Video: Egypt remembers Sheikh of Composers Zakaria Ahmed on his death anniversary

Amira Noshokaty , Monday 4 Mar 2024

The Egyptian Ministry of Culture celebrated on Tuesday the death anniversary of renowned music composer Sheikh Zakaria Ahmed, known as the Sheikh of Composers (1896-1961), at the premises of the National Arab Music Institute.

Photo by Engy Eleslamboly


Ahmed is a pioneer of oriental music, whose work flourished in the early 20th century. He composed 1,070 melodies, 56 operettas, and 191 soundtracks for Egyptian films.

The celebration kicked off with a seminar that was moderated by Professor Khairy Amer, former deputy and professor of Arabic music at the Faculty of Music Education, Helwan University; Professor Said Ali, writer and professor of Arabic language at Helwan University; and Mohamed Diab, art critic and managing editor of Al-Hilal magazine.

“Sheikh” means a great professor in his field. He also studied in Al-Azhar and started to read Quran and tawashih as well as inshad (religious chants); then, he was gradually attracted to the world of music, Professor Amer explained.

However, his love of music made him drift away from his father’s dream for him, who finally settled for his son to become a munshid (religious chanter). He joined the Betana (religious troupe) of the icons of inshad at the time, such as Sheikh Darwish El-Hariri, Sheikh Ali Mahmoud, and Sheikh Ismail Sukar. This gave him a great knowledge of music, and soon he started to be known. His mentor sheikhs introduced him to the record companies at the time, so he started to work as a music composer, added Amer.

As for his role in theatre, especially musical theatre, Professor Ali noted that he composed his first play Edini Aklaq (Give Me Your Mind) in 1924 for Ali El-Kassar's theatre troupe. Although there has been detailed documentation of his work in the book written by Sabri Abul-Magd under the series of Aalam Al Arab (Arab Icons), back in 1963, Ali has his concerns regarding the book.

“The problem with this book is that it was based on a series of articles published in Al-Mosawar magazine, and at the beginning of such series, Sabri Abul-Magd states that these are the stories of the Sheikh, 7 or 8 series. After two years, we realized that this series had become a big volume. Abul-Magd says at the beginning of the book that he based it on the diary of Sheikh Zakaria and wrote: ‘This is a memoir, or diary, or a story, call it what you may,’ and so we ask, since the original diaries were never published, could it be that what is written on Zakaria Ahmed is written from the point of view of Abul-Magd?” Ali argued.

“He first saw Om Kalthoum in El-Sembelaween during his Ramadan inshad nights. He heard her voice and asked her and her brother to come every night to listen to his Inshad,” explained Mohamed Diab, adding that Sheikh Zakaria was the first one to help Om Kalthoum sing for the first time in Cairo. See the video for more information.

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