Uqbāl mīt Sanah, Aziz El-Shawan

Aziz El-Shawan (1916-1993) was twentieth-century Egypt’s most prominent composer. His collection of manuscript scores, including finished works, sketches and miscellaneous other materials — is held here at Harvard’s Loeb Music Library, and we are excited to announce that the Aziz El-Shawan Collection of Manuscript Scores is now fully processed, with nearly all of its contents digitized and freely available online.

In this half-body photographic portrait, the composer Aziz El-Shawan is depicted wearing a three-piece dark suit and looking into the distance.

Portrait of Aziz El-Shawan. From the private collection of Salwa El-Shawan Castelo-Branco.

After Egypt’s Soviet Cultural Center was founded in 1952, El-Shawan served as its director for fifteen years, which afforded him opportunities to travel to Moscow, where he befriended and eventually studied with renowned Soviet composer Aram Khachaturian, whose influence on the development of El-Shawan’s composition style was profound.

El-Shawan was a prolific composer of songs, symphonies, symphonic poems, ballets, choral works, cantatas, operas, concertos, suites, and chamber music. He considered Western tonal music to be an “international musical language” and created a new musical idiom in which he wrote for both Western and Egyptian instruments.

His best-known work, Anās El-Wugūd, was the first Egyptian opera with Arabic language and content to reach the stage. It was first performed in Cairo in 1996.

Several people in colorful traditional Egyptian costumes stand on a short flight of steps.

A scene from the 1996 premiere of Anās El-Wugūd at the Cairo Opera House. From the private collection of Salwa El-Shawan Castelo-Branco.

From our collection, here are select pages of his manuscripts of the opera’s full score and vocal score.

Pages 18-19 of the orchestral score of Aziz El-Shawan's opera Anās El-Wugūd, written by the composer himself. Several lines of music spread across a tall sheets of ruled staff paper, with orchestral number 7 at the top of page 19 in red ink.

Anās El-Wugūd (full score). Aziz El-Shawan Collection of Manuscript Scores. Ms. Coll. 155, Box 5.

 

Pages 205-206 of the vocal score of Aziz El-Shawan's opera Anās El-Wugūd, copied by the composer himself. Several systems of music spread across a tall sheets of ruled staff paper, with Arabic text underlay and annotations.

Anās El-Wugūd (vocal score). Aziz El-Shawan Collection of Manuscript Scores. Ms. Coll. 155, Box 7.

Our finding aid for the Aziz El-Shawan Collection of Manuscript Scores contains information about each piece, along with links to electronic copies of all the pieces we have digitized.

And in honor of May 6th being the 104th anniversary of El-Shawan’s birth date, here from our collection is a birthday song that he composed (with lyrics by Nabilah Qandil), titled Uqbāl mīt Sanah.

The three-page autograph manuscript score of Aziz El-Shawan’s song Uqbāl mīt Sanah (Happy Birthday to You). Apart from the English translation on the title page, the score text is in Arabic.

Uqbāl mīt Sanah (Happy Birthday to You). Aziz El-Shawan Collection of Manuscript Scores. Ms. Coll. 155, Box 6.

This post was written by Josh Kantor, Assistant Keeper of the Isham Memorial Library. The Aziz El-Shawan Collection is available to view online. Interested researchers may view the rest of the collection by appointment. When the Harvard library buildings re-open, click View in Library in the HOLLIS record for the Aziz El-Shawan Collection of Manuscript Scores and tell us when you would like to visit.

A Trunk Full of Love Songs: Somali Songs, 1955-1991: The Maryan “Aryette” Omar Ali Collection

♥Happy Valentine’s Day!♥ An appropriate day to highlight a collection of (mostly) love songs in the Archive of World Music:

When the Somali popular music expert Maryan Omar Ali first met historian Lidwien Kapteijns in person, she brought with her a trunk full of love songs and other sung poetry. Maryan spent her life carefully curating this collection to represent the most productive Somali (and some Djiboutian) songwriters and artists from the 1950s, when Somalia was fighting to gain independence, through the 1990s, when political instability and civil war plagued the struggling nation. The tapes collected from this period now form part of the Archive of World Music, where preservation and repatriation efforts are ongoing. Let’s take a glimpse into this important collection of Somali songs.

Some of the tapes in the collection (photo courtesy AWM).

In 2017, Ahmed Samatar, a professor of International Studies at Macalester College, and Lidwien Kapteijns, a professor of history at Wellesley College, began depositing the first batches of around 500 audio cassettes recordings of popular songs recorded in Somalia between 1955 and 1991, collected from radio broadcasts and privately circulated cassettes by the life-long collector of Somali popular songs and leading expert on the subject, Maryan Omar Ali.

Maryan Omar Ali (photo courtesy of Lidwien Kapteijns).

Maryan “Aryette” Omar Ali (1977-2011) spent her life collecting and curating Somali  sung poetry—songs of love, war, despair, and patriotism.  As a child in Somalia, she was immersed in the world of singers, poets, and musicians, growing up in a community with some of Somalia’s most famous artists. She attended rehearsals, brought refreshments, and eventually became a leading advocate for Somali arts and culture, a pursuit that lasted a lifetime.

The primary genre in this collection is known as hees or heello, a modern form of sung poetry accompanied by, depending on the era, hand clapping, frame drums, and other musical instruments, such as the electric piano/synthesizer, organ, guitar, end-blown flute, clarinet, saxophone, violin, and Arab lute (kaman in Somali or ‘ud in Arabic). Other notable genres include qaraami and praise songs for the Prophet. Many of the genre names used to refer to Somali songs overlap in their usage depending on a number of factors, including time period.

Most of these recordings are songs of the nationalist period (1955-1974), a period after which the military regime (1969-1991) became increasingly oppressive. During this time, the emergence and success of the popular song had much to do with the roles the radio stations in cities like Mogadishu and Hargeisa assumed in the period leading up to and following independence, in addition to the Somali government’s investment, albeit meager, in the cultural production of poets, playwrights, singers, and musicians.

Somalia is unique among East African countries, or the rest of the world for that matter, in its cultural unity through language. While the country is and has been fraught with political disunity, culture has bound them together. The songs in this collection reflect this unity and the importance of song in times of political and social struggle.

Maryan Omar Ali was born in Djibouti and grew up in neighboring Somalia.

One of the most important functions of popular music in the tumultuous decades from the 1950s to the 1990s involved the ability of artists to weave together tradition with modernity in the face of change and instability. Many artists used popular songs as a call to action for unity in as a remedy for tribalism.  Some of the songs preached unity through themes of Qaranimo, or Somali nationalism, calling for allegiance to the state. Other songs spread ideas of uniting under Islam, charging individuals to look toward the ‘umma (global Islamic community) as a solution to clan rivalry and civil war.

Photo of Lidwien Kapteijns (courtesy Wellesley College)

Another important component of the songs in this collection is the presence of powerful female voices in a patriarchal society. In her book, Women’s Voices in a Man’s World: Women and the Pastoral Tradition in Northern Somali Orature, c. 1899-1980 (1999), Lidwien Kapteijns writes about the nuanced ways in which poetry, including sung poetry and the popular songs of this collection, give voice to female subversion of this patriarchy, highlighting the importance of women in Somali society.  Many of the love and lament-themed songs that form the qaraami genre were frowned upon by religious authorities and conservative society, especially in the 1950s and 1960s. Mixed gender dancing and socialization, women on stage, and themes of love and desire were viewed as irreverent. Thus, the women who made a living performing this music were particularly vulnerable to oppression. Pressing on, many singers throughout the decades, those such as Magool and Sahra Axmed–both featured in this collection–were heroic in their efforts to change conceptions of art, gender relations, and cultural unity. For more on individual artists and songs in the collection, and suggested readings and resources, here is a link to the finding aid to the Maryan “Aryette” Omar Ali Collection.

 

Written by: Joe Kinzer, Senior Curatorial Assistant, Archive of World Music

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