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.


Gabriela said…
This comment has been removed by the author.
Gabriela said…
Well, my dear innocent man, thanks a lot for enlighting me and teach a lot about Arab music and singers. Those are the moments when I realize how different and how similar we are, as citizens of the world.
I loved the guy that played last. His sounds transportated me, and it was a wonderful journey.
Anonymous said…
Actually, only an ignoramus would call someone else a musical ignoramus for having diverse musical tastes. I have a deep love of both heavy metal and Broadway shows, just to name two differing branches of my musical taste.
Joseph said…
رائعة رائعة رائعة أبو فارس
What a beautiful musical ensemble. I'm on the Arak tonight. Kessak.
I cannot agree more with the person(Anonymous) who left the 2nd comment.
My instrument of choice for tonight has to be the Qanun. In my opinion this is one musical instrument that will forever demonstrate playfulness no matter how melancholic the tune might seem. It's as though the musical notes, strings and the nimble fingers of the musician are incessantly chasing one another.

On a different NOTE, after receiving notification and reading your post in my inbox earlier today, I watched the original Kahramana as you advised. When the music began to play, it immediately struck me how much this beautiful piece of music is resembled in Lhasa's
De cara a la pared.
I hope I'm not imagining this. :-)

Thank you for the music, Abufares.
Isobel said…
Abufares, I heard Farid Al Atrash playing the Oud a few years for the first time and I was hooked immediately. This rendition of Kahramana is magnificent. I have gone back several times through the various instruments and enjoy the uniqueness of all of them. I really couldn't say which I liked the most. Thank you for bringing this wonderful group of musicians to our attention.

As for having a diverse interest in music, I have never heard anything so moronic as to say that it is ignorant. It is completely the opposite. Having a mind that is open to the variety and diversity that the world has to offer shows intelligence and sophistication. (So there!)

Favourite soloist huh? When people ask me who my favourite singer is, what my favourite song is, what's my favourite band, I have the worst time pinning down only one. The way music appeals to me depends upon my mood at that moment. (I, too, have a diverse taste in music) However, if I must choose one, I only have to look close to home to make that choice. Canadian Loreena McKennitt is not only one of my favourite vocalists, but she is a talented musician (player and writer). http://youtu.be/cX31BGlMEU8

Thank you Abufares for a thought provoking and interesting post. Sorry if I went on in my comment, but I do so enjoy music! :)
Abufares said…
I knew that you would vouch for my innocence :-) Music is a universal language indeed. We might need time to absorb the different sounds and melodies but once we do it's an open window to another culture and another world.
The Nai (the flute) in the Kahramana piece was played by none other than Michael Ibrahim the founder and maestro of the MAO. I think he did a superb job too.
Abufares said…
Oh I totally agree with you but let's not be too hard on my critic. Farid Al Atrash is not a household name among newer generations although his music is forever young. On the other hand, I'm fascinated by Portuguese music (songs) despite the fact that I rarely understand a word. I love Hard Rock, Country, Latin, Classical... whatever my ears happen to eavesdrop on. With the exception of mediocre pop music and Rap (which I admittedly don't understand nor care to) I have a voluminous appetite for any beat, tune and melody.
Abufares said…
I'm happy you enjoyed it. Kassak indeed!
I had such a hard time favoring either of your compatriots Jamal Sinno (Qanun) or Elias Lammam (Accordion). I must've listened to this piece over a dozen times already. I think what served Lammam more is that his turn came toward the end when the listener was in a state of total rapture (tarab). That of course doesn't mean that he wasn't a master beyond any other on the accordion in its beautiful Arabic modified version. Mr. Sinno was making love to his Qanun as if it were the woman of his life lying in his arms after a forced and long separation. He took my and her breath away.
To remain fair to myself rather than to them I must say that Sinno caressed the Qanun with the rapture of a seasoned lover while Lammam foreplayed the accordion into a frenzy before he let it reach its climax.
Did I say Kassak? Well, let's have another one anyway :-D
Abufares said…
I'm really surprised that you've heard of Farid Al Atrash let alone enjoyed his music. For a non-Arabic speaker, you have had to dig deep to unearth his beautiful legacy.
The MEO is performing live on Friday, June the 1st, 2012 (that's tomorrow)in the Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts in Detroit, MI. I so wish I could be there to attend. I would've loved to ask you to join me :-)
I'm familiar with Loreena McKennitt and I agree that she's fantastic. It would be hard for me to pick one favorite soloist too. I'm sorry about the wording of my question. I will take corrective action immediately and edit the vague last paragraph.
Thank you for coming over Isobel. Always a pleasure.

PS take a look at the original Kahramana video from the movie. (Link at end of post) Samia Gamal (Kahramana) is playing the role of a genie. Farid Al Altrash is playing himself, lolll. I mean I love the man but I can't believe what he did with himself in that clip. Talk about innocent, Eh [Gabriela] :-))))
Isobel said…
Well, let's just say it's a long story, how I found him, but I love to research and many good and interesting things come of it.

I'm sorry I misinterpreted your last paragraph. I think, however, I answered it in my first. I couldn't choose a favourite. Lol! :)

I will watch the clip from the film. I started to last night but the kids needed things...and, well...you know how it goes.

Have a wonderful day!
Abufares said…
Yes please watch the clip. I have a feeling that you'll like it. Farid was awesome, lmao.
Anonymous said…
thank you for the information,

Abufares said…
You're welcome :-)
Sean said…
You'll find both Farid and Floyd on my iPod too (and Fairouz as well - but I already know how you feel about her...) Hebeena in particular never fails to put a smile on my face - reminds me of many happy trips to Lebanon and meals at Pepe's.

Thanks for sharing the clip - really enjoyed it. Liked the oud and kanoon solos the best - simply because they're such distintively Levantine-sounding instruments to my ears.

Anyone else apart from Farid, Umm Kulthoum and Abdel Halim Hafez you'd particularly recommend checking out?
Abufares said…
I have them too (including Fairuz) on the SD card of my car stereo :-)
I don't know if you've heard of Karem Mahmoud. He's one of the best all time Egyptian soloists. He stands very high on my favorites list. Try Samra Ya Samra and tell me what you think:
Karim said…
Kassak Abu Fares! Loved every bit of it. Every single solo was special, so it's hard to tell which is my favorite. But, if I had to chose, I would go with the accordion, or make that the qanun, or the lady playing the violin....

Since I also suffer from the bipolar disorder you referred to, I thought you might also enjoy this piece:

Abufares said…
So glad you enjoyed it. I had your exact same mixed feelings with the Qanun and the accordion although I really liked them all.
Thank you for the wonderful link. A real pleasure :-)
Brian Phillips said…
It would be a nice change to hear a different kind of music genre from the car stereo. It would be culturally refreshing.
Ryan Brown said…
When I am driving I car, I make it a point to always listen to a good music. This is to give me a relaxation especially if it is a long-drive.

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