Just a few years ago, Omar Hasan was preparing to engage in scrums on the rugby field. Today, aged 53, he is living a new life as an opera and tango singer.
Based in Toulouse, southern France, since 2004, Hasan had a good career in professional rugby. Trained in Argentina, he went on to play in New Zealand (Wellington), Australia (ACT Brumbies) and then three historically reputable clubs in southern France: Auch, Agen and Toulouse.
At the 2007 France World Cup, together with such Pumas as Agustín Pichot or Juan Martín Hernández, the side managed to beat the French hosts on two occasions, giving Argentina a historic third position.
“It was the apotheosis of my career,” he remembered.
Six months later, at 37 years old, he retired.
Initially, he thought his post-rugby life would be headed for the agro-food industry or international trade between France and Argentina. Yet he ultimately decided to go for his passion for music.
“I’m the only professional rugby player turned singer. After rugby I felt the need for something artistic,” he said in an interview while drinking mate in his living room and watching the Argentina-Samoa match in the Rugby World Cup last Friday.
Just like any other supporter, he's been watching all the Pumas' matches in France.
It had all started in the 1970s in Tucumán, on the foothills of the Andes. When he was a child, it was quite usual to hear Hasan sing, both in his school choir and family gatherings.
His first shows were at the coach stop at the central square of Choromoro, his grandparents’ town, where he summered. He was nine years old and sang popular songs. His audience were passengers, who rewarded him with applauses before getting on the coach.
It was then that the boy who was often punished at school decided to drop football, and practise judo and eventually move on to rugby, after a friend invited him to train at Natación y Gimnasia, a club in San Miguel de Tucumán.
Yet he never stopped singing during his rugby years and would often entertain Argentine crowds around the world.
“Argentine folklore, [Frank] Sinatra, Julio Iglesias, opera arias, tango or any song my friends would like… I’ve always sung. They said I had a nice voice, but I didn’t dare to take it further. I didn’t think I was good enough,” said Hasan, now married to an Argentine woman and with two children.
In 2002, at a meal after an Agen match, opera singer and teacher Jean-François Gardeil marvelled at what he heard. The expert decided that the prop’s voice was a raw talent that needed to be polished.
“A few days later, we started classes. Omar is a central lyric baritone with a very nice timbre,” the teacher explains.
A few months later, Hasan sang a tango at a charity concert at the Agen Exhibition Centre, where Francis Cabrel also performed.
“That day I understood that it was what I wanted. I’d always dreamt of singing in a band, but because I played every weekend it was impossible,” he said.
Once in Toulouse, where he played from 2004 to 2008, he devoted more time to his passion for music and even got into the local conservatory.
“You didn’t have to insist too much to get him to sing, you just had to ask him. This type of transformation is not frequent, but it’s not surprising either. He went from one passion to another,” said Yannick Nyanga, one of his former colleagues at Stade Toulousain.
Today Omar Hasan tours the south of France with performances of his show Belcantor, in which he performs Latin American classics, tangos, opera arias and songs like 'Toulouse' by Claude Nougaro.
This year he also sang in an adaptation of Carmen and has had supporting roles in films. In 2024, he will star in a musical about Rocky Balboa, the fictionalised boxer played by Sylvester Stallone.
by Alexandre Peyrille, AFP