Listen to "Ya Habibi Ta'al Ilhaqni"
Get it all here.
[Originally posted in 2010, before I was linking to complete CDs. For the month of January, I'll be reposting a number of those early posts, this time with links to zip files of full albums. Enjoy!]
In the spring of 1997, the year I would leave St. Paul, Minn., for New York City, I went out east to visit friends in Boston, Mass. It was an eventful trip in many ways, but perhaps the most fortuitous was our stumbling upon Daff and Raff Books & Music ("A Gateway to Another Culture," was their ambitious motto), an Arabic book and CD store in the heart of Cambridge (52-B JFK Street).
It was a small, somewhat cramped store, with the CDs lining one wall. I'm almost certain that the photo above is the building, though it is obviously now a different store. (I remember trying to find Daff and Raff on a later trip to Boston, ca. 2000-2001, and it had disappeared. Google only returns relevant pages from 1997 and 98.)
I knew literally nothing about Arabic music, and picked up several CDs randomly, mostly gravitating toward covers that looked "promising." (Whatever that means.) For reasons that are obscure to me now, something about Farid & Asmahan's simple red and yellow layout (to say nothing of the extra-groovy lettering) drew my attention.
My attention was greatly rewarded. Asmahan was, of course, one of the most celebrated Arabic singers of all time, credited with bringing a "western" influence to her singing style. Born in 1918 to Druze parents in either Syria or Lebanon (I've read conflicting reports), she moved with her brother, Farid al-Atrash, to Egypt, where both went on to become wildly popular film and music stars:
She died in 1944 when a car she was in with another woman passenger crashed into the Nile. The driver escaped; Asmahan and her companion drowned. Conspiracy theories regarding her death--by British intelligence or the Gestapo, take your pick--abound.
She is one of a mere handful of artists I've posted music by on this blog who has actually had a book written in English about her life and work: Sherifa Zuhur's Asmahan's Secrets. Highly recommended.