Egypt tunes into nostalgia for golden age of Arab song

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Younger generations have also shown a renewed interest in the classics thanks to popular televised talent shows. (AFP)
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Music production companies are also seeking to preserve the country's music heritage through younger generations. (AFP)
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Egypt, a cultural powerhouse in the Arab world, has long enjoyed a booming music industry. (AFP)
Updated 11 February 2019
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Egypt tunes into nostalgia for golden age of Arab song

  • Gulf countries vying for cultural dominance emerged as rivals to Egypt's music industry
  • The 2011 uprising in Egypt also saw a downturn in the domestic music industry

CAIRO: Standing before a rapt crowd, Ahmed Adel oozes charm with his passionate performance of an Egyptian classic, evoking a romantic nostalgia for Arabic songs of the past.
After a melodious introduction on the Oud, the famed oriental lute, Adel croons his way through a "Mawal", a traditional melody boasting long vowels.
"Ya leil" ("O night"), he sings, with the dreamy languor of the original performer, Egyptian legend Mohamed Abdel Wahab.
With cheers of "Allah!", the mesmerised audience shows its appreciation.
"Modern songs are a hit for a day or two, a month, or maybe a year, but then we do not hear about them any more.
"But Abdel Wahab and (Egyptian diva) Umm Kulthum have lasted until today," said Adel, before his performance in the tiny Mamluk-era hall at the Arab Music Institute.
Egypt, a cultural powerhouse in the Arab world, has long enjoyed a booming music industry.
In the past, the rise of revered singers, such as Umm Kulthum, Abdel Wahab and another Egyptian Abdel Halim Hafiz among others, saw Cairo billed as the Hollywood of Arab song, attracting talent from across the region.
But in the 1990s, Gulf countries vying for cultural dominance emerged as rivals to Egypt's music industry, and Rotana, the Arab world's largest record label, was formed in 1987.
The company is currently owned by businessman and Saudi prince, Al Walid bin Talal.
The 2011 uprising in Egypt that plunged the country into political and economic chaos also saw a downturn in the domestic music industry.
Yet the Egyptian metropolis remains alive with the sound of music.
Every day, in local cafes and homes the melancholic songs of Syrian-born star Asmahan and the tender rhythmic melodies of Egyptian singer Najat al-Saghira mix with animated conversations, modern pop music and Islamic chants.
Torn between stage fright and joy, Adel performs regularly at the Arab Music Institute paying tribute to his music idols.
During events such as the "Khulthumiat" (the music of Umm Kulthum) or "Wahabiyat" (the music of Abdel Wahab), organised by the 100-year old institute, Adel is often the lead singer with an entire troupe from the Cairo Opera House accompanying his powerful vocals.
"These events are very successful," said Jihan Morsi, the seminal director of the opera's Oriental Music department.
And to soar above Cairo's 24-hour cacophony, she doesn't just look to golden oldies.
"I bring (pop stars like) Angham, Saber El-Robai, Wael Jassar. They are beautiful voices that have an audience among the youth," said Morsi.
Music production companies are also seeking to preserve the country's music heritage through younger generations.
Sawt al-Qahira, or Sono Cairo, a historic record company, is betting on the internet despite financial setbacks and ongoing legal battles over the copyright to Umm Kulthum songs.
Known as the "Star of the Orient," Umm Kulthum's voice is still considered the Arab world's finest, more than four decades after her death.
And with its wide variety of classics, the record label has struck deals with YouTube and other mobile application companies to keep this heritage alive.
Younger generations have also shown a renewed interest in the classics thanks to popular televised talent shows.
"Arab Idol, The Voice and others show people singing old songs," said Doaa Mamdouh, the company's internet services head, adding this has prompted many fans to dig out the original versions.
Classic black and white music video clips struggle, however, to compete against today's torrent of slick, ultra-modern videos.
Rising artists from such places as Lebanon, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates harness millions of views on YouTube, usually singing in their own dialects.
Egypt's music scene remains vibrant, including electro Shaabi music, an exuberant popular blend seen by purists as too raucous.
And there is a new genre known as alternative, or "underground", which has emerged in recent years.
The band Massar Egbari, which roughly translates as Compulsory Detour, rose to fame with a relaxed style of rock and a distinctive performance of classics, such as by Sayed Darwish often called "the father of modern Arab music".
Although the rock stars say they are influenced by classics, they don't want to live in the past.
"Nowadays you can record something at home at a low cost," said bassist Ahmed Hafiz. "After every era, something new appears, these are phases."
The band, whose style its guitarist and vocalist Hani el-Dakkak describes as a blend of Sayed Darwish and rock band Pink Floyd, is also trying to distinguish itself through its message.
"We try in our lyrics to talk about social problems or things that nobody else will speak about," said el-Dakkak.


REVIEW: Second season of Sacred Games mirrors the ills of today's India

Updated 17 August 2019
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REVIEW: Second season of Sacred Games mirrors the ills of today's India

CHENNAI: The first season of “Sacred Games” last year was a hit, and the second edition, which began streaming on Netflix on Aug. 15, may be even more so.

The eight episodes explore some of India's most pressing current issues such as a nuclear threat, terrorism and inter-religious animosity dating back to the country's 1947 partition. It. It also addresses how religious men can indulge in the most unholy of acts, including helping corrupt politicians.

Some of the greatest films have had conflict and war as their backdrop: “Gone with the Wind,” “Casablanca,” “Ben-Hur” and “Garam Hawa,” to mention a few. The second season of “Sacred Games” also unfolds in such a scenario, with terrorism and inter-communal disharmony having a rippling effect on the nation.

Directed by Anurag Kashyap (“Gangs of Wasseypur,” “Black Friday”) and Neeraj Ghaywan (“Masaan,” which premiered at Cannes in 2015), the web series, based on Vikram Chandra's 2006 novel, unfolds with Ganesh Gaitonde (played by Nawazuddin Siddiqui) escaping from prison and finding himself in Mombasa. He has been carted there by an agent of India's

Research and Analysis Wing, Kusum Devi Yadav (Amruta Subhash), who forces him to help find Shahid Khan (Ranvir Shorey), the mastermind behind bomb blasts and terror attacks.

In Mumbai, police inspector Sartaj (Saif Ali Khan) has just two weeks to save the city from a nuclear attack, which Gaitonde had warned him about. Both men love Mumbai and do not want it to be destroyed. But religious extremist Khanna Guruji (Pankaj Tripathi) and his chief disciple Batya Ableman (Kalki Koechlin) believe that only such a catastrophic destruction can help cleanse society and bring a cleaner, saner new order.

A narrative of deceit, betrayal, love and longing, the second season has a plodding start, but picks up steam from the fourth episode, with Sartaj and his men racing against time to find a nuclear time bomb that could wipe out Mumbai. Crude dialogue and a constant doomsday atmosphere could have been avoided, but riveting performances by the lead pair – Khan and Siddiqui (though he is getting typecast in this kind of role) – and nail-biting thrills make this Netflix original dramatically captivating.