Mohammed Abdel Wahab was the most prolific Arabic 
composer of his time, responsible for more than a 
thousand songs.  He personally sang hundreds.  For his 
orchestration of the Egyptian national anthem, Anwar 
Sadat awarded him the rank of general.

Abdel Wahab was born in 1907 in Cairo.  He made his 
first recording at the age of 13.  In 1924 he was taken 
under the wing of Ahmed Shawky, then known as the 
Prince of Poets.  Shawky saw to the furthering of Abdel 
Wahab's musical and literary education, so that in time 
if Shawky was the Prince of Poets, Abdel Wahab was 
known as the Singer to Princes and Kings.

In the late 1920s Abdel Wahab wrote traditional 
melodies, well suited to Shawky's texts.  But as 
European rule replaced Ottoman rule, Western influences 
affected local music.

In particular, stage musicals in Arabic incorporated 
Western elements.  In 1926, it fell to Abdel Wahab to 
complete a musical left unfinished by the late Said 
Darwish, a great composer of the previous generation.  
The musical centered on Antony and Cleopatra, and Abdel 
Wahab himself played Antony to great acclaim.

After visiting Paris and familiarizing himself with 
French musical presentations, Abdel Wahab invented the 
Arabic film musical.  To a popular culture in which 
romantic love was commonly associated with suffering, 
Abdel Wahab introduced a romantic hero of light-hearted 
wit and urbane sophistication.  His films portrayed a 
Westernized social elite and featured music that broke 
from tradition.  Fellow composers noted that the music 
was simplistic compared with Abdel Wahab's previous 
work, and Abdel Wahab used lip-synching rather than the 
improvisation on which Arabic music had traditionally 
relied; but audiences loved it.  The film "The White 
Flower" was a phenomenon, breaking attendance records.  

Abdel Wahab enjoyed introducing new female singers to 
the public through his movies; many became stars, 
including the great Leila Mourad, who would go on to 
produce her own films.  Musically, his films continued 
controversial, as he began to feature large orchestras 
with admixtures of Western instruments.  Into his art, 
he hybridized Western song forms such as the tango, 
samba, and rhumba.

In the 1950s Abdel Wahab left film and concentrated on 
his last recordings as a singer, assuming a new and 
more serious musical style.  In the 1960s he stopped 
singing, but he continued composing for other singers.  
It was in 1964 that after years of rivalry at the top 
of their profession Om Kalthoum released a record of 
his "Ente Omry" written for her to a text by the poet 
Ahmad Ramy.  Perhaps partly because of its timing-- 
coinciding with the flowering of Nasserism-- the 
recording became Egypt's all-time best-seller.  It was 
the song the young generation thought of when they 
thought of Om Kalthoum, though it was certainly Abdel 
Wahab, not Om Kalthoum, who spiced up the orchestration 
with an electric guitar.

For many years Abdel Wahab appeared very little in 
public, but his popularity never faded.  In 1988, at 
the age of 81, he made a surprise return to the studio, 
singing a new composition, and despite lyrics that 
seemed unacceptably iconoclastic to some radicals, the 
disk sold two million copies. 
Some biographical information about @abdel Wahab
from a TV  program by Simone Bitton for Arcadia 
Films, written up and contributed by Mark Levinson.

Mark L. Levinson
Sun, 9 Jul 95



Created 960602/ Last modified: Fri Jun 14 17:18:27 METDST 1996