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.