When disc recording technology arrived in Egypt in 1903, much of the Arab world had been experiencing a cultural, political, and social "awakening" (the "nadha") that had been intrinsic to literary and artistic activities for over half a century. A flourishing trade in disc recordings in Cairo especially during the years preceding World War I documented the twilight years of this 19th century outpouring of highly elevated musical-poetic activity. Recordings made by the British Gramophone Company, the German Odeon label, and several smaller companies, the music of some exceptionally skilled singers working under the patronage of the most affluent were made available to Arabic-speaking listeners from a variety of social classes and backgrounds and in far-flung locations. So, it was possible, for instance, for the man born in Aleppo, Syria in the 19th century and living in New Jersey who collected the specific discs from which these restorations were made to have, at some considerable expense, stocked his household with the music of some of the greatest musicians of the Arab world and for his family to experience the pleasure of the sophisticated and complex art that might otherwise only have reached the highest strata of Egyptian and Ottoman society. The spread of sound recording technology and aesthetic choices made toward a popularizing and relatively simplified combined during the decades that followed these recordings so that when the generation represented here died off, the music changed significantly and was never really the same again.
Yusuf Al-Manyalawi was born in 1847 on Roda Island in central Cairo to a peasant family. He trained as a religious singer before transitioning to urban secular music. In 1877, Isma’il Pasha, the Turkish-speaking Khedive of Egypt, sent Manyalawi and Abu al-Hamuli to Constantinople where Manyalawi sang for the Ottoman sultan Abdulhamid and was exposed to the court music of the Porte. His primary income came for decades from the tin trade; a patron in the government had granted him a monopoly. A very serious and highly regarded artist, he was among the first Egyptian singers to have recorded, starting around 1905 with discs produced by the Beka company on an artist-specific label Sama al-Muliik (The Concert of Kings). He was a flagship artist for the Gramophone Company’s Cairo office for whom he recorded 175 sides from 1907-1910. About half of their artist fee budget was directed toward him during those years, and they kept many of his records in print for decades. Widely regarded as a genius, his recordings are exceptional in their deftness in handling both the technical and emotional aspects of his era’s style. He died on July 6, 1911.
The audience in recent decades for the performances of Manyalawi has expanded slightly from the elite cognoscenti class of Arab disc collectors to European and American listeners, largely through the research and reissue efforts of a circle of individuals, notably Frédéric Lagrange who produced the first CD dedicated to Manyalawi's work in France in 1993 (of which a couple performances overlap with this collection) and the Arab Music Archiving & Research Foundation, who produced a 10CD set of Manyalawi's complete recordings a decade ago. A broad listenership will always be hampered by the age of the recordings and the primitive technological methods used to make them, but we hope that by making the best restorations that we can and making them widely available those with the inclination can listen deeply into them, and experience the awe and wonder of this outrageously beautiful body of declamatory singing and consider its place in the ages between the songs of Al-Andalus and the ecstatic traditions of South and Central Asia.
released November 24, 2023
Track 1: 1907
Track 2: Jan. 24, 1909
Track 3: Jan. 30, 1909
Tracks 4-10: June 1910
Tracks 1-3: Frederick William Gaisberg (b. Washington, D.C., U.S.A , Jan 1, 1873: d. Hampstead, London, England, Sept. 5, 1951)
Tracks 4-10: Arthur Spottiswoode Clarke (b. Pewsey, Wiltshire, England 1885; d. Bedfont, Middlesex, England 1952)
Transfers (made at approximately 76.2 rpm), restorations, and notes by Ian Nagoski
For consistency's sake, we have retained transliterations of song titles used by the Gramophone Company as they appear in the discographical work of Alan Kelly (b. 1928; d. 2015), drawn from the files of the Gramophone Company. When titles do not appear in Kelly's work, or where there is further data on disc labels, we have used the transliterations as they appear on the original discs or supplemented the file names with any additional data from the discs. Our assumption is that readers of Arabic will know what is meant by the anachronistic transliterations and may find some interest in the antiquated style; readers of English may, in many cases, be able to find better transliterations elsewhere via the work of Arab Music Archiving and Reseach Foundation or Havard's Loeb library.
Recording dates and engineer data for the Grammophone Company material has also been drawn from Kelly's work.
Biographical data has largely been drawn from the Foundation for Arab Music Archiving & Research. www.amar-foundation.org
Ali Jihad Racy, "Record Industry and Egyptian Traditional Music: 1904-1932." Ethnomusicology, Vol. 20, No. 1. (Jan., 1976)
Ali Jihad Racy. Making Music in the Arab World: The Culture and Artistry of Tarab (Cambridge, 2003)