Singer Sayed Darwish
The 89th anniversary of death of Sayed Darwish will be celebrated in an art forum organised by the Egyptian Ministry of Culture. The iconic Egyptian musician, nicknamed the Godfather of Egypian modern music,
died when he was 31-years-old. Despite the fact that he started producing music only six years before his death, his influence on Egyptian and Arab music was very important. He revolutionised the old Turkish-influenced music prevailing in the Arab world at the beginning of the 20th century.
Darwish popularised modern Egyptian music among the working class and middle class. He also composed the Egyptian national anthem "Biladi Biladi", written by his friend Sheikh Younes al-Qadi.
Speaking at the forum, Darwish's grandson Eman al-Bahr Darwish - who is the current chairman of the Egyptian Musicians Syndicate, said that his grandfather's influence on Arab music is yet to be fully recognised by scholars and researchers. He insisted that his grandfather founded new "Maqams" [a kind of Arab musical tone] different to the Maqams known before him. Eman also raised doubts about the way Darwish died in 1923. Eman said he might have been poisoned by British agents in Egypt, because of the revolutionary tone his songs took against British occupation in 1919. The Egyptian president at the time was Saad Zaghloul - he was exiled the same year. He was able to return to his country on the day Darwish died, September 15.
"I read a book by the scholar and poet Naguib Sorour, who recalled the newspapers headlines the day my grandfather died. Most of these headlines said that his family questioned the reason behind his death and demanded an autopsy, but their demand was denied by the state authorities" said Eman.
Eman revealed that he was preparing a TV series depicting the life of Sayed Darwish, which will uncover a lot of secrets about his life and death.
Born in March 1892 in Alexandria, Darwish worked as a builder from the age of 16. He used to sing loudly while working - his colleagues enjoyed listening to him. His talent was recognised by two Syrian musicians, brothers Amin and Selim Atallah. They happened to be in the area when Darwish was singing and they offered him the opportunity to work as a professional singer with their band in Syria, where he lived for two years. He learned to play the Oud [oriental guitar] and started to produce music as well as singing. He returned to Egypt in 1914 and waited for three years before releasing his first popular song in 1917 called "Ya Fouadi Leih Bete'shaa" (Why does my heart falls in love).
As his early songs achieved great success, Darwish began to compose songs and music for musical plays and operettas.
He was known for being an indigenous artist. His most famous song "Zorouni Kol Sana Marra" (Let me see you, even once a year) was actually inspired by a demand from one of his lovers who once said to him: "Let me see you, even once a year, Sayed." He composed another song in which he mocked a woman called Jalila he once loved but she left him for a rich jeweller and the song gained massive popularity.
He died on September 15, 1923 leaving more than 140 songs and 30 musicals behind. The official story says that his death was a result of a cocaine overdose. This story was largely questioned by many historians and scholars who believe that Sayed Darwish was poisoned to death because his nationalistic songs were inciting patriotic sentiment against the British occupation, and proved to be very influential during the 1919 uprising.