Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Egyptian heartthrob not forgotten (republished)

Yomna Kamel Middle East Times staff

March isn't special for Egyptians only because of Mother's Day and the beginning of spring, but because they remember their singer Abdel Halim Hafez who died (39) years ago.

Millions of Egyptians and Arabs mourned the death of Hafez on March 30, 1977 in London just as they did when Umm Kulthoum died a few years earlier. His impact on his fans was so great that young women committed suicide after learning of his death and his funeral was the most widely attended in Egyptian history after President Gamal Abdel Nasser and Umm Kulthoum.

For the generations of the 1960s and 1970s, he was not only a romantic singer, but the voice of a revolution that changed Egypt's political and social life.

"Although Hafez's talent and beautiful voice were the reasons of his popularity, social and political circumstances accompanied his time and this helped him to succeed," said Hisham Kamal, assistant manager of Voice of Art, the company Hafez co-founded.

While leader of the 1952 Revolution President Gamal Abdel Nasser was making decisions that were changing the social and political fabric of the nation, Hafez was expressing this spirit in his songs.

"His songs were also written and composed by a generation of artists who believed in the revolution's principles," Kamal said.

He sang Al Hahd Al Gadid (The new era) marking the first anniversary of the revolution and in 1958 sang Ya Gamal Ya Habib Al Malayeen (Gamal loved by millions) when Nasser became president of the United Arab Republic between Egypt and Syria.

Since his death in 1977, Voice of Art has been producing compilation albums that feature some of his rarer songs. This year, an album comprising songs from two of his movies was produced.

"It is from his fans' demands that we make new collections and his albums are higher in sales even over Umm Kulthoum," Kamal said.

Although Kamal thinks that the days of great singers like Kulthoum and Hafez are over, he supports what Egyptian intellectuals like Salah Montasser say about his staying power even though today's music scene is totally different.

"The fast rhythm of today's songs with no focus on lyrics make them easily forgotten," Montasser said in an Al Ahram newspaper article marking the 20th anniversary of his death. One of the reasons of Hafez's success was his feeling through the words and his sensitivity. Along with a team of excellent poets and composers, he presented songs that will never die."

For the new generation, Hafez is still considered a popular singer to the extent that some have even designed Web sites dedicated to him. Collections of his works, pictures, press reports and his fans' comments about why they love him so much are found here.

"Abdel Halim Hafez was one of the best vocalists that appeared in Egypt in the beginning of the 1950s. He had a beautiful voice and every word came from the heart and this is what makes his music dear to us," Muhammad Mustapha, a student at Cairo University's Faculty of Engineering, said in a Web site he developed for Hafez's fans.

Hafez was born in Al Helwat, a small village just outside the Delta city of Zagazig and graduated from the Higher Music Institute. He joined the Opera House as an oboe player but soon became a singer after his beautiful voice was discovered by composer Kamal Al Tawil.

He starred in 16 movies, the first of which was Lahn Al Wafaa (The music of faithfulness), and the last being Aby Fawka Al Shagara (My father's in the tree top).

Hafez did not marry, but according to Mufid Fawzy, a columnist with the weekly Sabah Al Kheir, he was married to actress Soad Hosny, but their marriage did not last long. However, all his close friends and associates deny that this marriage ever took place.