Homage to Baligh Hamdi Whose Songs Have Been Interpreted By The Greatest Singers
A. Hachlef
January 1994
Translated by M. Stoffel

Born in Cairo in 1932, Baligh Hamdi was going to be the youngest of Egyptian composers. As a child he was already convinced that the only possible career for him would be that of a musician. Aged twelve years, he wanted to go in for an examination that would allow him to be a student at the Fûad I School of music but he was too young to be accepted. Two years later he attended AbdelHafid Amam's classes of traditional music. Meanwhile he had learned to play the lute. Afte being taught general Arab music and, at the same time, attending a secondary school, he went on studying music under master Derwish ElHariri, an expert in mûwashsha-s. Then he began to read law at the faculty and learn more about music at the Academy of music. He was still reading law when, in 1954, he became a professional musician, being accepted as a singer on the radio, in the department directed by Hassan Eshûgaï, his master at the Academy of music who wanted him to become a singer. But Baligh Hamdi was interested in composition more than in any other form of music and he started to set poems to music for the great singers of that time though he had not developed a style of his own yet. This would not happen before 1956, when he began to get interested in genuine Egyptian folk music. His career took a new turn and Ûm Kaltsûm began to pay attention to the young composer and his inventive compositions. In 1959 she interpreted his first song for her "Elhob eïh" owing to which he became known in the other countries of the Arab World.
According to Baligh Hamdi himself, the beginning of the most important period of his career dates back to 1962. From then onwards he was able to display the musical proficiency he had acquired in his research work on folk music, which work he would carry on all his life. He would say : "We must look for substance in the local tradition, the national heritage, if we want to be able some day to compose works of worldwide scope." He never broke this his own rule. Thus he was not unwilling to use such western instruments as the accordion, organ or saxophone in his orchestrations in so far as they were tuned to produce quarter tone music. In that way these instruments could be used in Arab music without disfiguring it. 
From 1962 onwards, with everyone of his works, Arab music made great strides.
Among the first ones we'll mention "Qûlû elaïm eshems" composed for Shadia , "Ala hasbi widad qalbi", "Sawah", "Gana elhawa", "Zay elhawa", "Mawûd" for AbdelHalim Hafez, "Zalamna elhawa", "Ya wahishri", "Sirt elhob", "Fat almiâd", "Baïd annak", "Alf leïla", "Elhûd kûllû", "Hakam aleïna elhawa" for Ûm Kaltsûm and "Elûyûn essûd", "Khallik hena", "Esmaûni" for Warda.
Notwithstanding the success of his music, Baligh Hamdi was never seen to give himself airs. He went on sincerely admiring his elders : Sayed Derwish and his musical comedies, the exceptionally gifted lutanist Mohammed Kassabgi, Mohammed Abdelwahab and his wonderful interpretations of Arab songs, Riad Sombati, a pastmaster at the qasidah genre, Mohammed Fawzi and his film scores !... As to Farid ElAtrash, Baligh Hamdi not only admired him for his being an exceptional lutanist and singer but also for being a unique composer. Moreover he reckoned him as "the musician who was preparing western ears to listen to Arab music". But whilst Abdelwahab was satisfied with composing music as a dilettante and whilst Riad Sombati, living apart from the world, was engrossed in making a jewel of the song he used to compose for Ûm Kaltsûm every month, Baligh Hamdi was making great strides towards becoming a professional composer. He even opened an office where compositions were made to order, something nobody had ever ventured doing before he did. But gradually his very success would have his drawback : in the never-ending turmoil of his life and the hectic activity of "song making", he found it more difficult to cope with all demands made upon his creativity. He happened now to scamp his work , to resort to repetitions. The question arose : "Was he finished ? Was he going to exist only thanks to his past compositions ?"
There was a time in his life when he thought of himself as "the maker" of great singers. It became particularly obvious when, after divorcing from Warda whom he had been married to for ten years, he tried to set up a rival to vie with her. True, Mayada ElHennawi ­ who was an admirer of Warda's ­ had a timbre of voice which could bring hers to mind. As they listened to Mayada singing his songs, some people maybe got confused as to who was singing them. But the delusion could not last long. It seems he had simply forgotten the part played by the singer ­ Warda in this case ­ in the ultimate achievement. Yet, convinced that it was of utmost importance, he wa the one who had always exhorted authors, composers and singers to collaborate !
The following period of his life was a difficult one. All right he had a new singer to interpret his songs... but inspiration was lacking. Other misfortunes accumulated : one of his fans, a woman, committed suicide on his premises. To avoid public exposure and, also, to have medical treatment he left Egypt. Going into exile was a hard experience for him. He died in hospital in Paris on September 12, 1993, carried off by a liver disease (cancer).
His death brought about a feeling of great emptiness in the sphere of Arab song. He had composed many musical comedies and the score of 23 serial films to be broadcast on TV. The Egyptian film industry will not find it easy to replace a musician who had composed the music -­songs includes ­ of more than 15 feature films. Among the musical comedies, we'll mention "Habibati ya misr", "Mahr elarûssa", "Ya banat skandaria". As to "Tamar henna" and "Hikayti mâa ezzaman", they were made specially for Warda.
All singers from the sixties up to now, both male and female, have been indebted to him for one or more of their greatest hits. Besides the already mentioned Ûm Kaltsûm, AbdelHalim Hafez and Warda, many other singers have interpreted his songs : Shadia (33), Nagat Essaghira (26), Mohammed Roshdy (26), Sabah (22), Faïza Ahamad (14, though she would usually, and exclusively, sing the songs of her husband Mohammed Soltane), Moharram Fûad (10), Sharifa Fadel (9), Hani Shaker (7), Samira Bensaïd (5) and Shahrazad (3).
The foregoing on the one hand gives evidence of Baligh Hamdi's creative powers, his great facility in composing songs, and on the other hand shows how much he was admired by artists who were already well-known singers when they asked him to make songs for them, songs which, in their turn, contributed to keep them at the zenith of theirfame among the stars of Arab song.
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