Among the most popular Arab singers of all time (maybe even to be included into the club of the Great Four of Arabic music), Abdel Halim Hafez was and still very much is an icon. That kind of ‘icon’ whose songs influence revolutions, like the 2011 Egyptian revolution – 35 years after his death.
His early life and music career could have been that of a Edith Piaf – only he was an orphan living in extremely poor Cairo, and not Paris.
Like Piaf, Hafez was rejected for his style of singing in the early days of his career but moved on to become enjoyed by all generations. Unlike the French icon, the ‘King of Arabic Music’ never or rarely recorded a studio album, always performing in sold-out arenas and stadiums; sometimes with him playing many different instruments as well.
You have heard him – not just on your trip to any part of the Middle East. You wonder when? Whenever you listen to Jay Z’s ‘Big Pimpin’, know that producer Timbaland used two complete bars from Hafez’ song ‘Khosara’. (In fact, Jay Z is currently facing legal drama over this.) Listen below.
“You know I, thug em, fuck em, love em, leave em. Cause I don’t fucking need em“: The ode to the ‘pimping’ lifestyle, meaning sex with girls without becoming emotionally attached to them – I’m quoting rap genius – Jay Z’s ‘Big Pimpin’ is not unfamiliar to your ears.
Hafez used the same melody decades earlier. I translated (and summed up) the lyrics for you. Let’s see what meaning he gave to the song as opposed to his admirer. Listen below.
What a loss, what a loss
Your separation, oh neighbour
My eyes are weeping for you with bitterness
What a loss
Every day I’ve been searching for you
Only to find out that I see life through you
My eyes are sleepless
My tears are bewildered
What a loss, what a shame
We forgive Jay Z though. Jay has reportedly expressed embarrassment for and disclaimed the song’s subject in years since: “I can’t believe I said that, and kept saying it. What kind of animal would say this sort of thing?” Hafez certainly wouldn’t.