The late Abdelhalim Hafez is an icon of mid-20th century Arabic music. Like Elvis in the United States, Hafez has accrued a massive following of fans in Egypt and abroad, with fans affectionately referring to him under the one word moniker “Halim.”
His romantic songs are long, up to fourteen minutes, with five-minute musical interludes. For ex-pats and Arab Americans, his songs are especially nostalgic, a lot of times reminding them of their childhoods. This past December, the San Francisco Arabic music ensemble Aswat held a live concert and sing-along of Halim’s popular songs in San Mateo. I attended the concert with my family and asked attendees what Halim means to them, especially when they are so far away from home.
HANA BABA: Which one are you looking forward most to singing along to, that has maybe a special meaning?
JUMANA HASSAN: “Sawwah,” where he’s walking in the desert ... He takes you away from it all, but he brings you home. To your homeland, and to your soul.
Aswat's next performance is coming up in June. It's called Aleppo Live and will feature traditional music from Syria, led by Syrian maestro Eljarrah. Visit Aswat's website to find out more about participating