Aswat's Tribute to Sayyid Darwish
BY: Rana Mroue, Vocal Director at Aswat Ensemble
Special to Arab America
The Bay Area’s premiere Arab Music Ensemble, Aswat, is celebrating the life and works of Egyptian composer Sayyid Darwish in a tribute concert on June 4th in San Bruno, CA. Darwish is hailed as the “Father of Modern Arab music”, and in his short musical career – he died at the young age of 31- he left an expansive and versatile repertoire spanning an array of genres, ranging from the classical Muwashah and Dawr, to the more modern Taqtouqa, Nasheed, and the Monologue –a form he pioneered for Arab music.
Darwish’s compositions signaled a shift in Arab music character and performance practice, from an exclusive art form dominated by Turkish stylistic influences and performed in special courts for the elite classes, to a popularized expressive form that conveyed the aspirations and yearnings of the people at the turn of the 20th century. In particular, the stirrings of Egypt’s 1919 revolution marked the development of Darwish’s most popular works.
At the time, Darwish was working as a composer for prominent theatrical groups in Egypt, where he set the writings of Badih Khayri and Mohammad Younis Al Qadi to music, creating some of the Arab World’s most popular and enduring socio-political songs. These songs, addressing themes of poverty, patriotism, colonial hegemony, and liberation, became the prototype for a political satire musical genre that inspired the likes of the Sheikh Imam/Ahmad Fuad Najm duo, and Ziad Al Rahbani.
Some of Darwish’s songs and compositions have become so entrenched in the Arab collective memory, such as “Al Hilwa Di” (the beautiful one), which is in fact titled “Lahn as-Sanay’iya” (the Melody of the Makers/Craftsmen), or “Shams esh-Shamouseh” (the Beautiful Sun), that they are sometimes mistakenly listed in music programs as “Arab folk songs”. Performances and recordings of Darwish’s songs by later giants of Arab singing, such as Fayrouz of Lebanon and Sabah Fakhri of Syria, became so associated with those artists that many people mistakenly attribute the songs to them.
In addition to his timeless popular repertoire, Darwish’s influence extended to modernizing traditional composition forms such as the Muwashah and Dawr. His over 20 Muwashahat (plural of Muwashah) and 10 Adwar (plural of Dawr) occupy a seminal place in Arab composition at the junction of the classical and modern. In paying tribute to Darwish’s work, Aswat will explore the breadth and depth of his musical oeuvre, highlighting several traditional compositions which may be unfamiliar to casual listeners, as well as his more popular repertoire.
Zawaya is a non-profit organization that seeks to contribute to the multicultural discourse of the Bay Area with the Arab Arts. Zawaya means “aspects” or “corners”, suggesting the many art forms to be discovered and enjoyed in Arab culture. It was founded in 2003 by Nabila Mango and Haya Shawwa Ben-Halim, two Arab-American women who recognized that the challenges faced by the Arab-American community in the Bay Area requires a creative response. With Zawaya, they sought to give the Arab community a voice, including a musical one. Aiming to address stereotypes and misconceptions, Zawaya offers a genuine image of Arab Americans and their rich civilization, which can only be a source of strength for American society.
Zawaya is the umbrella organization for the music group Aswat composed of approximately 40 musicians and singers. Zawaya aspires to expand its future programming to all other Arabic art forms, such as dance, theatre, poetry recitations, calligraphy, needle point crafts, and photography.