Yet, when he stands on the stage, it’s as if a black curtain covers him, and he’s standing in a room alone. He’s now far from being the stage-frightened boy that he was back in Egypt many years ago.


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