Composer, musician, singer, actor, Mohamed Abdel-Wahab was a giant in the world of Middle Eastern entertainment. This prolific artist composed some of the most classical Egyptian music. He wrote more than 1,800 songs, of which he sang hundreds, and was also a star of the silver screen. Born in the Bab El-Sha'riya district of Cairo in 1910, Abdel-Wahab made his first recording at the age of 13. He had a beautiful baritone singing voice and played the oud (see illustration). He trained formally in both Arabic music and Western music, and was the first composer to synthesise the two strains in his music. While he began his career with traditional melodies, Western influences became evident in his later music.
One of his early songs Fil-Leil Lama Kheli (The Lonely Night) became an instant success and was sung before King Farouk at the opening of the Arab Music Institute in Cairo in 1929. In 1926, Abdel-Wahab had helped to compose the musical score of The Goose Consul Operetta, based on a theme of Naguib El-Rehani. It was a great success.
In his later films, Abdel-Wahab introduced female singers such as Leila Murad. He also began to feature large orchestras with mixtures of Western instruments such as the guitar, bass, accordion and, later, the organ and synthesiser. He employed new rhythmic formulas, including the tango, mambo, samba and rumba, as well as the Arabic oriental rhythms maqsoum and baladi, in his compositions.
In the 1950s, Abdel-Wahab left film and concentrated on his singing. His songs were patriotic and included composing the musical scores for Egypt's national anthem and that of the United Arab Republic. In the 1960s he stopped singing, but continued to compose for other singers. It was during this decade that Abdel-Wahab composed for Om Koulthom He released Ente Omri, a recording that became Egypt's all-time bestseller. Abdel-Wahab worked well into the 1970s. While he appeared less and less in public, the popularity of his music never faded. Then in 1988, at the age of 81, he surprised everyone when he returned to the studio with a new composition. In 1991, Mohamed Abdel-Wahab died of heart failure. His career spanned 74 years and created a legend in the world of modern Arabic music and melody.
Twelve years after his death a museum was opened to commemorate the life at the Arabic Music Institute, where he had sung some of his most famous and memorable songs.
With its early 20th-century Islamic architecture, it is located at 22 Ramses Street, just before Al-Tawfiqiya.
Well worth a visit on the next ESC trip to Egypt.
Among his extensive discography are:
Les Archives de la Musique Arabe V.I, III, IV [Club du Disque Arabe]
Magnoun Leila [Cairophon]
Mohamed Abd el-Wahab V.1-X [Clube du Disque Arabe]
Super Belly Dance [CD, Voice of Stars, 1989]
Colours from Abdel Wahab Melodies [CD, Voice of Lebanon, 1994]
Kollina Nehib Elqamar 1920-1935 [CD, Voix du Maghreb, 1996]
Watanyat Vol 2 [CD, EMI Arabia, 1998]
For free download from the internet try http://www.artistdirect.com/music/genre/sub/songs/0,,677-2,00.html