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Παρασκευή, 1 Ιουνίου 2007

ASMAHAN: THE GOLDEN VOICE

Asmahan was the only singer, it was said, who could ever compete with Umm Kulthoum, and Kulthoum was not afraid to say so herself. "Only Asmahan and I can reach a certain note," she once told King Fouad, as they sat in the living room of Umm Kulthoum's villa. As for Asmahan, her family refused to discuss Umm Kulthoum or the rumour that Umm Kulthoum had her killed out of jealousy. The fact is that many other people would have loved to kill her. We all remember that she worked with three international intelligence agencies and died in a car accident. She was killed at the age of 26 when the car she was riding in crashed into the River Nile. Many rumors and much controversy, comparable to that of Lady Diana, have surrounded her death. One of the most widely-accepted theories claims that she was murdered because of her role as a British spy.In 1941, at the height of World War II, she came back to Syria from Egypt on a secret mission: to convince her people in Jabal el-Druze to allow the British and Free French forces to enter Syria through their territory without a fight (Syria was under the Vichy France rule back then). The British and Free French promised the independence of Syria in return, and the Druze agreed. After the allies secured Syria, General De Gaulle visited Sweida (the capital of Jabal el-Druze) where he met Asmahan, his successful messenger.
More than any other personality in the world of Middle Eastern entertainment, Asmahan has fascinated those who have crossed her path in one way or another. Her life and the mystery surrounding her tragic death have nourished many a tale, and it has become practically impossible to tell where the legend begins and the truth ends. Other artistic celebrities whose lives and deaths have also been shrouded in mystery come to mind, Marilyn Monroe in particular and now maybe Soad Hosni.
Strangely enough, in the case of Asmahan, many foreigners have fallen prey to this intense curiosity for a transient Oriental performer who occupied centre stage in Egypt for only a few years. They are mesmerised by her strange beauty, bewitched by the special qualities of her voice or terminally attracted by the inscrutability surrounding her "political career" and her untimely demise. One is tempted to ascribe this fascination to Asmahan's position as a bridge between East and West, but there is obviously more than her role as mediator at stake. Her real name is Amal Al Atrache. Sister of the Great Farid El Atrache. Their parents are Princess Alia and Prince Fahd Al Atrache.
After the great success that Farid had been in the national radio station as a singer, his sister's talent was discovered by Mouhammad Al Qasabji, and she was given, by Daoud Housni(who later took care of training her), a classy name, Asmahan.Like the older members of the family, she came from the Djebel Druse where her forebears were the Emirs until Lebanon and Syria became a French mandate.She dominated the musical scene in Cairo during the late 1930's and early 1940's. Her songs were composed by the best Egyptian musicians of the time, such as Muhammad al-Qasabji, Midhat Assem, Riad al-Sombati, Abdel Wahab and her brother Farid al-Atrache. Her style of singing was to enrich the Arabic song by opening a window to the music of the Western World, without obliterating the fundamental difference between the two sorts of music. Throughout her short but stormy life, she was a figure of glamour and intrigue until her controvercial death in 1944.Asmahan married her cousin, Prince Hassan al-Atrash in Syria, in 1933, and gave birth to a daughter, Camellia. She lived in Sweida, her home town, where people dubbed her "The Princess of the Mountain" (of Jabal el Druze mountain).
Her marriage ended in divorce four years later. After that she returned to Cairo and resumed her singing career, where she married the director Ahmed Baderkhan, but they were soon divorced. In 1941 she went back to Syria and re-married her cousin Hassan for a short time. Finally, she married the director Ahmed Salem.Her house in Syria is located in the French Quarter of Sweida. Years after her death, that house was seized by the Syrian government, and became – like much of the French Quarter – a property of the Syrian Army. It took the government sixty-two years to give in to the demands to turn the house into a museum for Asmahan and Farid.

The Ministry of Tourism acquired the house in September 2006, but work on it has yet to start.

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