Misrfone: Egypt's new online radio for musical heritage

Amira Noshokaty , Wednesday 18 Dec 2013

Nearly 500 hours of rare works from the Egyptian and Arab musical heritage are now available at the click of a mouse

Misrfone, Egypt's new online radio for musical heritage

Egypt’s classical musical gems are now only one click away on Misrfone online radio, as nearly 500 hours of Egyptian and Arab tunes from the late 19th century up to the 1930s have been available to keen listeners.

Imagine sipping a hot drink while tuning in to the masterpieces of Egyptian music. The enchanting voice of the "sultana of classic song" Mounira El-Mahdeya (1885-1965), the sublime music of "the people’s artist" composer Sayed Darwish (1892-1923), and much more awaits those yearning for this long-lost musical genre.

When Esmat El-Nemr, along with his web developer and old friend Alaaeddin Abdel-Fattah, launched his online radio last month, his aim was to create a "dedicated Internet channel to revive Egypt's musical heritage," read the Misrfone website.

“When I realised that I was listening to such music all alone, my dream became to share these gems so people could get in touch with their heritage; so Alaa and I thought of creating this online radio,” El-Nemr said. A pertinent endeavour, as the music they provide is seldom broadcast by state radio.

A Zagazig-based surgeon who belonged to the 1970s student movement, El-Nemr was a close friend of 1960s resistance and patriotic music icons such as El-Sheikh Imam Eissa (1918-1995); “Sheikh Imam composed several of his songs at my house and Alaa’s,” he remembered.

“During the 25 January Revolution, El-Sheikh Imam’s songs were played in Tahrir Square; young Egyptians memorised them all and sang along. That Sheikh Imam was present and celebrated as though he'd never left was a nice surprise,” El-Nemr added. 

He elaborated that Sayed Darwish’s patriotic songs were also present in the square due to the lyrics' amazing relevance to the present revolution, although they were originally composed for the 1919 Revolution. “We managed to collect more than 180 rare music pieces of Sheikh Sayed Darwish,” El-Nemr beamed. 

Before creating Misrfone, El-Nemr was a founding member of Samaai music forum for the revival of classic Arab music. “Samaai, which now beholds over one million registrations,” notes El-Nemr, “was first created in the late 1990s when the Internet was a novelty.” Over the years, it has grown into the most important online forum for Arab musical heritage. 

The three main founders, based in Tunisia, Yemen and Egypt respectively, “would collect money from each other to buy rare music discs, while a lot of friends shared their rare collections which were real assets to the forum.” The result was over 500 hours of exceptional musical heritage.

But Samaai remained a rather closed group, considering that a password is required to download the desired songs.

“And when you log in, you still listen by yourself ,” hence the concept of Misrfone -- a radio, open for all to tune in. “The idea here is to promote group listening everywhere,” explained El-Nemr, who aims to reintroduce such music to current and future generations.

“Sadly, we are playing the role of the state with the simplest methods,” Abdel-Fattah added.

Since the creators of such songs passed away over 50 years ago, the songs by default turned into public domain and lost their copyrights to become part of the nation's folk heritage.

“We aim to showcase the diversity and rich musical heritage, be it from the era of sheikhs that enriched our musical realm [...] to the genre of awalem (mainly female wedding bands) that need to be highlighted,” he concluded.

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