For a one volume overview of 20th century Arab classical vocal music, you can't do better than The Story of Arabic Song. The nine artists included on the CD are Mohamed Abdou, Oum Kalsoum, Fairuz, Abdel Halim Hafez, Farid El Atrache, Layla Murad, Wadih El Safi, Mohamed Abdel Wahab and Talal El Madaah. One could argue that with the possible exclusion of Warda, this represents the pantheon of the pan-Arabic superstars, at least for the older generation.
Many of the artists on this anthology recorded their major work for the EMI Music Arabic label in the 1970s. If you listen to the CDs opening track, Mohamed Abdou's "Ayouh," you can hear all the elements of mainstream Arabic song: lush full orchestras, vibrant Eastern rhythms, singers spinning out emotional vocal ornamentation and texts about unrequited love. Do you hear the echoes of Rossini in Mohamed Abdel Wahab's "Yalli Naweit Tishghilni"? That's not unusual since many of the Arabic composers of the 60s and 70s used Western classical melodies in their compositions. Wahab and the Rahbani Brothers, who composed for Fairuz, were notable for their incorporation of Western styles.
One could have wished for better liner notes and more definitive artist selections. How could any Arabic song anthology have limited the one Oum Kalsoum selection to a relatively lightweight three-minute piece?
If this volume sparks your interest, follow up with Hemisphere's Fairuz and Warda releases, or check out the many EMI and Voice of Lebanon recordings by the artists included in this volume. -Aaron Howard
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