Egyptian chanteuse 1911-1937
About the Project
This project began in January 2000 as a personal investigation into the life and career of a little known Egyptian singer from the early part of last century—a time known as the phonograph pre-radio era of Egyptian Oriental music. Initial inquiries into Na’ima al-Misriyya's professional and private history through her closest living relatives revealed a rich, largely unknown story.
After significant groundwork research, it became clear that a documentation project of this nature has never been done before in Egypt. Aside from the sound recordings and publications of the International Conference on Arabic Music, held in Cairo in 1932, there has been little or no documentation of this period. Most research, conducted by Egyptian and international experts, focuses on the more popular Umm Kulthumm era as opposed to the era of traditional Oriental music. As a result, little or no effort at all has been made to create archives or document the pre-radio phonograph era, either by governmental or cultural institutions in Egypt or abroad.
The information and material that has been collected to date represents data gathered independently and from wide ranging sources in Egypt and abroad. Such material includes sound recordings and catalogues from the original recording companies, printed materials of all kinds, photographs, recorded interviews and rare anecdotal information from first-hand sources.
The project has located numerous original recordings and references to more than 120 recorded song titles—substantially more than any other official documented source. Most of these songs were composed for al-Misriyya by some of Egypt's greatest, canonical composers. The popularity of these songs serves as evidence of their influence on Egyptian collective memory. Also previously unknown was the extent of al-Misriyya’s musical tours in Palestine, Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. The reasons for her sudden disappearance from musical life and public view, exclusive information obtained from the family oral history, will also be documented for the first time. Such discoveries have shed much light on al-Misriyya’s 26-year career as a successful recording and performing artist, her influence within the genre and industry, as well as her role in the social and cultural developments of the region at that time.
The objective of the project is to document the personal and professional life of Na’ima al-Misriyya, while also looking at the challenges that women faced with regard to their participation in society, public life and the performing arts at that time in Egypt and the region.
The early development of traditional oriental music, the performance art "scene" and industry, and the history of the musical recording industry and Radio in Egypt and across the Middle East, will be documented in line with the goals of the project.
An additional element will be the reconstruction of the urban and rural performing arts environment, literally by location – within the city of Cairo, towns across Egypt and key cities throughout the region, from 1910 to 1940.
All final end products will be donated to relevant institutions, both in Egypt and abroad, in order to contribute to national, regional and international efforts in the safeguarding of an endangered and oft-misunderstood and under-researched cultural heritage.
Goals in detail
1. To reconstruct and document the life story of Na’ima al-Misriyya and her musical career. Without such activities, knowledge about her and her particular context would likely be lost. The project is rooted in the recognition of al-Misriyya as an important female public figure and artist who played a foundational role in the social, artistic and cultural heritage of Egypt and the Middle-East in regards to women's participation in society and the performing arts during the phonograph pre-radio era, 1910 to 1940. Also central to the aims of the project will be the reconstruction of the artistic atmosphere present during this era with regard to performance and the introduction of technology, focusing particularly on the performing art "scene" in Cairo and major cities across the region.
2. To produce a collection of CDs, accompanied by a detailed catalogue, complete discography and lyrics; to produce an academic paper and extensive book containing all research and sources; and to produce a documentary film about Na’ima al-Masriyya's life and musical career. All works will be in Arabic as primary language, with English and French translations.
3. To contribute to the safeguarding of cultural heritage and the promotion of enlightened cultural education in Egypt and the promotion of sound research, nationally and regionally, by donating a limited edition of all final end products to the archives of appropriate academic and professional cultural institutions in Egypt and abroad.
* An academic research paper to be published in academic journals
* An illustrated book about her career and life with cross-references to the pioneering era of musical recordings and performance arts in the Middle East from 1910 to 1940
* A complete collection of the music of Na’ima al-Misriyya as a CD set with accompanying catalogue of references to music, lyrics and complete discography (possibly interactive digital-database)
* A documentary film about her career and life with a spotlight on the performing art scene in Cairo and around the region, during its height in the 1920's
A comprehensive Research & Acquisitions Phase (2003-2004) which includes all data collection (sound, image, written and oral) will be completed in 2004. A number of key local and international experts have joined the project on a supervisory and/or advisory level, have donated materials and provided valuable information, in addition to guiding the project in terms of sound research practices.
The Production Phase (2005) will consist of the publication and production of the academic paper, illustrated book, CD collection with catalogue and documentary film.