Gamalat Shiha, 'the soul of Egypt', dies

Amira Noshokaty , Saturday 12 May 2018

Egypt is mourning the passing of one of its music pillars — Gamalat Shiha, who reached ancient notes of a folk history passed down across generations

Gamalat Shiha
Gamalat Shiha, "the soul of Egypt", dies (Photo: Ahram)

Gamalat Shiha, an inspiring, energetic and talented artist, died 3 May. She was 85 years old. In her passing, Egypt lost one of the great pillars of its folk music.

"Meeting her was like meeting the soul of Egypt that one finds in old black and white movies," explained music icon Ghalia Ben Ali to Ahram Online.

"If Shadia, Abdel Halim [Hafez], and Abdel Wahab were the heart of Egypt, she was the soul."

Shiha was born in Egypt's Sharqiya governorate and began her singing career at the age of 12, as a popular wedding singer in the area. In this, she and her sister took after their father's passion for singing.

But in those days, as today, the path to fame starts in Cairo. It was by mere chance that she encountered Egypt's folk singing guru Zakaria El-Heggawi who, after hearing her voice, invited her to be part of his folk theatre band in the capital.

By 1961, Shiha founded her own band, El-Falaheen (The Peasants), and from then on fame followed her wherever she sang.

Shiha was part of several international music projects, among them a cooperation with Fathi Salama during which she sang one of her most famous songs, Rassini (Answer Me), that laments the disappearance of a son.

One of her most iconic songs was Ala Waraa El-Fol Dala3ni (Pamper Me on the Petals of Arabian Jasmine).

Cloaked in an authentic galabiyya, Shiha roamed the world bearing a voice that carried the essence of Egyptian culture in every note.

A woman of substance who had great admiration and respect for theatre and art, she revealed in a rare interview how she believed that standing on stage is a spiritual experience.

With effortless familiarity she would sing the night away, her powerful voice reaching ancient notes of a folk history subtly handed down from one generation to another.

Her voice lingers on. Souls such as hers are meant to be eternal.

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