Jan 102014

“Akhasmah Ah” was Nancy Ajram’s breakthrough hit – the song that made the Lebanese singer famous in the Arab world. The song won her the Best Arab Female Singer award at the 2003 Music Video Oscar Awards.

Personally I’m not the biggest Nancy Ajram fan in the world. I think her voice is average and she’s overly made up. But here’s the video – you can decide for yourself.

Nancy Ajram – Akhasmak ah

Here are the song lyrics in Arabic and English:

Arabic Lyrics

English Translation

La, LaLaLa. La, LaLaLa.
La, LaLaLa. La, LaLaLa.
La, LaLaLa. La, LaLaLa.
Akhasmak, aah. I will upset you, yes.
Aseebak, la. I will leave you, no.
Wi gowah ilroah hatifdhal habeebi illi ana bah-waah. Inside my soul you remain my darling that I am
in love with.
Bahibbak, aah. I love you, yes.
Wa afarkak, la. And leave you, no.
Malakni hawak wala akdar habeebi if yoam ansaak. Your love owned me and oh my darling I can’t
forget you in a day.
Dah inta habeebi wi monaya illi dawibni. You are my darling and hope who melted me.
Wi inta illi bardo a’an hawaya be-yita’ibni. And you definitely are creating many problems
about my love.
In kan a’alaik ba-sook dalaali wi yikh-tor bibaali
aa’anaid hawak.
If it is up to you, I flirt and I’m stubborn
about your love.
Lakain awam bahinni tani wa salhak ya ghaali
we batlob ridhaak.
And soon I sympathize with you and reconcile
oh precious one and I ask your acceptance.
Inta habeebi wa monaya illi dawibni. Wi inta
illi bardo a’an hawaya be-yita’ibni.
You are my darling and hope who melted me. And
you with your love creating problems for me.
Akhasmak, ah, ah, ah. I will upset you, yes, yes, yes.
Aseebak, la, laaaaah. Leave you, no, nooooooooooooo.
Wi gowah ilroah hatifdhal habeebi illi ana bah-waah. Inside my soul you will remain my darling who
I indeed love.
Bahibak, aah. I love you, yes.
Wa afarkak, la. And I leave you, no.
Malakni hawak wala akdar habeebi if yoam ansaak. Your love owned me and I can not oh darling in
one day forget you.
Bihobbak inta maali heelah wi a’omri fi laiyla
ma ha iba’aid bia’eid. Wil dounya baa’dak mostahilaih.
In your love I do not have any result and my
life in one night – I will not be far away. And life after you
is impossible.
We laylaih, fi laylaih haneeni ye zeed. And night by night my compassion to you increases.
Dah inta habeebi wi monaya illi dawabniWi inta illi bardo a’an hawaya be-yita’ibni. You are my darling and hope that melted me.
Akhasmak, aah. I will upset you, yes.
Aseebak, la. Leave you, no.
Wi gowah ilroah hatifdhal habeebi illi ana bah-waah. Inside my soul you will remain my darling that
I love.
Bahibak, aah. I love you, yes.
Wa afarkak, la. And leave you, no.
Malakni hawak wala akdar habeebi if yoam ansaak. Your love owned me and I can not forget you in
a day.
Aah. Aah.
Aseebak, la. Leave you, no.
Aah, aah. Aah, aah.
La. No.
Jul 252012

It’s a Wednesday summer afternoon in my home. We’re in the first week of Ramadan. I’m sitting at the dining room table where I have my computer equipment set up, doing my work (I am a writer and web developer and I work from home).

Umm Kulthum

Umm Kulthum

My daughter Salma is in the kitchen with my mother. They are making cheese rolls with za’tar, for iftaar.

Afterwards I will have Salma sit beside me and work on her lessons. Even though it’s summer, I like for her to spend a few hours each day practicing reading and writing. She just turned six, so she’ll be going to first grade in a few months.

My father is in his office, watching the classic Umm Kulthum video below. The sound of Arabic music echoes through the house. It’s a video of Umm Kulthum in Rabat, Morocco in 1968, singing and improvising. The song itself is called “Howa Saheeh” – “He is right.”

These are the sounds I grew up with.

Sometimes this house is chaotic. Sometimes we argue, or we’re grumpy. But on a day like today, with the smell of food cooking, my daughter enjoying herself, and the classic sounds of Umm Kulthum in the air, it feels like home.

Jul 152012

gebo habibi is track number four from Hind’s latest album, titled as uncreatively as all her previous albums, “2012 Hind”.

Hind (real name Suhair) is a regional star from Bahrain whose work includes traditional sounding Arabic music, as well as Khaliji or Arabian Gulf music. She an attractive woman and can sing well, both of which have helped to propel her to stardom.

Hind’s latest album has 14 tracks. Some are romance songs, some sing the blues, and some are dance tunes. It’s a solid effort and presents traditional-sounding Arabic music with a modern flair.

Hind, who was born in Bahrain in 1979, is divorced and has one child named Abdullah. Her official website is www.hindworld.com.

Here’s the song, gebo habibi by Hind:

Jan 182009

Mansour Al Rahbani recently passed away at the age of 83, in the Hotel Dieu Hospital in Beirut, where he was admitted for pulmonary trouble.

Rahbani was born in the Lebanese coastal town of Antelias in 1925. He, his elder brother Assi, and his brother’s wife Fairuz, produced their first album as a trio in 1955 and eventually became the most famous trio in Arabic music. They performed around the world and also produced three films and eighteen plays!

Mansour Al Rahbani

Mansour Al Rahbani

The trio were considered pioneers of Lebanese folk music and were highly regarded in their homeland and internationally. They were especially beloved by the Lebanese diaspora, and once played a sold-out show at Carnegie Hall in New York City.

Their work drew from various musical sources and styles, including traditional Arabic music, and Islamic, Byzantine, Christian Maronite and classical Western styles of music.

The two Rahbani brothers came from a background of poverty and destitution, and their dramatic works emphasized socio-political themes, without sacrificing the quality of the music itself.

Sep 102007

Cheb Mami, famous Rai Music singerOutspoken. Blunt. Gritty. Rebellious. These adjectives have been used to describe American rap music – but they can also describe Algerian raï music, pronounced “rye” or “rah-EE” and translated as “opinion” or “point of view” (it is also colloquially used as an exclamation similar to “oh, yeah!”).

In addition to being compared to rap, it has also been likened to African-American blues music and punk, as well as characterized as “good-time, party music”.

Raï is a shining example of world music, boasting a heady mix of Bedouin, Spanish, French, and Berber influences. Born around the turn of the century in the Western Algerian port of Oran, it emerged from a blossoming music scene and transformed into a distinct musical style in the 1930’s.

The earliest forms of Raï drew from diverse sources such as Bedouin melhun poetry, bar songs referred to as zendanis, medh, poetic songs praising the Prophet Muhammad, and hawzi, a descendant of Spanish classical music. It was typically performed in venues frequented by the underclass, such as cafes, bars, and bordellos. Performers of raï refer to themselves as “cheikhs” or “cheb” (translated as “youthful” or “charming”) if they are male, and “cheikhas” or “chaba” if female.

Development of Raï Music

By the 1930’s, raï (also called “wahrani”) had developed political overtones, earning the disapproval of French colonists. The first internationally known raï shaabi musician of this period was Cheika Rimitti, who began performing during this time as a teenaged girl. In a 2001 interview with Afropop Worldwide’s Banning Eyre, she characterized traditional raï as “a music of rebellion,” music that “looks ahead,” in which she sang about ordinary problems of life, social problems, and the condition of women. This interview was granted after her first and and only performance in North America, at the New York Central Park Summer Stage. She died on May 15, 2006.

Bellemou Messaoud, famous Algerian Rai SingerAdditional western influences began seeping into raï in the 1960’s with the music of Bellamou Messaoud, a trumpet player nicknamed Le Pere du Raï. In addition to replacing the qasbah flute with the trumpet, he infused jazz, rock, blues, funk, and flamenco into the traditional wahrani sound, complete with guitar, saxophone, and accordion arrangements. By 1967, the Algerian government had banned raï from broadcast media, which drove it underground. Despite the government’s efforts, cassettes of raï music circulated around the country as well as Europe.

In the late 1970’s and 1980’s raï flourished even more, gaining a widespread appeal both at home and abroad spurred by Ahmad Baba Rachid’s blending of traditional raï with contemporary pop music. The first state-sanctioned raï festival was held in Algeria in 1986, with another raï festival in Bobigny, France the same year. In 1988, raï performer Cheb Khaled rose to international stardom, spurred by his extraordinarily successful album Kutché. In 1992, he became a major hit in France and India with his album Khaled, and in 1996 was the first musician to ever produce a number one hit song in France that was sung entirely in Arabic.

Popular Raï Music Performers

Other raï performers aquiring popularity and stardom during this time included Cheb Mami, Cheb Hamid, Raïna Raï, Houari Benchenet, and Mohamed Sahraoui. In the 1990’s performers such as Cheb Hasni, Cheb Tahar, and Cheb Nasro popularized lover’s raï, characterized by sentimental pop ballads. Although Americans are by and large unfamiliar with raï, many were introduced to it through Sting, the former frontman of the rock band The Police, via his collaboration with Cheb Mami on his album Brand New Day. Cheb Mami’s vocals were also featured in the song “Desert Rose,” one of the album’s hits. By the late 1990’s and early 2000’s, performers such as the French star Faudel and fusionist Rachid Taha were adding hip-hop, punk, and rock to the raï mix.

Those listening to raï for the first time may sound like typical western pop music with Arabic lyrics and world music overtones. This is not a genuinely accurate description, however, the wide range of musical influences notwithstanding. Combining eastern and western influences in a unique way, the cornerstone of raï is comprised of the instrumental, tonal, cultural, and religious influences of traditional Bedouin music.

Controversial Raï Music Lyrics

Raï has also gained an equal amount of notoriety through its conversational and controversial lyrics, sung in both Arabic and French, often in the same song. Bawdy and not lacking in blunt imagery, raï lyrics are a vehicle of intimate confessions of love, as well as a vehicle in which to sing about sex, lust, and alcohol and express opinions on headier topics such as corruption, misery, poverty, and war.

Just as raï earned the ire of French colonists in the 1930’s, it has faced a similar, and more extreme fate under the current Algerian government, which is highly conservative. In 1994, raï singer Cheb Hasni was assassinated by an extremist group. As a result, most raï musicians currently live in exile in France.

Nevertheless, raï remains a popular musical genre in North Africa and Europe, and is slowly catching on in other parts of the world.

Jul 262007

The Life and Music of Umm Kulthum

The Star of the East. The Diva of Arabic Song. The Voice and Face of Egypt. Who else could these titles describe but Umm Kulthum, possibly the most famous and influential Arabic singer of all time?

Umm Kulthum’s Youth

Umm Kulthum Ibrahim (her full name) always called herself a fallah, or peasant farmer, even when she reached the heights of her fame. She was born in a small rural village in the Nile River Delta, most likely in 1904. Her father was a religious man who augmented his small income from the town’s mosque by singing religious songs at weddings and other celebrations.

Umm Kulthum in front of the pyramids in Egypt

Umm Kulthum learned to sing from her father, and soon began travelling with him to neighboring villages to perform. She had an exceptionally strong voice and she and her father were soon much in demand. Umm Kulthum later reflected that they walked so much, it seemed to her they walked the entire Delta before they ever set foot in Cairo.

The Move to Cairo

Many people encouraged Umm Kulthum and her father to move to Cairo, where she would have much greater opportunities as an entertainer. Her father was reluctant to make the move, not knowing anyone in Cairo, but in 1923, when Umm Kulthum was about 19 years old, they chanced it. The musical community and the Cairo press took note of her vibrant voice, but her talent was viewed as unschooled, and the religious songs she sang were not fashionable enough for the big city.

Her father hired musical teachers who taught her vocal sublety, stage presence techniques, and even poetry. Umm Kulthum learned to emulate the dress and behavior of the elite women of Cairo in whose homes she sang.

Stylistic Evolution

All this time she had been performing with her father and other family members, singing the old Arabic religious songs of the Nile River Delta that she had learned as a child. In Cairo of the 1920’s this was viewed as old fashioned. Umm Kulthum knew that if she wanted to rise to the top – she never lacked ambition – she would have to adopt a more modern style of Arabic music.

In 1926 Umm Kulthum hired a group of experienced and prestigious musicians who together composed what was called a takht, or Arabic style orchestra. She began singing new love songs that had been written especially for her. These changes, along with her now trained voice and elegant style, thrust her into the forefront of the Egyptian musical scene.

A Brilliant Businesswoman

Every time a new medium of entertainment or communication was introduced in Egypt, Umm Kulthum was there. By the 1930’s she was making commercial recordings, and with the advent of Egyptian National Radio in 1934 her audience expanded to include Egyptians all through the nation.

Umm Kulthum was a brilliant woman who managed her career with foresight and finesse. She negotiated her own contracts, produced her own concerts, and carefully managed her relationship with the press. She guarded her privacy closely but gave exclusive interviews to journalists who would write favorably about her. In radio interviews she spoke of her humble roots, imagining that she was speaking directly to the simple people sitting around the radios in their homes and coffee shops. She began appearing in Arabic films in 1935, and starred in six films.

Umm Kulthum’s “Golden Age”

The 1940’s and the early 1950’s are considered Umm Kulthum’s “golden age.” Working with composer Zakariya Ahmad and poet Bayram al-Tunisi, Umm Kulthum created a more populist repertory that appealed to a wide Egyptian audience. Later in the 1940’s, she began collaborating with composer Riyad al-Sunbati. While the results were stylistically different, they were still considered authentically Arab and were very well received.

In addition to her artistic achievements, Umm Kulthum was an established presence within the entertainment business. She joined the Listening Committee, which selected the music appropriate for radio broadcasting, and assumed the presidency of the Musician’s Union.

Health Problems

During this time, she also became known for the strength of her personality, her sharp wit, and her pointed sense of humor. Unfortunately, beginning in the 1930’s, Umm Kulthum developed various health problems that continued to pain her throughout her life. She received treatments for her liver and gall bladder, and in 1946 was afflicted with an upper respiratory inflammation that was later diagnosed as a thyroid disorder. She also required treatment for the inflammation of her eyes, due to the harsh lights of the stage. By the mid 1950’s her health had improved significantly, however, and she was able to resume a normal schedule of appearances.

Marriage to Dr. Hasan al-Hifnawi

In 1954, Umm Kulthum married Dr. Hasan al-Hifnawi, a highly successful skin specialist who was also one of her personal physicians. Like Umm Kulthum, he was raised by a religious family and was familiar with the norms and mores of rural Egypt. Her audience was accepting of her marriage, as they perceived her as a human being with human needs similar to their own, instead of as an immutable star.

A More Public Role: Umm Kulthum becomes the Voice and Face of Egypt

During the 1950’s and 1960’s, Umm Kulthum expanded her public role. She began granting more interviews and cultivated the position of spokeswoman for a number of causes. She advocated the increase of governmental support for Arabic music and musicians, and endowed a charitable foundation. After the Egyptians were defeated in the 1967 war, Umm Kulthum began a rigorous domestic and international touring schedule in which she donated the proceeds of her performances to the Egyptian government. Her concerts were highly publicized, and she soon came to be known around the world as “the voice and face of Egypt.”

Her Death

By 1971, Umm Kulthum’s health began to deteriorate dramatically. That year she suffered a gall bladder attack, along with a serious kidney infection the following winter. Her last concert was in December 1972, despite her intentions to perform again. On January 21, 1975, she was stricken by a kidney ailment, leading to the heart failure that ended her life February 3, just a few weeks later. The number of mourners at her funeral was in the millions, and it took over three hours to move her body to the mosque of al-Sayyid Husayn, believed to be one of Umm Kulthum’s favorites. After the shaykh of the mosque repeated the funerary prayers, her body was taken directly to its burial place and quickly buried in accordance with Muslim practices.

Jul 182007

Abdel Halim Hafez is considered one of the four greats of Arabic song, along with Umm Kalthoum, Farid Al Attrach and Mohammed Abdel Wahab.

Hafez was one of the most influential Egyptian musicians of the twentieth century, despite his fairly short career. He was most prominent during the 1950’s and 60’s.

Today, more than thirty years after his death in 1977, his music is still played daily on the radio in Egypt and the Arab world.

Abdel Halim Hafez, a great Egytian singerAbdel Halim Hafez, One of the Four Greats of Arabic Music

Abdel Halim Hafez is sometimes known as el-Andaleeb el-Asmar, The Dark Nightingale, because of the combination of his dark skin and resonant voice. The nickname is perhaps doubly appropriate because of the difficult and painful life that he lived.

Abdel Halim Hafez’s Youth and Early Career

Born in 1929, Abdel Halim Hafez lost both parents at a young age, and was subsequently raised by his aunt and uncle. At the age of eleven his eldest brother enrolled him in the Arabic Music Institute, where he developed his talent by singing the songs of Mohammed Abdel Wahab, a prominent 20th century Egyptian singer and composer.

Hafez later studied at the Higher Institute for Theatre Music, from which he graduated as a classical oboe player. He began his professional musical career as an oboe player, before setting his sights on becoming a singer.

He soon became known for his resonant but mellow voice, subtle vocal style and clean intonation, along with his long, moving vocal phrases. A blogger recently described his voice as “nectar and honeydew”, and it fits.

Abdel Halim had his first hit in 1951 and subsequently became a staple on Egyptian radio. He also appeared in many popular Egyptian films.

In 1961 Abdel Halim Hafez partnered with Mohammed Abdel Wahab (whose songs he had grown up listening to) and Magdi el-Amroussi to found an Egyptian recording company called Soutelphan (Voice of the Artist), which continues to operate today under the umbrella of EMI Arabia.

Abdel Halim’s Illness, Death and Funeral

Abdel Halim had contracted a parasitic water-borne disease called bilharzia when he was eleven years old, and it plagued him periodically and painfully througout his life. He finally died of the disease in 1977, a few months short of his 48th birthday, while receiving treatment in London.

His body was taken back to Cairo for his funeral, which was attended by thousands of people, more than another other funeral in Egyptian history aside from those of President Nasser in 1970 and Umm Kulthoum (another great Egyptian singer) in 1975. He is buried in Al Rifa’i Mosque in Cairo.

Abdel Halim Hafez is considered by some to be the most popular Arab singer of the twentieth century, as he has reportedly sold more discs since his death than any other Arab musician, even Umm Kulthoum.

Highlights of Abdel Halim’s Career

His most famous songs include Ahwak (“I love you”), Khosara (“A pity”), Gana El Hawa (“Love came to us”), Sawah (“Wanderer”), Zay el Hawa (“It feels like love”), and El Massih (“The Christ”), among the 260 songs that he recorded. His last, and perhaps most famous song, Qariat el-Fingan (“The fortune-teller”), featured lyrics by Nizar Qabbani and music by Mohammed Al-Mougy. He starred in sixteen films, including “Dalilah”, which was Egypt’s first colored motion picture.

In 2006 a feature film about Abdel Halim Hafez’s life, called “Halim”, was released. It starred the immensely popular (and now late) actor Ahmad Zaki in the title role. The film provides an accurate rendition of Abdel Halim’s life, but is hampered by poor production values.

 Posted by at 10:18 pm