Updated: Nov 21, 2022
Through a long journey from Kuwait City to Los Angeles, Shereen Sayid’s voice finds an audience.
By Sayeh Saadat, Staff Writer
Shereen Sayid’s journey from Kuwait to the music department’s stage at Valley College has not been easy. The first year music major and only child of an Indian Muslim father and a Filipino Christian mother overcame many obstacles, cultural and religious, to get to where she is today and do what she loves to do — sing high soprano.
As a little girl born and raised in a beautiful house in Kuwait City, Kuwait Sayid’s life was very much controlled by her strict father.
“My father controlled what I watched on TV,” Shereen said. “There were not a lot of shows I was allowed to watch, so we watched pretty much what he liked. We watched a lot of sitcoms and musicals. He loved ABBA.”
Destiny appeared one night when she was watching one of her father’s favorite shows: Donnie and Marie. Sayid remembers that night vividly.
“I saw Donnie on TV and told my dad ‘I want to be with him. I want to be there,’” said Sayid.
At that moment her life changed forever. She had found her passion. She knew what she wanted to do for the rest of her life.
Her love of singing created a lot of friction between her and her father, a prominent orthodontist in Kuwait. He did not like the idea of his daughter becoming a professional singer. Instead, he wanted her to become a medical doctor. By providing his daughter with a good education, he hoped that she would never have to rely on a man to provide for her. From his perspective, a medical profession would guarantee her financial independence and a respected place in society he had benefited from himself.
“During the Gulf war when Iraq invaded Kuwait, I was nearly kidnapped twice by Iraqi soldiers,” Shereen recalled. “But both times my father saved me by telling Iraqi soldiers he was a doctor and bribing them with pain killers that he always carried with him.”
The father-daughter battle continued for many years. Her father spent a fortune on her education to become a doctor. But Sayid did not give up. She began to take singing lessons in secret when she became a teenager, until she got her first performing job when she was thirteen years old. The performer does not remember the name of the play or the character she played, but does remember the tiny paycheck she earned.
“I have made so much money all these years,” her father said to her, “but I have never been as happy as you are with this small check. I want you to be happy.”
When her father passed away, Shereen decided to leave Kuwait and come to America to pursue her dream.
“Every time an airplane flew over me, I’d close my eyes and hear Frank Sinatra’s ‘Come Fly With Me’ in my head. I had a recurring dream about flying over a busy street with lots of lights. I didn’t know what the name of the street was until I came to America. It was Hollywood Boulevard.”
It was in America that her dreams started to come through. She appeared on stage with her childhood idol Donnie Osmond, where she got to do a comedy act and sing and dance with him. But the best thing America gave her was her freedom.
“I felt free when I came to America.” Shereen said. “I had never felt so free in my life. To me America means freedom.”
Although pursuing an acting career in America proved to be challenging, she never gave up. The music major remembers being discriminated against because of her Arabic last name or because she did not look caucasian.
“Things were tough, I was told to go back to where I came from,” said Sayid. “They asked me if I was carrying a bomb in my purse.”
Looking back at her life in Kuwait and growing up under the watchful eyes of her father, Shereen does not hold any resentment or anger.
“I understand him now and appreciate the values he instilled in me, like discipline and hard work,” said Sayid. “He really wanted the best for me.”