Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Book Review

Book Review: My Journey: The Private Memoirs of Mohamed Abdel Wahab (رحلتى: الأوراق الخاصة جدا) edited by Farouk Goweida: Egyptian composer Mohamed Abdel Wahab has always been a controversial and enigmatic figure. He has been described as an obsessive-compulsive, hypochondriac perfectionist, as well as a radical (and sometimes even a "criminal"), mainly because of his penchant for "westernizing" Arabic music. He was the first Arabic composer to incorporate "Western" String instruments into his arrangements, and he was the first to introduce Rock'n'Roll rhythms into Arabic compositions. His detractors loathed him, and his fans (all around the world) adored him. To this day, he is considered one of the most important composers of the 20th century, for bringing Classical Arabic Music to the attention of the world, and because of his internationalist views.

My Journey: The Private Memoirs, gives Art Buffs, musicologists, Abdel Wahab's fans, and even his detractors a chance to know his "true" opinions, and, most importantly, to really get to know the man behind some of the most important musical achievements of the past century.

Abdel Wahab, in his own words, comes off as a complicated, obsessive man, whose only true love in life was his music, which, throughout the book, he calls his "mistress." He comes off as an intelligent, progressive thinker (for the most part, anyway), whose opinions - which, for the most part, he kept to himself - range from logical to shocking. His opinion of women, for example, is sure to ruffle the feathers of feminists, and his political leanings are sure to surprise many (he calls Nasser a deceitful liar who duped the Egyptian public). But, again and again, his love and respect for his art form is the thing that truly shines through. And his undying desire to modernize Arabic music and to merge it with the European principles of "harmony" and "melody," show him to be a true genius, whose passion for music is genuine and contagious. Some of his comments, especially the ones he wrote in his final years, have proven to be prophetic, as he describes the art scene in Egypt as chaotic, fueled by the need to make money not art. He also scolds both the Egyptian Government and the Egyptian public for letting the country's artistic product decline in quality, as he calls the relationship between the audience and the artist a "symbiotic" one: one can't survive without the other.

Although many of Abdel Wahab's comments and opinions are sure to ruffle some feathers, this is a fascinating read which gives readers a rare glimpse inside the mind of one of Egypt's most important artists and, arguably, its most important musician. A must read.

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