Sheikh Sayed El-Safti – Ala fi Sabil Allah

December 1, 2008

el-saftiToday’s post brings me back to my favorite music from Egypt – that is, classical works from the era before electricity. Yes, they sound far, far away, but the magic contained therein is worth the effort.

The renowned singer Sheikh Sayed El-Safti* (1875-1939) apparently began recording as early as 1907, possibly for the German independent Favourite label at first. Around ca. 1913 he recorded at least 2 dozen records for the Odeon company. He also recorded for Pathé ca. 1926, Polyphon, Columbia, and the Lebanese independent label Baidaphon in the late 1920s. His last recordings appear to have been ca. 1931.

El-Safti specialized in several song types: the mawwal, a non-metric vocal improvisation on 4-7 lines of colloquial text, the dawr, a song type from the 19th century noted for the choral responses that occur in response to the soloist’s improvisation in its second part (the ghusn), and the muwashah, a strophic song type in classical Arabic which originated in Al-Andalus. (These are simplistic definitions for what is a deep and detailed school of music, but I offer them to illustrate El-Safti’s virtuosity.)

This piece, however, is a qasida –  a classical Arabic poem. It’s English translation is “In the Path of God.” El-Safti is accompanied here by a small ensemble of violin, kanun, and ney. As to when it was recorded, it’s difficult to say. It was released on the German Parlophon label, which may (or may not) indicate that it was originally released on another German label (Baidaphon, Beka – perhaps even Odeon or Favourite). Therefore it truly could have been recorded anytime between ca. 1907 and ca. 1925 – a fascinating time in terms of recorded music in the Middle East.

Sheikh Sayed El-Safti – Ala fi Sabil Allah

Technical Notes
Label: Parlophone
Issue Number: Bx 5708-I
Matrix Number: 1344

* Also commonly spelled Sayyid al-Safti, Said el Safti and Sayed Safti.

6 Responses to “Sheikh Sayed El-Safti – Ala fi Sabil Allah”

  1. tony said

    great side here – thanks again jonathan – you’re the best! you are my soundtrack!

  2. bolingo said

    Thanks for a lovely post again!

    I guess you know about the AAA 176 CD-reissue of Shaykh Sayyid al-Saftî –
    Les Archives de la Musique Arabe – Cafés chantants du Caire – Vol. 3
    compiled by the great french musicologist Frédéric Lagrange.

    the tracks reissued there where:

    01 Ya mimati [x] (x) 3:13
    02 Wa-haqq man atala’ak [x] (x) 3:17
    03 Qabl-e ma tmil [x] (x) 12:58
    04 Bil-ladhi askara [x] (x) 3:21
    05 Ta’ala ya khayal [x] (x) 3:25
    06 Kadni l-hawa [x] (x) 10:41
    07 Lamma bada yatathanna [x] (x) 3:27
    08 El-lel aho tal [x] (x) 3:18
    09 El-qalb fe hobb el-hawa [x] (x) 13:06
    10 Ahwa qamaran [x] (x) 3:20
    11 Ya di l-gamal [x] (x) 6:10
    12 Hal’ala l-astar [x] (x) 6:27
    13 Hayyara l-afkar badri [x] (x) 4:03

  3. JW said

    Thanks very much! Bolingo is a favorite site of mine!

    I did know about that release, but I was under the assumption that it was out-of-print. Can you confirm that it is IN print? That would be great if it is…

  4. Bolingo said

    No, unfortunately! It looks as if you are right! You Can probably only find it if you find some shop that still has it by chanse. I sill ask Frederic if he knows some such place!
    Amicably yours. Bolingo.
    PS. It so happens that the excavated shellacs blog is a favourite of Bolingos’ 🙂

  5. Peter J. King said

    I’ve tried to download tracks from the FMA site, but have failed utterly; the best I can do is (after some messing about) play them. What am I missing?

  6. JW said

    Hi Peter –

    To the right of the song title, there is a “plus sign” icon, and an icon of an arrow pointing downward. The arrow is the download icon, and you should be able to download the file from there.

    JW

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