The names Sayed Darwish, Mohammed Abdel Wahab and Sayyed Makkawi may not mean much to some people. Rest assured though, the influence of these Arabic composers on world music has been unprecedented. Here are just some of the reasons they are so revered by their musical contemporaries and adored by their fans.
Sayed Darwish: composer of the Egyptian national anthem
Despite dying in 1923 at the age of just 31, Sayed Darwish has been affectionately crowned the father of Egyptian popular music. He is most famous for composing the melody that would eventually be adopted as the Egyptian national anthem in 1979 – ‘Biladi, Biladi, Biladi’.
The song inspired the famous speeches of some of Egypt’s earliest independence movement leaders, such as Mustafa Kamel. Renowned for his wonderful voice, Darwish also mastered the oud. He composed many songs for musical theatre and his live concerts remain a talking point among music aficionados today.
In recognition of his influence on Egyptian musical heritage, the Mohammed Ali Theatre opera house in Alexandria was renamed the Sayed Darwish Theatre in 1962.
Mohammed Abdel Wahab: composer of the Libyan national anthem
One of Sayed Darwish’s contemporaries, Mohammed Abdel Wahab, is a singer-songwriter most famous for writing the Libyan national anthem ‘Ya Beladi’ - roughly translated as “Oh My Country” - in 1951. The song has served as the country’s anthem on more than one occasion, most recently reclaimed by the post-Gaddafi government.
A statue of Abdel Wahab can be found in Bab El-Sharyia Square in Cairo, Egypt, the country of his birth. This stalwart of 20th century Arabic popular music is rumoured to have composed nearly 2,000 songs.
Widely considered an important musical innovator in the Arabic musical tradition, Abdel Wahab was criticised during his lifetime for the use of Western-influenced rhythms and musical themes in his work. He also starred in several films.
Sayyed Makkawi: religious Arab chants
Sayyed Makkawi is famed for popularising a style known as tarab, which also describes the ecstatic physical and emotional state the melodies are intended to evoke in performers and audiences.
Tradition was at the root of all of his compositions and songs. He is perhaps best remembered for his contributions to the musical ‘The Big Night’, which helped establish him in the public consciousness. He is rumoured to have composed close to 5,000 songs during his lifetime.