Equal Partners
by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners by Roland Ezri

Equal Partners

By Roland Ezri

"Women are the backbone of all societies. They do a substantial part of the work, and play a major role in raising the future generation yet they are largely powerless. The decisions that count are made by men and foisted upon women."

Writings by Roland Ezri

The Second Exodus – Egypt – LXXX. My Years at 12A Rue Khantaret Ghamra – Entertainment (6 of 30)

Farid El Atrash

For purely romantic songs and films, no performer even come close to Farid. He remains to the present day my idol.

He was born in Syria to a Druze family. His date of birth is unclear. The most widely quoted year is 1914. As a child, he immigrated, with his mother and siblings, to Egypt.

He studied in a music conservatory and became an apprentice of the renowned composer Riyad El Sumbaty. He started his career playing the oud and subsequently singing for the radio audience. He later collaborated with his sister Asmahan, and in 1941 they starred in their first successful movie.

From 1941 to 1974 Farid acted in 31 movies and recorded some 350 songs. He composed all the songs in his movies including the songs sung by other performers. His movies delighted his audiences; and most songs quickly became instant hits. As an actor he was acceptable; here again his movies showcased his enormous musical talent. In addition to movies he performed in many concerts. Often he would compose a new song for the concert in question.

Any known artist would have many stories (true or otherwise) swirling around him; but El Atrash was in a class of his own. From a young age, he frequented nightclubs, had love affairs, and gambled. He soon found himself in debt and abandoned by his disapproving mother. A tragic event, however, would take precedence over all the rest. His sister and collaborator, Asmahan, died in a tragic (and suspicious) accident. At about that time, he started a relationship with Samia Gamal, a well- known belly dancer.

The story of the romance between Farid and Samia fuelled many cafe conversations. At one end of the spectrum, his love was an unrequited one. Farid’s love was destined to never be returned. At the other end, poor Samia was never going to marry a man she so deeply loved.

They collaborated on five movies and eventually broke up.

People remembered his movies for the songs, the dances, the romance, and the pure unadulterated mush. The story itself was of little importance. Very often his character’s name was Wahid (lonely). Of course, after you’ve read the above you realize that he was definitely not lonely in real life. Then again, some of us are fated to be lonely souls; and El Atrash conceivably fell into that category. We will never know for sure.

He refused to marry claiming that marriage and art do not go together. Another pretext was that he was a Druze prince (not true) who needed to find his equal before he could marry. Here again various facetious comments were offered; one that I remember: Why always eat at the same restaurant when you have so many other restaurants in Cairo!

He had a relationship with Queen Nariman before she married King Farouk, and which resumed after she divorced him. Nariman’s family did not accept Farid, and the separation put him into a deep depression. Health problems dogged him from that point on.

There came a time when El Atrash reconsidered his opinion of marriage. He proposed to a young actress, Shadia (more on her later), but ultimately changed his mind. By now his health was poor and he feared that he would leave her a young widow. Such a scenario often recurred in his movies.

For the last 30 years of his life, Farid suffered from heart problems. In 1974, he died in Beirut.

He worked to the very end. He continued to make movies and perform in concerts. His last movie, Nagham Fi Hayati (A Tune In My Life) was released after his death.

There is no doubt that Farid El Atrash and his music will be immortalized. There is so much more that I would like to say about him; but being such a big fan of his art, any views I’ll offer are bound to be biased.

I will therefore only say that Farid’s genius is a present from the Creator to the Egyptian people, in general, and to me, in particular. (Egyptians of my generation will, I suspect, say the exact same thing).

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