Abd al-Hayy Hilmi (ca. 1857-1912)

Abd al-Hayy Hilmî was born circa 1857 in Banî Suwayf. Middle Egypt. He was able to meet the greatest voices of the late l9th century during the private concerts organized by his employer, a wealthy Alexandrian merchant. He was particularly introduced to secular art singing by Abduh al-Hâmûlî, with whom he worked as a madhhabgî chorist. He was then granted the right to perform as a soloist before an audience, accompanied by a takht-ensemble, by the head Shaykh of Cairo s musician guild. Through constant contact with the milieu, he eventually mastered a large repertoire, ranging from aduâr composed by court patronized musicians to qasida-classical poems, which were introduced into secular music by former sûfi cantors such as Shaykh Yûsuf al-Manyalâwî (1847- 1911). CDA record AAA 065). Abd al-Hayy was to include in his sophisticated repertoire some taqtûga's, light popular ditties usually sung by awâlim (female singers) for marriage parties, which his eclectic talent transfigured.

Not quite as aristocratically oriented as Hamûlî or Manyalâwî. Hilmî was among the first major singers to perform for paying audiences in outdoor public concerts or in the prestigious café chantants of Azbakiyya Square in Cairo. He was nevertheless a dazzling attraction for upper-class salons, and sung for Ottoman princes in 1910.

A seductive coquettish man, whose stylish Parisian tastes ruined his protectors. Abd al-Hayy was to become the spoilt child of Egyptian high society at the turn of the century. He was noted for his odd manners: He would leave the concert he was hired for if he failed to notice among the audience a pleasant-looking face, be it male or female, and prefer to sing for handsome strangers.
An inveterate drinker, he would also use various drugs to reach the state of xaltal1a, necessary to unleash his extemporizing creativity. He died in Alexandria on 14/4/1912, prematurely aged by his excesses, after heavily overindulging in turtle and liquors during a feast...

A whimsical character in life, so was Abd al-Hayy in his an His renditions of the most popular aduâr are striking in their liberty of Manyalâwî. Abd al-Hayy exposes the compositions to his own mania, summing up the introduction, livening up the composed thread of the melody, neglecting entire sections of the canvas so as to privilege one verse, one standstill in a particular modal color, to which he adds a tragic and hallucinated touch, displaying a wide range of virtuose effects expressing emotions, shifting from long melodic phrases to a jerky staccato, interrupting the instruments with another dramatic piece of embroidery over the heady main theme.

A self-taught artist in learned tradition. Abd al-Hayy insisted on ignoring the rules: his lack of respect for rhythm and composition is well-known, and laid him open to harsh criticism from Rigorists, who felt an inferiority complex toward the western sanctification of the composers role, and tended to privilege the letter over rendition opens up new fields of prospective musical developments, in works that only reveal their value when inspiring variations. His ardor naturally finds its best expression in mauwâls, where non-metrical improvisation in the framework of a Inaqâm is the only rule. In this field, he remains unmatchable.

A successful record-selling artist, he was first hired by Zonophon in 1906, cutting his best discs ever in spite of poor technical value. He then collaborated with the companies installed in Egypt until his death. Often recording the same works many times a year for the British Gramophone. Odéon and Baidaphon. This bohemian, prodigal sybarite would receive from the companies important emolument, squander it, and then be forced to refund it in terms of recordings, which is why he once mischievously added at the end of a qasîda named curses against the Gramophone Company, that went unnoticed.

This CD includes a selection of early tracks, dating 1908-1910, except title 6.

1- Arâka asiyya d-dam i (I see you reluctant to tears),
January 1908. Qasîda (classical poem) by Abû Firâs al-Hamdânî (Syrian poet and knight. 932-968): metric semi-improvisatory song on maqâm bayyâtî, accompaniment by Ibrâhîm Sahlûn (1858-1920) on the violin, Muhammad Ibrâhîm on the zither-qânun. Alî Sâlih on the flute-nay!

2- Gamîl Zamânak (Beauty of your time)
January 1908. Dawr (poem in colloquial arabic sung on a metric melody, with a composed ouverture and semi-composed development), composed by Abd al Rahîm al-Maslûb (d. 1998) on maqâm balâti. Accompaniment by Sahlûn. Muhammad Ibrâhîm. Alî Sâlih.

3- Yâ hâdiya l- îs khallîni asîr wahdi i cameleer, let me wander alone),
January 1909. Mawwâl (poem in colloquial arabic. non metric extemporization) on maqâm lardâll. Accompaniment by Muhammad Umar.

4- Ilâ muhayyâka nûr al-badr ya tadhiru (The moon is pale before your face),
May 1910. Qasîda by Shaykh Muhammad alKinjî (a Sûfî from Damascus. 1791-1866). nonmetric song on maqâm r âst shûral. Accompaniment by Sâmî al-Shawwâ (18491965) on the violin and Muhammad al Aqqâd (1849-19l9) on the qânûn.

5- Sabaht-e men eshqak ashki (Complaining about your love),
January 1908. Dawr composed by Muhammad Uthmân (18551900) on maqâm gahârkâh. Accompaniment by Sahlûn and Muhammad Ibrâhîm.

6- El-fagr aho lâh (Dawn is rising),
circa 1910. Mawwâl improvised on maqâm higâ . Accompaniment by Ibrâhîm Sahlûn.

7- Malîk el-hosn fe dawlet gamâlo (Sovereign of beauty in the kingdom of splendors),
May 1910. Dawr written by Muhammad al-Darwîsh. composed by Abduh al-Hâmûlî on maqam higâ lar. Accompaniement by Sâmî al-ShawvVâ and Muhammad al- Aqqâd.

8- Yâ nahîf al-qawâm / Khaddak wardî (your slender waist / The rose of your cheek), Januarv 1909. Two muwashshahât linked together. ancient anonymous compositions on maqâm )11 hllc.am. rythm sama l thaqll 10/8 and nahda 414. Accompaniment bv Sahlûn. Muhammad Ibrâhîm. Alî Sâlîh.

9- Qâdi l-gharâm yensefak (May the judge of love dispense justice to vou), January 1908. Layâlî (extemporization on the words la lêl la en . night eye) and mawwâl on maqam huzâm. Accompaniement on zither-qanûn by Muhammad Ibrâhîm.

10- Nûr el-uyûn sharraf w bân (Light of my eyes, he came to visit me), May 1910. Anonymous dawr composed by Muhammad DUthmân on maqâm hu am. Accompaniment by Shawwâ and Aqqâd.

Frédéric Lagrange, October 1993

(Translated with the help of H. De Ligny)

From: Artistes Arabes Associès AAA 075
Les Archives de la Musique Arabe - Abd a-Hayy Hilmi

Edited and published to these webpages with the autours permission
by Lars Fredriksson <mrfung@nada.kth.se>

Copyright belongs to the author