To give you a more visual feel for the era, here are a few choice YouTube links to clips from classic Egyptian films at the suggestion of a couple of Egyptian film specialist:
From Sami Shumays of the New York based Egyptian music ensemble Zikrayat. The group specializes in music from the golden age of Egyptian cinema:
I have a recommendation for a great evocative scene, it’s from from the 1957 film “Inta Habbibi” (You Are My Darling) starring Farid al-Atrash (arguably the biggest Singer-Actor star in Egyptian films at the time), and Shadia, and it’s a very cute scene where they decide that they have to pretend to like each other and get married, because they are being forced into it by family–so they’ll go along so that they can then divorce. the scene and song is great because it is a parody of love songs, sarcastic and exaggerated. from the audio perspective, it opens with conversation and talk-singing, and because it is a male-female duet, it has that variety.
From Margaret Farrell, PhD/DMA Programs in Music
CUNY Graduate Center:
Here is a link to a clip of Mohammed Abdel Wahab singing his tango-inspired song “Sahirtu minu al-layyali” (“You kept up all night”) in the 1935 film “Damu`a al-Hubb” (“Tears of Love”). It is not only musically interesting because of its hybrid nature but also in its function within the film. At this point in the film, Fikri (Abdel Wahhab) has lost his love interest to his former best friend who has lured her into a life of Western decadence. He has pursued a career as a singer and thus this performance is a fulfillment of his professional aspirations. It is also an expression of his emotional anguish over his lost love and a cinematic declaration of the power of the Egyptian media.
Now you have Abdel Wahab and Farid. To complete the big three you need Abdel Halim Hafiz, the “dark nightingale” of the 1950s and 60s. Here are links to a couple of clips from his films, with subtitles:
“La talumni” [“Don’t blame me”] – “Lahn al-Wafa'” [“Melody of Loyalty”](1954) – this was Abdel Halim’s star debut. It plays on his own life story as an orphan who made good. In this scene he has returned to the music school run by his adopted father and wanders into a practice room. I think it is significant in that the very first time Egyptians saw Abdel Halim on screen he sits down at a piano and begins to play it in a very Western manner. Overall, the film presents him as the model of the new Egyptian man, honorable, hard-working, and well-educated.
“Ahwak” [“I love you”]- “Binat al-Yom” [“Girls of Today”] (1957) – Abdel Halim spontaneously “composes” this song to words written by his love interest, played by Magda. This song is still popular with Egyptians and has become iconic. Also, the song was actually composed by Abdel Wahab. The film is a morality tale of the dangers of Westernization for the young girls of Egypt.