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Going Back in Time with Arab Music: Old is Gold

posted on: Feb 20, 2019

By: Shayma Amour/Arab America Contributing Writer

How many times did you find yourself humming along with Umm-Kulthum’s songs? Or woke up to Fairouz’s morning songs played on the radio? Aren’t they the best companion with a nice hot cup of tea/coffee and fresh out of the oven pies and Mana’eesh/Zaatar? Or did you notice the mixture of happy and peaceful emotions you experience when listening to the old classic music? Let me warn you, this article will make you nostalgic.

The Arab world is rich with cultural and traditional heritage, including  Arab music. Arab music is very alive and independent, it has a variety of genres and styles that are a result of interactions with much regional music. One type of this kind of music is the “Tarab” which is defined as “a concept of enchantment. It’s usually associated with vocal music, although instrumental music can produce the same effect, in which the listener is completely enveloped in the sound and the meaning in a broad experiential sense and is just completely carried away by the performance.”

Listed below are some of the most famous and iconic figures in the Arab world who mastered this genre of music and are often called “Sultans of Tarab:”

 Umm Kulthum-Inta Omri

Umm Kulthum was born in Egypt in 1908 and died in 1975. She was given the title Kawkab A- Sharq “كوكب الشرق” which translates into “Star of the Orient” for her extraordinary vocal ability and style, as she was and is still considered the best and most influential singer in the Arab world. Umm Kulthum sang over 400 songs which are still heard with the same effectiveness.

Inta Omri   إنت عُمري ( you are my life) is an Egyptian classical song by the renowned singer Umm Kulthum. the lyrics were written by Ahmad Shafiq Kamel and composed by Mohammed Abdel Wahab. Inta Omri was released in 1965.

Sabah-Zay el ‘Assal

Sabah (1925-2014) is a Lebanese singer and actress. Her birth name is Jeanette Georges Feghali. Sabah is considered one of Lebanon’s most famous and renowned figures. She was known as “El-Shahroura الشحرورة” which means “the singing bird;” she was also given the title “Empress of the Lebanese Song إمبراطورة الأغنية اللبنانية”. Sabah specialized in the Lebanese folk traditional music called “Mawal”. She was considered a “Diva of Music” in the Arab world due to her youthfulness and the joy she brought in her performances.

Zay el ‘Assal زي العسل  (Your Love is Like Honey) is one of the most famous songs by the Lebanese singer Sabah. This love song was written by Muhammed Hamza and composed by Baligh Hamdi. Zay el ‘Assal was released in 1973.

Fairouz-Fairouzyat Al-Sabah 

Nouhad Haddad, later known as Fairouz, is one of the most admired and influential Lebanese singers in the Arab region. Along with Wadih Al-Safi and Sabah, Fairouz is one of the famous Lebanese icons. Her singing career started at a young age as Mohammad Fleifel, one of the founders of the National Conservatory of Music in Beirut, found her when he was searching for talent to join his newly formed choral group.

Fairuz became a major influence on contemporary Arab music and culture. She sang for love, simple life, and for love of her country. She also released “Flower of Cities زهرة المدائن” a song in which she expresses the longing for Jerusalem. In addition to Fairouz’s superb musical style, she brought back the muashahat الموشحات, a musical form first heard in the gardens of Andalusia.

Her songs are usually broadcasted on the radios each morning and are heard across the region and internationally.

Street performer playing “Em Sleiman” song with the “Glass Harp” in Old Town Alexandria, VA.

Abdel Halim Hafez-Gana el Hawa

Abdel Halim Hafiz (1929– 1977) was a very well-known and famous Egyptian singer and performer.  He is considered to be one of the greatest Egyptian musicians along with Umm Kulthum, Mohammed Abdel Wahab, Farid Al Attrach, and Shadia. He was given the title “el-Andaleeb el-Asmar العندليب الأسمر‎” which means “The Dark-Skinned Nightingale.”

Abdel Halim’s music is still played nowadays on the radio in the Arab world. He sang mostly for love, his most famous songs include “Ahwaak أهواك (I love you)”, “Gana el Hawa جانا الهوى (Love came to us)”, “Sawwah سوّاح (Wanderer)”, “Zay el Hawa زي الهوى (It feels like love)”.

Sabah Fakhri-Khamrat Al-Hob

Sabah Fakhri is an iconic Syrian singer from Aleppo. He is considered as one of the masters of the authentic Arabic Tarab. He modified the traditional Arabic music and Muwashahat and mastered the Syrian traditional style of music called “Qudud Halabiya.” In addition to his strong vocals, Sabah Fakhri is known for his charismatic performances. Sabah Fakhri always interacts with his audience and musicians when performing in order to create a happy atmosphere.

Khamrat Al-Hob خمرة الحب is one of Sabah’s most popular songs that takes the audience into the beautiful world of Tarab.

Wadih EL-Safi-‘Andak Bahriya’

Wadih El Safi‎ (1921 –2013) was a Lebanese cultural icon, singer, oud player, songwriter and actor. He is often called the “Voice of Lebanon”. His name is synonymous with traditional Lebanese folklore. He insisted on combining classical music with the traditional folk music, which led to a modernized version of Lebanese folk music. He is one of the most important Middle Eastern musicians of the modern era

El Safi toured the world, singing in many languages, including Arabic, Syriac, French, Portuguese and Italian.

Did you start singing one of the abovementioned songs already? I told you, this article will take you back in time. We all agree that the Arab world nowadays misses such iconic singers who gave us beautiful and sentimental music and left their legacy behind.