Forever in love

Reham El-Adawi , Tuesday 30 Jan 2024

At the 55th Cairo International Book Fair, the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre commemorates the centennial of the People’s Artist, composer Sayed Darwish, Reham El-Adawi attended

photo: Reham El-Adawi
Tunisian singer Abeer Nasrway singing at Abdeen Palace (photo: Reham El-Adawi)


The Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre (ALC), part of the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, is participating in the 55th Cairo International Book Fair under the theme “Creating Knowledge... Preserving the Word”.

The programme kicks off with a grand concert entitled “Ana Haweyt… Ma Intahayt” (I’ve fallen in love, and I am not finished), held on 24 January in the garden of Abdeen Palace, commemorating the centenary of the great musician Sayed Darwish (1892-1923).

With the historically opulent royal palace for a background, the concert featured renowned artists from around the Arab world including Emirati singer Fatima Al-Hashmi, Tunisian singer Abeer Nasrawyi, together with singer Mohamed Mohsen and Massar Egbari band from Egypt. The concert is a continuation of the longstanding cultural dialogue between the United Arab Emirates and Egypt and showcases the profound impact that Darwish has had on music in the Arab world across generations. The concert was presented by Executive Director of the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre Saeed Hamdan Al-Tunaiji, who stressed Darwish’s value in reinventing Arab music and expressing the hopes and pains of ordinary Egyptians in his enduring love and patriotic songs, including the national anthem of Egypt.

Accompanied by Maestro Shadi Abdel-Salam’s orchestra, Emirati singer Fatima Al-Hashmi opened the concert with Darwish’s beloved songs Ya Bahgat Alrouh (O joy of the soul), Ya Aziz Ainy (Oh the apple of my eyes), Bint Alyoum (Today’s girl), Telaaet Ya Mahla Norha (She came out, how beautiful is her light), and Al Helwa Di (This beautiful girl).

Mesmerising listeners with her powerful voice, the Tunisian Abeer Nasrawi performed Harag Alaya Baba (My dad forbade me), Ya Oshaq Alnabi (Oh lovers of the Prophet!), Albahr Byedhak Leih (Why is the sea laughing?), and Ya Nas Ana Mout Fi Hobbi (Oh people, I died in my love).      

Darwish’s timeless melodies were given a fresh new spin by Egyptian band Massar Egbari performing Ana Haweyt (I’ve fallen in love) as well as Khafif Alrouh (The light-spirited), Aho dalli Sar (This is what happened), accompanied by the orchestra, as well as variations on Shedd Alhezam (Tighten the belt).  

Before starting to sing, Mohamed Mohsen expressed his extreme love for Darwish’s entire repertoire and confirmed, “I always considered Sayed Darwish my idol, and started my career singing his songs, and I am always keen in every concert to sing excerpts from his repertoire”. Mohsen performed Darwish’s patriotic song Oum Ya Masri (Rise, Egyptian!), Salma Ya Salama (Welcome back) and Wallahi Testahel Ya Albi (By God you deserve it, my heart).

The grand finale was a group performance of the national anthem of Egypt Beladi Beladi (My country, my country) by singers Fatima Al-Hashmi, Abeer Nasrawi, and Mohamed Mohsen, who were then joined on stage by Massar Egbari to perform Zourouni Kol Sana Marrah (Visit me once a year).

The ALC’s participation in the fair showcases its role in supporting and advancing the Arabic language by promoting the publishing, translation, and creative industries in the Arab world. The ALC’s agenda for the fair includes a series of seminars, cultural and professional meetings, specialised workshops, musical evenings, and book launches. More than 500 ALC-produced titles, including 120 new publications, are on display.

The fair also highlighted the centre’s various projects, awards, initiatives, and grants, including flagship events like the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair (ADIBF). While in Cairo, the centre showcased the Abu Dhabi International Book Fair 2024’s cultural and professional programmes and announced both the Cultural Personality of the Year and the country selected as Guest of Honour for the upcoming fair.

Ali bin Tamim, chairman of the ALC, said, “The Cairo International Book Fair celebrates literature, knowledge, and Arab culture, shedding light on creativity across the region and building bridges within culture. It offers a platform for exchanging ideas with authors, publishers, and academics from around the world, as together we explore the latest international trends in the publishing industry and strive to advance the Arabic language and shed light on its impact across various fields.”

He added, “the fair allows the Abu Dhabi Arabic Language Centre to communicate directly with leading stakeholders in the publishing sector and creative industries, as we introduce our latest projects and initiatives and expand our network of partnerships with key regional and global cultural institutions and publishing houses.”

Cultural seminars include topics such as the role of libraries; translation in the era of artificial intelligence; the role of literary awards and grants in supporting creatives; and podcasts, digital platforms, and their role in enriching Arabic content, in addition to a session by the Sheikh Zayed Book Award team about manuscript editing and its challenges.

The centre is also hosting a series of events and sessions at Prince Mohamed Ali Palace (Al-Manial Palace), including a launch and signing of the book His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan... Highlights in the Journey of a Man of Humanity written by Jamal Sanad Al-Suwaidi. The agenda also offers a range of sessions focusing on books on music issued by the ALC, hosting evenings that integrate discussions and musical performances. These include  sessions on Rhythms of Light: A Musical Biography of Four of the Geniuses of Oriental Melody by Hassan Zaki, The Flute: A Piece of Reed with the Scent of Legends, and The Intermediate in the Rules and Theories of Music.

Dubbed the People’s Artist, Sayed Darwish was said by author Abbas Al-Aqqad as starting Egyptian musical history, and his centenary is a wonderful opportunity to honour him.

Born in Kom Al-Dekka in Alexandria, on 17 March 1892, Darwish’s music marked a cut-off point between Ottoman classical music, with all its craftsmanship, and the spirit of the modern. It led the way for lyricists on one hand and listeners on the other to catch up with 20th century music. His successors over the last hundred years, such as Mohamed Abdel-Wahab, Mohamed Fawzi, Baligh Hamdi and Ammar Al-Sheraei, all emerged out of his work.

He came of age when Egyptian society was in turmoil, and anger was fomenting against the British occupation; everything was ready for change. Egypt was witnessing a renaissance movement in theatre and music, with stage comedies thriving at the hands of actors Naguib Al-Rihani and Ali Al-Kassar, and musicals at the hands of Sheikh Salama Hegazi (1852- 1917). When Darwish appeared, he found the environment ready for a musical leap forward, and with the encouragement of Al-Rihani, managed to liberate Arab music from its aristocratic past and removed Ottoman craftsmanship from it.

Although died in 1923 aged just 31, he lived through one of the most turbulent periods in Egypt’s modern history. Digesting all these developments, Darwish reflected them in his music.

He was born when Khedive Abbass Helmi ascended to the throne, during a state of political crisis and British interference. His life ended on the eve of the return of the nationalist leader, Saad Zaghloul, from exile and the issuing of the 1923 constitution. Between the two dates, the influence of the British high commissioner increased, as did the presence of foreigners, especially Greeks, Italians and Levantines, and the number of bars, in Alexandria in particular. His masterpieces from that time include Ana Al-Masri (I am the Egyptian), the music for Beladi Beladi (my country, my country), which became the national anthem, and Oum Ya Masri (Rise, Egyptian!), which instigated patriotic sentiments against the British occupation and combated sectarianism.

Darwish’s achievements as a reformer were even clearer in theatre, where he reinvented the operetta genre, following Sheikh Salama Hegazi’s crucial role in this field. His operettas were El-Ashra El-Tayyeba, El-Barouka (The Wig) and Cleopatra and Mark Anthony, which his disciple Mohamed Abdel-Wahab completed.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 1 February, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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