Farid Al Atrash was born a prince in the southern Syrian town of Suweyda in 1910 to a Syrian father and a Lebanese mother. At a young age, he immigrated with his family to Egypt, where he became one of the most influential Arab musicians and singers of all times. Upon his request, he was buried in 1974 in Cairo near his sister Asmahan (1912-1944). She, too, was one of the rarest Arab voices, having a far reaching contralto with a blend of "dramatic mezzo-soprano". In case you're interested in the complete biographies of Farid Al Atrash and Asmahan, the net is brimming with information on both. Instead, however, I intend this post as a more intimate companion and a backdrop to the attached Youtube video.
After perusing through my profile, a reader once asked what kind of a person lists Farid Al Atrash and Pink Floyd as favorites. They are, he implied, worlds apart and only a music ignoramus would be able to equally appreciate both. His comment, inane as it may sound, touched the truth in a way he could have never imagined. If music defines a person then I am a bipolar Farid Al Atrash – Pink Floyd aberration indeed. In the deep core of my being I sing the heart wrenching Banadi Alayk and listen to the mind boggling Hey You echoing back. In case you're not familiar with Arabic, both titles mean exactly the same thing. You should give them a try when you're in the mood for some soul searching. But more on that some other time.
The Michigan Arab Orchestra was founded in 2009 by Michael Ibrahim, a young Syrian American of impressive talent and extensive musical education. The orchestra is manned (and womenned) by 35 full-time and visiting musicians, most of whom, and if I'm not mistaken, are Syrian and Lebanese Americans. As per its mission objective, “the MAO is non-profit organization that is dedicated to the performance, and education of Arab music to the greater Detroit community.”
Kahramana is a musical piece written by Farid Al Atrash to the love of his life, the Egyptian dancer/actress, Samia Gamal in 1949. To my trained eye and my zoetic soul, Samia is the most beautiful woman to ever dance Oriental. Her Delphian smile tosses an innocent man (like me) between fits of ardor and bouts of passion. More significantly though, she restored the dance to its original divine manifestation and took the belly shaking out of it. Today, Arabic dancing falls under one of two main schools, the ambrosial style of Samia Gamal, which is appropriately called Oriental Dancing and the carnal trembling of Taheyya Kariokka, which is nothing more than Belly Dancing. While Samia pranced around the stage like a genie, Taheyya heaved like a volcano over a one square foot piece of tile.
This 2012 rendition of Kahramana, performed by the Michigan Arab Orchestra, left me breathless. One by one, some of the players soloed the same short arrangement. They improvised, very much like Jazz musicians do, on the complex simplicity of the melodic masterpiece of Farid Al Atrash. The result! Well, I leave that to you, but I do have one request though. It's a seventeen minute piece that requires first and foremost the proper ambiance to appreciate it. So if the hubby or the kids are being either obnoxious or raucous, you have to make sure to silence them first. Or it might be your new blond girlfriend talking on the phone nearby with an automated telemarketing voice and giggling. Shut her up please, then sit down with a glass of wine or your favorite drink, as long as it's not milk, turn the volume up on your teeny weeny PC speakers and float on a heavenly cloud of music for what will seem like an eternity.
In the comment section, and if you don't mind leaving a trail of your visit, would you tell us which soloist in the attached video of the MEO was your favorite and why? I do have my own of course but least I influence your own interpretation, I would keep my peace till the end.
Also Enjoy Watching:
The original Kahramana from the movie Afrita Hanem, 1949. Samia Gamal dancing. Farid Al Atrash bewitched.