Ibrahim Sayed Fawzy asked Egyptian author Hamdi Abu Golayyel for a playlist of Bedouin songs that readers can listen to as they devour The Men Who Swallowed the Sun.
Abu Golayyel recommended:
Awad Bu Abd el-Gader (or Bu Gaddoura) el-Malki was a renowned Bedouin singer who wrote his own lyrics and tunes. He had a voice like thunder. He was distinguished by his good looks, his sartorial elegance, and his overwhelming courtesy, and he was greatly loved by the young Bedouin of both Egypt and Libya. My generation thought of him as the Abd el-Halim Hafez of the desert. He played the majruna and sang all the different kinds of Bedouin songs: the shteiwa, the alam, the ghinnawa and the gol elajwad, excelling particularly at the alam. It seems, though, that his words and tunes went unnoticed in the barren desert, so he returned to his home ground and became the star singer at Bedouin weddings from Alexandria to Aswan and issued dozens of tapes. His strong, flexible voice rang out in every dialect and to every rhythm, and he formed a professional Bedouin band and became well-known. He developed Bedouin song and made it more diverse, with new tunes and instruments such as the lute and the violin, never before used in the history of western Bedouin song in Egypt.
His song ‘Walking on the Shore at el-Maamoura,’ is set in Alexandria, where he was born:
Walking on the shore at el-Maamoura
I was met by a cute young signora
I matched my steps to hers
And forgot I was Bu Gaddoura
Awad el-Malki came to Libya to attend two events: the 1st of September holiday and Muammar Gaddafi’s demolition, for the first time in history, of the gates at the Egypt-Libya border, and he sang for Gaddafi and for all of Libya:
First, on the Great Masses’ name I call—
before the world it said, No more!
Second, on Libya’s own name I call—
above all men your glories soar!
Third, on your people’s socialism I call—
humiliation they abhor!
In The Men Who Swallowed the Sun, an apartment owner used to wake up in the morning at exactly ten, put on a down-and-dirty Egyptian song, turn up the volume to the max, and spend a whole hour in the bathroom. When El-Zaim went to the apartment to take the suitcase (with twelve thousand euros inside) out from under the bed, the apartment owner was listening to a song by Hasan el-Asmar at top volume.
Hassan el-Asmar was an Egyptian popular singer (1959–2011), at the height of his fame in the 1970s and 1980s. I imagine the apartment owner listening to this song by el-Asmar, although it’s not a Bedouin song:
There were large numbers of the Saad-Shin from the deserts of Mersa Matrouh—a town on Egypt’s western coast, close to the Libyan border—and Alexandria. The Bedouin of Mersa Matrouh and of the west in general certainly enjoy greater happiness and peace of mind than those of the Sinai desert, who face the ever-present threat of being blown to smithereens. In his son ‘Matrouh,’ Khamis Naji, a Libyan singer who lives in Alexandria, Egypt,ـ shows his love for this beautiful city:
Ibrahim Fawzy is an emerging translator. He holds an MA in Comparative Literature (2021). His translations, reviews and interviews have appeared or are forthcoming in ArabLit Quarterly, Words Without Borders, The Markaz Review, Modern Poetry in Translation, Poetry Birmingham Literary Journal, and elsewhere. He is currently an editorial assistant at Rowayat, and podcasts at New Books Network. In 2023, he finished a six-month mentorship with the British National Centre for Writing as part of their Emerging Literary Translators program, where he was mentored by Sawad Hussain.