Playlist #19: Egyptian Film Music

Click here for the full playlist on YouTube  and Spotify

Recognized as an unparalleled historical powerhouse of cinema, film and pop culture, Egypt’s prominent history in the region’s cultural production is undeniable. An influential cultural capital during the Middle East’s ‘Nahda’ era (a cultural and creative renaissance that swept the region from 1870-1930s), Egypt, and especially Cairo, would come to lead and cement itself as pillars of music and film. With the growth of the country’s nascent recording industry in the ‘20s and ‘30s, coupled with the advent of film and cinema, the region’s vibrant music culture would experience an evolution that changed Arabic music forever.

As composition and performance were adjusted and rewritten for the screen through a fusion with Western culture, innovators like Mohamed el-Qasabgi brought unprecedented new sounds to music. This was manifested with the introduction of western instruments like violin, piano, double bass and trumpet into new compositions, while borrowing from early 20th century emerging dance styles like waltz, tango and salsa. Until the introduction of the TV, cinema played the most pivotal role in showcasing the work of musicians on screen.

The playlist includes music from Egyptian film legends ranging from Asmahan to Om Kulthoum, Abdel Wahhab, Mostafa Amar, and more recent figures such as Dalida and Sharmoofers, giving an insight into the evolution of the music, themes and visual identity represented in Egyptian film music. We begin this playlist with one of, if not the first, Egyptian movies to have sound and be considered as the first Arabic musical.

‘Unshoodat Alfouad أنشودة الفؤاد’ (The Heart’s song) is a 1932 film that featured singer and composer Nadira Amin, with songs also composed by legendary Egyptian composer Zakareyya Ahmad. Contrary to dominant stereotypes about Arabic women not playing instruments, Nadira plays the oud and sings displaying a wide range of vocals and mastery of this instrument. From the 1940s you’ll find “Alil Ya tamarjeyya عليل يا تمرجية” (I’m ill, nurse) from the 1945 film ‘El Sooq Elsooda السوق السوداء’ (Black Market). Most lyrics for the film were written by Tunisian-Egyptian poet Bairam Al-Tunisi who had been exiled by the British from Egypt for his nationalist poetry. ِ

Abdelhalim’s dancing and singing performances in the 1960’s ‘Abi Fawk Al-Shagara أبي فوق الشجرة’ (My father on the tree) would further leave a lasting imprint on musicals of decades to come. Souad Hosni’s splendid performance in the 1972 ‘Khalli Balak Min Zuzu خلي بالك من زوزو’ (Watch out from Zuzu) resulted in her hit song “Ya Wad Ya T’eel يا واد يا تقيل” (The Cold Guy) that has become an unforgettable musical hit and is still played regularly until today. Youssef Chahine’s film ‘Al Yawm Al-Sadis اليوم السادس’ (The Sixth Day) featuring Dalida was the last film this Egyptian-Italian film legend acted in, before tragically taking her life in 1987. The film features music by Mohammad Munir, who is best renowned for? blending jazz with nubian scales.

There are many musical and visual surprises in this rich playlist that will bring us back to the golden age of cinema, while also reflecting on modern films like the 2014 film Halawet ‘Rouh حلاوة روح’ (Rouh’s Beauty) that features folk-singer Hakim with Lebanese singer Haifa Wehbe as the leading role. Trailblazing Sharmoofers further implements global trends of music and movement into their funky “Easy Money” from ‘Bank El Hazz بنك الحظ’ (The Bank of Luck) released in 2017.

Enjoy our playlist, watch close and immerse yourself in the musical changes that graced the evolution of Egyptian films over the past century.

What are MARSM Playlists?

Marsm’s bi-weekly playlists take on the musical history, trends and upcoming productions from the music scene in the Arabic-speaking countries. Each playlist focuses on a new theme, showcasing both underground and established artists – from the more dance-able to the most experimental – and everything in between.