“Pity us, people of the arts,”

Doaa Hamza, Tuesday 1 Mar 2011

A tribute to the dying art of the monologue

Mahmoud Shokoko
Mahmoud Shokoko, one of the leading Egyptian monologists of all times. source: Mahmoud shokoko's official facebook group

With the musicians behind him, he owns the stage,  determined to interact and communicate with the audience through his expressive voice and satirical lyrics that ridicule society, in the most hilarious way.

The performance of a monologue has introduced many creative artists, who have then gone on to become stars in various artistic fields, such as movies, the theatre, and as puppeteers.

Unfortunately, the art of the monologue has become less popular, except for a few comic shows that mimic artists and share a joke or two. The question is: where has this art form gone?

It  began with the rise of great stars and pioneers of Egyptian theatre, including Yusuf Wahbi, Hassan Fayeq, Muhammad Abdel-Quddous and Naguib El-Rihani in the early 1930s, and continued to flourish in many forms in the '40s, '50s and '60s, developing into a unique and dramatic musical genre.

In the late 1940s the monologue emerged as a type of satirical singing, characterised by a quickness and lightness called a 'humorous monologue'.  But being associated with performers and actors, such as Ismail Yasin and Mahmoud Shokoko, the name was shortened to the monologue, which still meant 'humorous singing'.

"Mahmoud Shokoko, Ismail Yasin and Thorayya Helmi began to present monologues of various form and content,” says Sultan Shokoko, the son of the late artist, Mahmoud Shokoko.  "All of them were performers of the monologue,  yet each had a different and distinct character from the others. Ismail Yasin, for example, was keen to convey social and human messages through his works, addressing such issues as happiness, poverty, mothers-in-law and life", the young Shokoko adds.

One monologue asks the eternal question: “All of us seek happiness... yet what is happiness? What does it mean? Tell me, tell me”,

Another one wittily assures us: “Do not wonder, do not be surprised.  Some people gain money effortlessly and others struggle with no gain. Do not wonder, do not be surprised".

Shokoko senior would always address his 'beloved one' with so much hope and love. He presented folk-monologues, marked initially by the way he dressed and danced on the stage during the lyrical performances, mixed with some English words. His son elaborates:  "He was called the artist of the people and the king of monologue, as he continued to perform until the day he died (in 1985).  He was interested in folk literature and he touched upon the chivalry and noble attributes of the common man, who is ready to sacrifice everything for his loved one":

"Whatever, whatsoever say...?  O you, whose love cuts like knives, Even if you call tea coffee,  Whatever, whatever".

 Shokoko also mixed his folk performances with English terms:

"As you like, as you wish. Tell me, my beloved, dish dish,   Even if you call a tomato “mish”. As you like, as you wish."

Unlike Shokoko, who continued his work in the field of the monologue, Ismail Yasin moved into cinema. Then along came the next generation, which included Ahmed Ghanem, Omar Gizawi and Tina Saleh, who presented a type of humorous Upper Egyptian monologue.

"Filmmakers started to make use of monologists and their art", explained cinema critic Tareq El-Shennawi.  "and it was considered  as the gateway to the cinema at that time. The most famous star being Ismail Yasin. The cinema continued to make use of monologists, such as Shokoko, Ahmed El-Haddad, Ahmed Ghanem, Sayyed El-Mallaah, Thorayya Helmi, Libliba, Hamada Soltan, Faisal Khorshid, Adel El-Far and Mahmoud Azab. However, the presence of monologists in the cinema has dwindled over the past ten years, almost to the point of complete disappearance,” El-Shennawi declares.

With the arrival of Sayyed El-Mallaah and Hamada Soltan, imitations and funny jokes dominated the monologue, but it has almost vanished now with the exception of Mahmoud Azab and Adel El-Far.

Defining the art of monologue, especially the comic monologue, music critics say that as far as versification is concerned, it does not belong to the poetic monologue. The humorous monologue, involves one chorus and some passages, with the chorus being repeated several times. Hence, they hold that it is closer to taqtoqa (an authentic short song), in terms of verse and lyrical structure.

Its topics, however, remain within the bounds of satirical social criticism. The art of the monologue attracted a group of composers, including Muhammad Abdel-Wahhab and poets, notably Abu El-Saud El-Ibyari, Beram El-Tonsi, Fathi Qora, Mahmoud Qabshosh, Mahmoud Fahmi Ibrahim (called Ibn El-Leil) and Muhammad Othman Khalifa.

Although monologists do not usually have splendid voices, they succeeded in gaining the audience’s approval by their highly-distinguished and excellent performance, coupled with a good sense of music.

Someone with an opposing view is the composer Fathi El-Khamisi who says: “There is no musical mould called ‘monologue’.  Rather, it is a type of literature and poetry".

During the mid-1980s, Shokoko struggled with audiences that had began to turn away from the humour and wisdom of the monologue, and  Ismail Yasin had to return to nightclubs after he had gone bankrupt for the sake of the art.  

Sympathising with our sadness, one recalls the following monologue by Ismail Yasin:  

"Pity on us, people of the arts, pity on us, an artist is not deemed a human being with rights.

He has no right to sleep tight or fall ill and recover.  He should always be ready and OK, even if his mother passes away.

Our faces show happiness and joy, despite what is deep inside.

Pity on us, people of the arts, pity on us".







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