Obituary: Sayed Hegab, one of the last greats of a literary generation

Sayed Mahmoud , Wednesday 1 Feb 2017

sayed hegab

Sayed Hegab, one of the last knights of Egypt’s 1960s literary generation, passed away last week, coming to the end of his poetic journey and joining his peers and companions Abdel-Rahman El-Abnoudi (1939 – 2015) and Ahmed Fouad Negm (1929 – 2013), who passed away in the past three years, marking the end of an era.

Hegab (1940 – 2017) rose to stardom during the 1980s, when his lyrics accompanied soundtracks and themes to some of the most successful TV shows in Egypt, giving his poetry a larger audience. Hegab's reputation as an established song writer overshadowed his contributions in developing the modern Egyptian vernacular poetry.

The structure of Hegab’s poetry differed from the dominant style put in place by pioneers like Fouad Haddad and Salah Jaheen.

Haddad freed his poetry from the commitmment to social critique and used vernacular the public could understand, one that quotes the people and uses their language.

Then came Salah Jaheen, who invested his talent in weaving his poetic language into the fabric of everyday life while trying to maintain a connection between the vernacular poem and the classic one.

After these pioneers came the second wave of poets; Hegab, El-Abnoudi and Magdi Naguib, all of whom sought to develop these gains through the window of the transformations that literature was seeing at the time, forming what came to be known as the 1960s literary generation that reflected on the defeat of the 1967 war against Israel.

Amid the experiences of the 60s generation, Hegab’s poetic project was concerned with experimentation more than anything else.

Hegab was encouraged to do so due to the fact that most of his fellow poets were moving towards writing song lyrics.

Hegab’s first poetry book, which had a unique aesthetic tone, was released in 1964, marking a major step in his career.

Hegab had a deep but short-lived friendship with El-Abnoudi, as the two worked together on a popular radio show.

The show focused on reciting poems urging people to work and get over the defeat of 1967.

Both poets joined a leftist political organisation, which landed them in prison from October 1966 till March 1967, along with late novelist Gamal El-Ghitani, journalist Salah Eissa and Sabry Hafez. French philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre made a plea on their behalf to President Gamal Abdel-Nasser, securing their release.

It was no surprise that an experimental poet such as Hegab was the focus of an issue of the avant-garde literary magazine Gallery 68.

Hegab continued with his focus on experimentation and a sense of adventure, as shown in his works Fil Atma (In The Dark), Aswat (Voices), and Nos El-Tareeq (Middle of the Road).

In these works, Hegab was concerned with the forming what he described as a “complete poetic structure” and a brand new visual composition of the poetic image.

When looking at the totality of his works, one can see how Hegab wanted to remain connected with classic Arabic poetry, and his insistence that vernacular and classic poetry cannot be divorced from one another.

In the years following 1976, started writing protest songs, moving on to dramatic song writing and cooperating with the late theatre director Karam Motawe, who contributed to Hegab's fame.

In the mid 1970s, Hegab’s poetic project became centered on songwriting so as to reach a wider audience. He played a role in introducing the new generation of poets through his work in Al-Shabab Magazine, of which he was very proud.

However, Hegab’s real stardom started with Al-Ayma TV series, which depicted the life of literary titan Taha Hussein.

Hegab rewrote the show's script, which was originally written by Amina El-Sawy. He also wrote the lyrics to the show's start and end credit sequences as well as those of in-episode songs performed by Egyptian singer Aly El-Haggar, who later rose to stardom himself.

Hegab worked on the show with composer Ammar El-Sheraiy, with the two subsequently working on 50 more TV shows.

Hegab's songs had an undeniable wisdom, intimacy and firm tone, comparable to a ballet dancer leaping off the floor as they look towards the sky, attracted to the rhythm. 

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