Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Angham | Bethib Meen

I found this CD many years ago, in the late 90s or early 00s, at a Syrian grocery store on 5th Avenue and 15th Street in Park Slope Brooklyn. Until I left Park Slope in late 2001 it was my favorite go-to place for Arabic pop--their selection was decent, if not exactly exhaustive, and the CDs were cheap: $5 a piece, or 5 for $20. Plus, the woman who ran the store was incredibly nice and, every time I stopped by, she'd make recommendations and quiz me on whatever she happened to be playing:

"You know who this is, right?"

"Umm, yeah ... Oum Kalsoum?"

"Very good! But, which song is it?"

She had a teenage daughter who hung out with her and, whenever I asked about this or that CD, if she didn't know the music herself, she'd ask her daughter if it was any good. I remember her daughter nodding emphatically if she liked this particular CD, Bethib Meen, by Egyptian superstar Angham.

Born into a creative family, Angham started her singing career under the wing of her father, who was a violin player and music producer. Bethib Meen, which came out in 1997, was the last CD she recorded with any help from her father. After 2001, her music became increasingly westernized.

Egyptian pop--or more specifically what I like to call, in this instance, Egyptian art pop--is some of the strangest music in the world. It has solid roots in classical Arabic music, but with tinges of western and other influence. In this CD, for instance, I swear to god, you'll hear ELO. (Yes, I mean the Electric Light Orchestra. Listen to the clip below if you don't believe me.)

Angham's voice is exquisite; there's a reason she is the most popular Egyptian female singer to have begun a career in the 80s. It had been, I admit, years since I'd listened to Bethib Meen, but when I was combing my shelves for something to post tonight after work, I pulled it down, gave it a listen, and was surprised at how terrific--and odd--it is. If you're new to Angham, or if you only know her work after 2001, I highly recommend giving this album a listen.

Listen to "Sallam Alay"

Get it here.


gilhodges said...

I know it's not a bodega, but have you ever been to Rashid Music Sales, on Court Street in Cobble Hill. I satisfied some major Oum Kalthoum fixes there. My old neighborhood. Sigh.

I am loving your offerings, Gary. Big love.

Hammer said...

Angham? Hmm, she's much mocked all around the Arab world for two specific reasons: one, her rabbit-buck teeth (she has a wall of it in her mouth), and two, trying to sound like Najat Assaghierah with all, ahem... gum and teeth.
Puns and jokes aside: her first album was a bit listenable 'cus it has a melodic, Arabeat 80's vibe, which oddly enough is witnessing a revival these days.

This is pop music after all.


Gary said...

Gil, I loved Rashid, but as far as I can tell, they closed a year or so ago--at least the store on Court Street. I think their website might still be active, though. I loved them. The woman who worked there was a big Najwa Karam fan and gave me a lot of feedback on a comics biography of her I was drawing back in the aughts. I miss them terribly.

Hammer, I admit that, post-2001, there isn't any Angham I feel strongly enough about to post here, but--whether or not she is mocked in the Arab world--she's incredibly popular and, IMHO, well worth listening to up to the millennium.

Hammer said...

That's correcto mundo, Mr. Gary. Still, almost all of her new-er/new-est songs are based on Spanish Flamenco (call it 'Fail-menco'), as much possibly as that lout called Amr Diab's music is.
Right here in the Arab world, people do listen to the classic masters like Umm Kalthoum.
By chance, I saw a new upload at washerman's dog IYKWIM AITYD, and it was a double-header for Umm Kalthoum and Fairuz. Prolly, this is old newspapers to most Arabs, but for someone who's ear-reared on schlockfest-y American pop and what-all... it's a good change.
I have nothing but respect for this blog that you keep 'ere: it's interesting, very cool, too.
Please, keep'em coming.
*on a hush-hush: jus' make them older a bit*

R E S P E C T.


Holly said...

I quite like this, Gary, thank you! And as a proud gap-toothed woman I have a special affinity for others with dental oddities ;-)

Gary said...

Holly, I'm guessing you must have seen Les Blank's film, yes?

I was thrilled that it included rare footage of one of my all-time favorite cartoonists: Dori Seda.

Holly said...


Yes, and yes! You've read the Dori interview in Incrediby Strange Music, yes?

Gary said...

Actually, I haven't read that interview; for some reason I never wound up picking up a copy of that book. (I feel like I should get it at some point, though, yeah?)

My Dori experiences are limited to having seen her in Blank's film and, before that, having picked up the Fantagraphics collection, Dori Stories: The Complete Dori Seda, one of my favorite books of all time.