Book Review: Hany Shenouda - A musician who modernized an identity

Dina Ezzat , Wednesday 7 Jun 2023

In a rhythmic and poignant memoire, legendary Egyptian musician Hany Shenouda shared moments in a life of passion for the tunes he has been making and an a national identity he tried to preserve - and modernize.

Hany Shenouda


Last week, the 80-year-old artist received the State Appreciation Award in an acknowledgement of his contributions to Egyptian music over decades.

Shenouda’s name has been synonymous with 'music innovation' since he launched the game-changer troupe El-Massryeen (The Egyptians) in 1977.

Innovation is certainly a trait that he credited himself for in Memoirs of a Godfather of Music (MozakeratA’rrab Al-Moussiqa) – Hany Shenouda, a 200-page story of his life as told by Shenouda himself to journalist Mostafa Hamdy.

“If someone were to ask me about the thing that I cherish the most in my journey, I would say, without hesitation, that I am the one who always proposed ‘let this be a first’,” Shenouda told Hamdy.

In the book, Shenouda does not seem very concerned about his ‘branding’ but more concerned with his contribution to contemporary Egyptian music.

In the 1960s, he brought together a group of passionate young musicians and singers in a small troupe. Later he joined "Les petits chats" which gained a widespread audience.

He would go on to compose original music scores in films starring various legendary silver screen actors such as Faten Hamama, Adel Imam, and Nour El-Sherif.

In the book, Shenouda shares stories that show the interest of established musicians and singers in the work that he was doing as early as the mid-1970s.

He says, for example, Abdel-Halim Hafez, called to ask him to start a band to perform with him and Mohamed Abdel-Wahab asked him to orchestrate music for a song to be performed by Nagat.

Shenouda also shares stories about his role of introducing new and promising singers, including Amr Diab and Mohamed Mounir, who actually made it fast to the top.

The Egyptians

It is the story of El-Massryeen that he seems to be the most passionate about in his memoire.

“I chose this name because it represents our identity and not just our nationality as musicians and singers,” he explains.

The band is a story of a key shift that Shenouda made from the world of Les petits chats that performed rock and pop songs of the Beatles, Frank Sinatra and others to the world of Egyptian music in a modernized version – both in terms of music and lyrics.

According to Shenouda, Bahebek La, Mehtaglek Ah (I Don’t Love You But I Need You), one of his memorable songs, was about the air of the 1970s in an Egypt that was changing and the concept of love itself was undergoing a significant revision.

Composing music for songs and movies that address social and even political changes is something that this memoire shows Shenouda to be particularly committed to.

His music for the “Zahma” (So crowded) of Ahmed Adawiyah, one of the most prominent shaabi singers in Egypt in the 1970s and the 1980s, is a case in point.

Zahma, released in 1977, was a statement on the ‘impact of the open-door policy’ instituded by the late President Anwar El-Sadat, Shenouda says.

More than a journey

Shenouda’s memoire is not just a recollection of a musical journey worthwhile but it is also a testimony of the many social changes that Egypt has gone through.

He recalls stories during growing up in the 1940s and 1950s in his hometown Tanta in the Nile Delta, which he describes as "a cosmopolite with a rural imprint” at the time.

He remembers going as a youngster he to Moulids to listen to the chants of legends like Al-Sayyed Al-Nakshabandi, go to performances with bands of mostly Greek musicians, or drive with friends to the outskirts of Cairo to tune in to famous FM music broadcast At Your Request.

He says that he believes successful music is the one that captures the changes of the society it is made in.

This is precisely what he said he has been trying to do - and will continue to try to do every coming day of his life.

After 60 years a star on the muic scene, Shenouda is still going strong.

He will be performing a big concert coming in Cairo on 15 June.

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