Asmahan Still Revered 57 Years Later
On the 57th anniversary of the death of the late singer Asmahan on July 14, Faisal Al Atrash, her nephew, repaired her grave.
The grave suffered a fire during a mysterious accident following a quarrel among some salesmen in the region, and the culprit is still unknown, according to the Egyptian daily Akhbar Al Saa.
Asmahan’s real name is Amal Al Atrash. She was Fuad and Farid Al Atrash’s sister, and her parents were Princess Alia and Prince Fahd Al Atrash.
After the great success that Farid enjoyed as a singer on national radio, his sister's talent was discovered by Mohammed Al Qasabji. Daoud Housni, who later took care of training her, gave her the classy name Asmahan.
Like the older members of the family, she came from Jabal Al Druz, where her forebears were the emirs until Lebanon and Syria became a French mandate.
Born in 1918, she lived in Lebanon until 1920, when her father was appointed governor of the province of Demergi in Turkey. He soon returned, however, to spend the remainder of his life as an ordinary citizen in his native mountains. He died in 1924, when she was only six, and her family then emigrated to Egypt, where the little princess, who had been cherished by her father, was to experience the hardships which befall a family that has fallen upon evil days.
Although of noble origin, her mother Set Aleya was reduced to singing at private parties to support herself and her children, three boys and a girl, the future Asmahan. Everyone in the family could sing, but success was only to crown the efforts of the two most gifted siblings: Farid and Asmahan.
Asmahan knew something about the European way of singing - perhaps she had gained it just by listening - and she probably unconsciously made use of this knowledge when interpreting genuinely authentic Arabic songs. This is very noticeable in, for example, Dakhalt Marra Fignina by Midhat Assem and Ya Tuyur by Qasabgi.
Yet an Arabic listeners were not disturbed by this foreign element, for Asmahan was at the same time a master of every aspect of Arabic song. This voice, alas, too soon silenced, dominated Arabic singing in the 1930s to such an extent that - with the possible exception of Zakaria Ahmed - composers who were working for Om Kalsum wanted to work with Asmahan.
It was Aleik Salat Allah, a chant composed by Farid Al Atrash, that launched her as a singer. He had composed it as musical background to the film Al Mahmal Al Sharif, a film about the caravan every second year to bring the embroidered material to shroud the Sacred Shrines: black velvet for the Kaaba, green silk for the Tomb of the Prophet in Al Medina. The song above was first interpreted by Farid; then the producer preferred the interpretation by Asmahan, the one which was going to be known all over the world in the 1937-1938.
Asmahan never fell into the trap of interpreting the works of one composer alone, as did Faiza Ahmed and Warda at the beginning of her career. She cooperated with her brother Farid in the film Intissar Al Shabab and Gharam Wa Intiqam, but she insisted on singing songs by other composers. She collaborated with Qasabgi, Riad Al Sonbati and even with Abdel Waha, although he was not on good terms with her brother at the time.
The way Asmahan sang her songs awakened people and intrigued their ears, which were accustomed to traditional music. The song Ayuh Al Naimu by Riad Al Sonbati in the film Gharam Wa Intiqam proved that it is possible to give a highly dramatic interpretation of an Arabic song without losing its oriental character.
She died in 1944 in a car accident caused, it is rumored, by the war waged between the secret services in Cairo during World War II.
Although her life was short, her influence on Arabic singing will be felt for a long time – Albawaba.com
© 2001 Al Bawaba (www.albawaba.com)