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.


Film review: Ghost story falls frightfully short on scare factor

Updated 22 min 25 sec ago
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Film review: Ghost story falls frightfully short on scare factor

CHENNAI: Cinema has long had a strange fascination for ghost stories, particularly since the blockbuster horror movie “The Exorcist” in 1973.

But try as they might, writers and directors have consistently failed to come up with anything fresh other than the standard jump-scares and hideous female spirits with blood-red eyes and disheveled hair.

Director Michael Chaves – known for shorts such as “The Maiden” and the TV mini-series “Chase Champion” – has now transitioned to fiction features with “The Curse of La Llorona,” a fright film that offers very little in the way of novelty.

A quick opening scene of a young woman drowning her two sons to punish her straying husband, establishes a 17th century Mexican folktale.

Viewers are then transported to 1973 Los Angeles, where recently widowed child protection worker Anna (Linda Cardellini) gets involved in the case of a mother, Patricia Alvarez (Patricia Velasquez), who keeps her two boys locked up.

Anna rescues them but then finds them dead before the next dawn. They have been drowned, and Anna recalls Alvarez ranting about the supernatural La Llorona.

Anna herself has a boy and a girl, and she remembers Alvarez’s fear about the tale of La Llorona who, consumed by guilt, roamed the land in search of children to take the place of her own dead sons.

Screenwriters Mikki Daughtry and Tobias Iaconis take the easy way out by peppering the plot with coincidences and unconvincing situations.

Even the film’s 93-minute run time seems stretched with flickering bulbs, creaking doors and howling winds adding little to the scare factor.

And then there is the movie’s conflicts between science and superstition, and the church and sorcery. The link is clumsy and the film pales in comparison to some others in the genre such as “The Woman in Black,” which had a similar theme but was executed with much greater perfection.