The Romance of the Rumba Years

A true fiction about Badia Masabni's last day in Cairo - 1951

By Amina Goodyear November 2017


Badia rode a taxi through the trees and lakes of Ezbekiya Park, went west about a block or so, and stopped in front of the Shepheard’s on Kamal Pasha Street. The Shepheard’s Hotel. The very symbol of wealth, power and colonialism. The hotel where the Brits and the beautiful people congregated, including the King. The hotel where she at one time performed before she opened her salat (nightclubs). 

The Shepheard’s Hotel. How very sweetly bittersweet that it would be here that she would say farewell to her friends. She walked up the eight steps to the veranda and was greeted warmly by her friend Malek, the regally white garbed black Nubian doorman who had worked at the Shepheard’s since the old days when it was his job to keep the entrance inviting…to clean, to wash and polish the stone floors, the staircase and the two Memphis sphinxes flanking the grand entrance. It was still his job to make the entrance inviting but now with his seniority, he merely  stood beside the sphinxes and welcomed the guests. “Ahlan, Ahlan, etfadalu.” Yes, many years had passed.

She had come early so she could sit outside under the glass canopied veranda with an qahwa ziadah and a shisha to people watch and reflect on the days and years that had passed. There would be plenty of time to drink later. She wondered who would be coming to her going away party. She hadn’t gone yet and hadn’t seen most of them for years but already she was missing them and already she was missing Cairo.

“Take me back to Cairo

Beside the river Nile

My heart belongs to Cairo, Oh Cairo

Where I have found my smile”1

It was approaching twilight and the street was congested with traffic.  Automobiles honking and beeping; carts and hantours with the drivers snapping whips and the horses and donkeys replying with snorts and brays. The pedestrians contributed to the general buzz of busyness, talking and laughing while the vendors on the streets and the adjoining shops yelled and sang of their wares. It was a true circus of entertainment and the world paraded past with snake charmers, street dancers, flower sellers, ‘erk soos (licorice drink) vendors singing out their little ditties “adi l’agab, halawa min khashab, ya ‘erk soos khamir” (here is an amazing thing, candy made from wood, fermented ‘erk soos), acrobats, wild animals on leashes, vendors hawking lib (watermelon seeds) and dora (corn). There was even a photographer willing to methodically record the chaos.

Badia sipped her coffee and upon finishing it, she turned the cup over. What new life was to be in store for her now that she had decided to leave?

“There is a saying that came out from the Sahara

That if you ever taste the water of the Nile

You will return again I heard it from Samara

Although you may be far away many a mile”1

She hadn’t left yet and already the waters of the Nile were calling her back. But, she had to go. There was no question about it and it was no use to even think differently. It was her nasib (destiny). She was finished here. She had acted, she had sung, she had played, she had danced and she had partied – hard! The grounds told her that her life here was over and that she would be taking a trip across the waters. But what of the waters of the Nile? 

She was to leave her beloved Cairo but she had left her mark.  Now some of her old friends – friends? - had arranged to honor her with a party. She wondered who would be coming. Interesting. Now that she was down and out, now they decided to remember her. Now that they had gone on with their lives and achieved fame, fortune and maybe even love, now they suddenly remembered her. Was this to be a sad party? Were they going to reminisce? Or was this to be a happy farewell as in “happy to see you go.” Was it going to be a toast or a roast?

Beba and Antoine had already seen to the demise of her clubs. And Nagib (al Rihani) Oh dear Nagib had too many problems, money and otherwise, even though he had dearly loved her till the end. His end. Nagib, her dear Nagib. Next to the stage, he was the love of her life. He was the Stage, and he was her Love and he was her Heart. Now without Nagib, without his life breathing life into hers, was there a reason to stay?

“Take me back to Cairo

Beneath the silver moon

I left my heart in Cairo, Oh Cairo

The day I heard this tune"1

She still had her fine Parisian silks and Turkish brocades and had chosen to wear them this evening. She would party in style. Gone were the jewels and furs. She had lost them long ago, along with her furniture. But who was she fooling anyway? She was destitute, thanks to Beba and other circumstances, and they all knew it. But she would not let anyone see her desperations. Except Nagib. But he was gone. Could it be two years already? Yes, it was time to go home. Back to Lebanon and her roots. She would live out the rest of the years among the cedar trees in relative seclusion with memories of happier times.

The first to arrive was her oldest and dearest friend, Ismail (Yassin).  Ismail, who could make people laugh without even trying. Ismail who wanted to be a singer but lacking the heart-throb appeal, instead went on to become a comedian…a monologist, a character, a comic relief in her club. Ismail, who would sometimes appear in drag singing and dancing better than some of her beauties. 

She had wonderful revues where her dancers would gracefully float in unison onto the stage like a formation of migrating tropical birds or a slithering glimmering school of colorful fish. Through her disciplined teaching and choreography (a relatively new concept in the world of Oriental dance), the glistening bejeweled dancers would whirl and spin their shimmering costumed bodies and veils as in a vortex, drawing in and captivating the audience with luminous colors of Oriental fantasy. Now seeing Ismail, she smiled, remembering how he would sometimes appear from within the whirling mass of dancers and do a “solo”. He would not dance with a veil…yet. In his solo, his veil (used to pad his bra) would be slowly pulled out of his bra to begin the start of a hilariously funny dance routine. 

Darling, sweet Ismail. It may have been unfortunate that he had a face like he had – but then it was fortunate that his face allowed him to access his other talents. Now he was on the way to becoming one of the most popular film stars in Masr. Already he had starred in over fifteen films and his popularity had not even peaked. Thanks to his face. Thanks to his talents. Thanks to Badia for believing in him and giving him 10 years of experience.

 “I am not afraid of death. I prepared hundreds  of jokes for it, and I’ll die like I ever survived:  laughing.”2

Following Ismail, but slightly delayed by paparazzi and fans clamoring for autographs and photo ops, was Taheyya (Karioka) who was a co-star in many of Ismail’s films. Prior to that, she had worked with Ismail at Badia’s clubs. Taheyya, her protégé, was adorned from head to toe in chic-ness.  She was wearing a burgundy red cloche hat reminiscent of the days when she first started dancing at Casino Badia. Could it be that the now successful, powerful and political Taheyya was sentimental about her roots? Taheyya’s red fox wrap slung lazily off one shoulder revealing a modestly appointed, yet fitted, black and silver lame’ dress, short to the knees, typical of the times. Clacking her platform heels rhythmically like claves across the slick marble floor of the terrace with the flared hem of her beaded dress playing and swishing like maracas, she continued to laugh and chat with her hangers-on as she bent over to greet and kiss Badia on both cheeks.

 Taheyya, forever the opportunist, playing one side against another…be it the Allies or the Axis, be it the fans or the employers, be it one husband or another, be it the cinema or the theater stage. Taheyya wanted it all and seemed to get it all. She could manipulate with her smiling sparkling eyes, her carmine red lips always slightly open and inviting…always slightly gasping or sighing. She was poetry in motion and she always knew that her audience, fans knew it.



Hayati Lasmar

Ahebu Lasmar

Hayati Lasmar

Habibi Lasmar”3

Now with her friends Ismail and Taheyya in tow, Badia decided to enter the opulent hotel and traverse the lobby past the twenty four illuminated alabaster pillars casting eerie shadows on the glistening marble floor, past the pharaonic murals of dancing girls, past the Grill Room and the Ballroom, past the now finally co-ed Long Bar where Rommel had tried to mix with the Allies (“Wait till he tries to get served at the Long Bar.”), and at last into the Moorish Hall.

“We never went west of Gezira

We never went north of the Nile

We never went past the Pyramids

Out of sight of the Sphinx’s smile.

We fought the war at Shepheard’s

And the Continental bar

We reserved our punch for the Turf Club lunch

And they gave us the Africa Star.”4

What would be in store for her here? Who would be waiting for her here? At the far end of room with the mashrabiya playing light games with the shadows, she heard a lone instrument plucking…a voice silently singing. In the shadows, seated in a corner, playing an oud, legs casually crossed, elegantly attired with glossy black shoes, a dark grey cashmere pinstriped suit, a white rose in the boutonniere and a red tarboush crowning his head, was Mohamed (Abdel Wahab).  Proper Mohamed. Always hiding his poor background with his appearance, his high Arabic and mannerisms. Ahmad Shawqi had trained him well.

She knew that Ahmad the poet laureate who was Parisian educated, was quite established when he had “adopted” Mohamed the child.  Nevermind what people said. She had heard that Mohamed, at 7 or 8 years of age, had been a runaway, fast on his way to becoming a street urchin and that he didn’t care how he lived or how he looked; he only wanted to sing…to fulfill his young life’s passions. Ahmad told her that when he rescued Mohamed, that Mohamed had already lived an unstable life sleeping on hay with animals in a circus. And when he had found a more secure life, it was dressed as a girl…but at least he was singing. And it was a job.  

Ahmad told her that he could not stand seeing Mohamed being used, abused in such fashion and had decided to become his “godfather.” Badia knew that the older man, “The Prince of Poets,” introduced Mohamed to a new and better life. One of luxury. And that Ahmad had guided and mentored him in all things literary, musical, civilized and western. With Ahmad as his tutor, Mohamed learned manners, how to eat, what to eat, how to read, write and speak properly, how to dress…how to be European. In fact, with Ahmad, he even continued his studies in France, in the Latin Quarter learning to speak French like a native and wanting to, yearning to and learning to integrate western music with his eastern roots. 

“Gafnuhu... allamal ghazal

Gafnuhu, allamal ghazal

Wa min el aalmi mal qatal

faharaqna… ni fu sana

Fe gaheemi min el qobal…”5

Mohamed crooned softly, murmuring words, trying out sounds. Evoking emotions. Memories. Loves.

“Ya Habiibi,

yaaa Habiiibi, 

yaaaaa Haabiibi, 

yaaaa Haabiibiii.”5

How his voice traveled from one maqam to another. Easily. Smoothly. So much passion in the voice that seemed to be testing one mode or another. Mohamed was playing with the maqamat. At one point he almost stopped at an ah, or was it an ahgh. Badia had heard that his father, a muezzin and Qur’an reader at the Sha’rani mosque, had wanted his son to carry on the religious tradition. She knew that Mohamed was a precocious child wanting to sing and not chant the Qur’an. Mohamed had chanted the Qur’an his own way, experimenting with sounds. Sounds just like she heard him experiment tonight. Those sounds seemed to simultaneously give him pleasure and sorrow. She watched Mohamed gently rocking (memories of chanting the Qur’an?) as he made his body and the words have meter, have rhythm, have meaning. And the words traveled to a special place in her heart and body as a result of his experimentation with his vocal chords. The vibrations and sounds emitted were the specific tones of this maqam or that. And that was what was feeding his soul and her soul. Although it sounded a bit like gargling, a, ah, ahgh, aargh, ghaargh…it made her sad and happy at the same time.

“Ya Habibi, 

yaaaa Haabiiibi, 

yaaaa Haabiiibiii, 

yaaaaaaaaa yaaaa Habiibi.”5

The general feeling of the song was quite Arabic in style today. She remembered the song from his film “The White Rose.”  It was written close to twenty years ago when Mohamed left her and Casino Badia to strike out on his own. At that time it was considered strange, western, unique, visionary. Revolutionary. But to her, to Badia, it never was. 

She had spent her childhood in Lebanon, Argentina and Egypt. The song was a unique blend. Just like her life was a unique blend. Mohamed had learned the Latin percussive iqa (rhythm) from her and the Andalusian melodies, Arabic emotional maqamat and classical qasida (poetry) from her, from Ahmad, from his travels, from his dreams. He had internalized it all and created a new Arabic sound. This was the sound that had inspired others. These were her sounds and songs and she had applied singing and dancing to these songs. They appealed to the western sensitivity that was Egypt then and Egypt today and she was responsible.  

When she had opened Casino Badia and trained the girls to dance in a synchronous fashion, she had encouraged her dancers and musicians to adopt a more western style of singing and dancing. She had wanted her club to succeed - to appeal to everyone – to the  foreigners,to her special clientele,  the British and Australian officers, and also to the royal family. Yes. She wanted to blend the two cultures stylistically, rhythmically, musically. Her star dancer Taheyya, had become so smitten with the East/West idea that she even changed her name from Taheyya Mohamed to Taheyya Karioka. 

This was the same year that Mohamed starred in his film “The White Rose” which was the first “talkie” film that featured music and singing. This was the same year that Arabic music first fused with Latin music. Did he even realize her influence in this? This was back in 1933. Thanks to Mohamed. Thanks to herself. Thanks to living in Argentina. She should pat herself on the back for bringing back a bit of that Argentinian culture to Egypt.  

“Leh leh leh” 6

Tik-Tik – tiktik. Tik-Tik – tiktik. She had entered the room but had not yet sat down and just now noticed that behind her sat Mohamed (Fawzi) rhythmically hitting a spoon against his wine glass. Tik-Tik – tiktik. He, too, loved the Latin sounds.

“Leh leh leh, Illi shagal balli”6

Mohamed (Fawzi) seemed to look to Mohamed (Abdel Wahab) for inspiration. Just as Mohamed (Abdel Wahab) looked to Mohamed (al Qasabgi) his oud teacher, for mixing pure Oriental music with the newest foreign Western musical techniques. Mohamed, Mohamed and Mohamed. There were just too many Mohameds. And all had experienced their first rhythm and song from yet even another Mohamed…the foremost Mohamed,  the prophet Mohamed,  and the Qur’an. 

Then it was chanting and rhythmically rocking to reach ecstasy. Now it was singing and rhythmically dancing to reach ecstasy. And always there was composing. All these Mohameds had the need to compose…for themselves, for Badia, for Asmahan…for others. And in their ecstasy they mixed the sounds of the East with the sounds of the West. Especially the Latin sounds of the rumba and the tango. It was the Argentinian tango for Badia. Later they even composed for Om (Kalthoum) who did not seem to appreciate this deviation from the tradition. But Om would one day decide to join the modern music world. But not just yet. Soon, but not just yet.

Badia decided to let Abdel Wahab continue reminiscing in solitude and she joined Mohamed Fawzi at the bar. He was quite handsome. Of the typical tall, dark and handsome variety. Wanting to make up for his impoverished childhood, he now sported an elegant expensive debonair attitude with a very well-appointed attire. He was a self-made man of humble beginnings. Could he really have once been so poor? And with 24 siblings? Now as owner of Masrphone, he was powerful in the music business and recorded all the stars including the other Mohamed (Abdel Wahab) and Om. Too bad he was so much younger than Badia. But then, she couldn’t forget about Nagib. And besides, Mohamed (Fawzi) didn’t need anything from her. 

Why did she always seem to gravitate towards the men (and women) who wanted to take advantage of her? Why did she let them? Why did this pattern occur and recur again and again? It probably had to do with that terrible incident that had happened to her when she was just a child. Must she continually blame herself for the evil wrong-doings of others? Must the sins of others haunt her forever? No! It was time to go home to where it all began and find redemption with her innocence.

Sitting with Mohamed (Fawzi) and watching Taheyya and Ismail dance and clown around with the music, was Layla (Murad), another of her ex-employees. Layla had recently co-starred with her Nagib in “Ghazal al Banat”, Nagib’s last film. Layla, always quiet and lady-like, seemed a bit out of place at the Casino.  Although no one seemed to care that much about religious background at the Casino – after all Badia and Nagib were Christian and most of her singers and dancers were Muslim – Layla had decided that she would convert from her Jewish religion, from Judaism to Islam, to fit in and to marry.

 Didn’t Layla realize that with her dark beauty, her sweetness and her voice, Layla would always fit in? Layla was in the height of her career and even Badia, who seemed to know everything, didn’t know that Layla would soon, very soon, just stop. No explanations given, even though the public loved and wanted her. Who could foretell the future and know of what was to come? Of the revolution? Yes there were rumblings of that. There was displeasure with “the monster” as Farouk lovingly called him. Who could know of Nasser’s games and favoritisms? Who could know how fully Om would work at trying to influence and conquer Nasser and the world? Her world; their world of music. Yes, soon, very soon, Layla would stop singing. And Layla wasn’t and wouldn’t be the only one to stop singing or lose favor thanks to, or rather no thanks to the manipulations of that other woman, “the lady.”  

Badia heard singing, more singing. It wasn’t either of the Mohameds’ voices, but was another higher voice. It wasn’t Taheyya’s. She had taught Taheyya to sing as well as to dance.  And it wasn’t Layla’s voice either. The high voice belonged to a man,  Karem (Mahmoud), “The Melodious Knight.”  The young slightly chubby man was happily singing harmony with his tenor voice complementing Mohamed’s baritone. Karem had chosen to accompany Taheyya and Ismail onto the dance floor rather than to sit with Badia. Why did musicians and singers find it so difficult to chat and socialize? It seemed that they always preferred to sing and play rather than to interact with people.

Karem was a sweet, shy family man and it took a lot to get him out of the house. But he yearned to sing like Mohamed (Abdel Wahab) and now singing alongside his great master must have been the highlight of his evening. Of course, he had come to see her, Badia; but she believed that knowing that Mohamed (Abdel Wahab) was to be at the party was probably  the deciding factor that brought him here tonight. 

She also heard laughter and syncopated clapping or was it tapping? There wanting to join Karem, Taheyya and Ismail on the dance floor was Naima and Zeinat. They were off to the side, slightly hidden by an alabaster column. Two women giggling and conspiring. Trying to attract Ismail’s attention; finally resorting to dancing, tapping, cavorting and other silly nonsense. 

The younger one, Naima, had actually only worked for Badia for a short time. Badia loved her ability to dance – any style - and learn choreography, but her other dancers didn’t like the favoritism that Badia had shown her. They had ganged up on Naima – literally – but Naima, coming from a tough circus background had beaten them. Physically beaten them and had to leave to help Badia keep peace among the girls. It was too bad, Naima was tough like her. But…the show must go on. 

And Zeinat. She had known Zeinat just about as long as she had known Ismail. Zeinat had been with her beloved Nagib’s troupe just as she and Ismail had. Zeinat, a comic, a dancer, a monologist, had left the troupe and the Casino to work in the cinema. She already had been in about fifty films. But she was always a co-star, never a star. 

And there off to the side, slightly hidden by an alabaster pillar were  two women giggling and conspiring, trying to attract Ismail’s attention; finally resorting to tapping and cavorting and other silly nonsense.  

The last to arrive at her “party” was Farid (al Atrash) accompanied by vivacious Samia (Gamal). They had smiles on their faces and drinks in their hands…“The Suffering Bastard”7 was a specialty of the in crowd. The Long Bar at the Shepheard’s Hotel was the place to be seen and they knew it, so they had stopped in there first. But they had already been partying as they had spent the day at the Auberge in Giza and had continued partying in one of the tents by the pyramids – gambling, drinking with the King and his cohorts. 

Samia, Farid and the al Atrash family always seemed to be written up in magazines such as “Al Ithnayn”* where there were references to them with the royal family. Rumors were made in these rags. And rumors were often true. Samia and Farid were connected to each other, but also to the royalty. These people really knew how to have a good time. It was too bad that Asmahan (Amal al Atrash), “The Playgirl Princess,” – more rumors - was gone. Forever. Asmahan had a gift and her western trained operatic voice was so well suited to the tastes of her (Badia’s) fantasy revues. Ya ain, Yekhsara

But she had driven to the gardens of jannah where she would wait for and greet others. “Don’t you know who I am? Why I am the daughter of Fahd al Atrash and cousin to the Amir al Atrash and the Druze revolutionary hero Sultan al Atrash. You who amount to no one, come here and insult me?8

Badia wondered how Nagib would fare in Asmahan’s company. Badia’s dear Nagib, her Kish Kish Bey.9 He had left her to join Sayed (Darwish), “Founder of Modern Arabic Music,” and others, but volatile Asmahan would be there too.  Well, Nagib would wait for her (Badia) and her alone. He only partied with the stage, the cinema and with her, “Ghazal al Banat.”* Nagib, ya Nagib, ah, ya ain, ya Nagib.

With Asmahan gone and their mother gone, that left her brother Farid to continue the al Atrash singing legacy. 

“Imta hata’raf imta? Inni bahabbak imta?

Imta hata’raf, inni bahbbak, imta, imta, imta? 

Imta hata’raf imta, imta hata’raf?”10

 He was such a prolific artist. Besides composing, singing and acting with his sister, he also performed with Samia and Taheyya. Especially Samia.  There certainly was a magic that they shared that was more convincing than when he and Taheyya performed together. 

Samia, dressed in a slinky red satin gown with 5” high ankle strap heels, had just returned from another performance abroad. This time it was in Monte Carlo and she seemed to be making up for lost time, playing, dancing and drinking with royalty…Farid and the King’s party.  But Badia had heard a rumor that Samia was having a tryst with yet another king. Unable to marry Farid, her Druze prince, Samia would finally marry royalty, an American king, Shep King, a Texas oil mogul. 

All was complete now. These were her past employees. Her friends. Her family. Family doesn’t always get together often. Sometimes only weddings, births  and funerals. This was so true. Now they were getting together. Weddings, births, funerals? Ya ain! They had organized this going away party, to see her off  and perhaps to reminisce a bit. She had initially brought them together – given them their start at Casino Badia and Casino Opera and now this would be the last time they would all be together. She knew they had not come bearing gifts or money. Generosity was not Mohamed’s (Abdel Wahab) strong point and the others would follow suit not wishing to embarrass him and Farid seemed to always be in debt due to his habits. Well, it was good just to see them all together. Her family.

A few British and Australian officers had snuck in and were enjoying the drinks, the snacks and the music. 

It had finally turned into a party. She had pulled out her sagat and had enjoyed playing along with Mohamed’s (Fawzi) glass clinking, Karem’s clapping and singing, Taheyya’s dancing, Ismail’s cavorting, Naima’s tapping, Zeinat’s clowning and Farid and Samia’s drunken disruptions.

The party was fast becoming a ruckus so Mohamed (Abdel Wahab) stopped playing and walked over to join everyone at the other end of the room. 

Farid found this was a great opportunity to take Mohamed’s (Abdel Wahab) oud and he began strumming it. He really loved to show off his expertise. He was the ”King of the Oud!” His favorite piece to play was just a taqsim and he loved to show off his taqsim. It was his special oud taqsim that others had tried to emulate, but failed. It was very flamenco in flavor and his fingers flew as they plucked and strummed deliberately skipping strings and the fingers were flying faster and faster and faster.  He seemed to be showing off, not wanting to be upstaged by Mohamed “The Singer of Kings and Princes.” After all, he was Farid, true royalty. A Druze Prince and the “King of the Oud.”

Badia saw that Abdel Wahab was having problems with Farid’s burst of bravado. She knew that he didn’t want to be upstaged by the younger man who also was a composer and who Mohamed did not accept as a true Egyptian. She heard Mohamed sneak a glance towards Farid and mutter “ferengi” under his breath.  Then Mohamed approached her and told her that he wanted to thank her for giving him his start…for believing in him…for introducing him to the music and rhythms of Argentina. And that, combined with his travels to the Latin Quarter in Paris with Ahmad Shawki, had enabled him to find the key to fusing the music of the East with the West. He added that he and he alone, with a bit of her influence, had created the new sound.

Farid agreed. She was the key to the new sounds in what was to be known as the Golden Age of Egyptian music. The Golden Age of Cinema. The Golden Age of Belly Dance. But he looked at Mohamed challengingly as if to question who really created the sound.

Albi muftahu11

Then Mohamed (Abdel Wahab) with all the others by his side, took the rose from his buttoniere, kissed it and with a flourish, handed it to Badia.

Ya wardat al hob12

Badia saw that Abdel Wahab was conceding on her behalf as he formally stated  “On behalf of all your loyal fans, you who believed in us, we are forever in your debt and we honor you by dedicating this music and dance of the romantic years of rumba and tango to you. We have nothing to give you but all the music we sing and compose in this new form of Arabic music that will live on beyond you and beyond us.”  

Ya Gharam13

“This is our gift to you - your legacy to us and the world. Now bring on the dancing girls!”

And with this, out came the rest of Badia’s past – all her other musicians, singers and dancers. 

Simultaneously, as though they had mental telepathy, with a lot of fan fare and gaiety and noise, the King - King Farouk entered the room with his gang - (Antonio) Pulli Bey, his Royal Procurer and Karim Thabet. They had just been to the Pyramids – to the Auberge enjoying the floorshow and heard from Farid that there was to be a party for Badia at the Shepheard’s. To him, Badia meant girls, girls and more girls. He heard that Mohamed (Abdel Wahab ) was to be there too. Between Pulli and Mohamed, they’d for sure fix him up with some of the best girls. Badia watched King Farouk and the royal entourage enter the room and demand the  usual ringside table. Didn’t he know that this was a party for her? Not a show and orgy for his royal Highness? 

Khalas! She decided it was time to exit. Let everyone party for her, but she’d be gone – gone back to Lebanon where it all began.

Badia snuck out by the side door and found her waiting taxi willing to take her to the desert to meet the plane.

Once seated in the back seat, she started humming a little tune that she used to sing at Madame Jeanette’s Casino in Beirut before she had known Egypt, known Nagib, known happiness that turned to despair.

“Zuruni, kulli sanna marra haram

Tinssoni bil marra haram

Haram tinsooni bil marra”13

Yes, it was time. Time to forget. Time to not forget. Time to go back and remember. Haram. Tinsooni bil marra. Haram!

Take me back to Cairo

I’m sad and never smile

I must go back to Cairo, Oh Cairo

Just once again

To see-ee-ee the Nile

Take oh take me,

Take oh take me

Take oh take me back

To Cairo1


Ahmad Shawqi  (1868-1932)

“Prince of Poets”

Raised in a privileged setting of Turkish, Circassian, Arab roots and connected with the Khedive of Egypt, he was Egypt’s poet laureate with a European education. He mentored and guided Mohamed Abdel Wahab in his education and musical career.

Antoine – Badia’s nephew and manager who fell in love with Beba and helped to con Badia out of her clubs. After falling out with Beba. He regained Badia’s trust only to con her again.

Asmahan (1917-1944)

Amal al Atrash

“The Playgirl Princess”

Was Syrian/Lebanese/Druze royalty. Had numerous affairs including with the royal family in Egypt but married and involved in politics with royal Druze family. Mohamed el Qasabgi composed emta ha ta’raf 1944 same year she died. 

Badia Masabni (1894-1975)

Raped when about 7 or 8.

Family lived in shame, ultimately moving to Argentina where Badia was influenced by their music and dance, then back to Lebanon and ultimately as a young woman, moved to Egypt where she opened her first club - Casino Badia in 1926

Beba Ez El Dine – (1910-1950)

Used to work for Badia. Conned her out of her clubs. Was an Egyptian patriot and freedom fighter. Died in a car accident in 1950.

Farid al Atrash  (1910-1974)

“King of the Oud”

Of Syrian Druze royalty

Singer, composer, oud player, actor

Never married  “Marriage kills the artist talent.” 

King Farouk (1920-1965)

“The Boy King” 

Tenth ruler of the Mohamed Ali dynasty

A playboy, he always had a table reserved at all the clubs. Was overthrown in the Egyptian revolution by General Nasser in 1952.

Ismail Yassin (1915-1972)

Comedian/Actor wannabe singer. Worked as a parking valet as a child because his mother had died and his father was in jail. Started his career as a monologist in Badia’s troupe. Starred in over 50 movies, most of which included singing and dancing including many of the dancers from Badia’s casinos (such as Taheyya). He died of a heart attack and inspite of starring in more movies than just about anyone, was heavily in debt. 

Karem Mahmoud (1922-1995)

“The Melodious Knight”

Trained in religious verse, loved Sayed Darwish and Mohamed Abdel Wahab.

Told he would never make it as a singer by a teacher and he proved him wrong.

Last words (prior to dying after surgery): “Please guard my vocal cords throughout surgery.”

Layla Murad (1918-1995)

Selected over Om Kalthoum as the official singer of (1952) Egyptian revolution, however she was not favored over Om by Nasser and shortly after, she ended her career abruptly without giving an explanation.

Mohamed Abdel Wahab (1902-1991)

“Singer to Princes and Kings”

Most prolific Arabic composer of his time, composing over a thousand songs.

Although he started by composing traditional songs, he is most known for fusing western musical styles and instrumentation in his music. In his later years he began collaborating with another musical great – Om Kalthoum.

Mohamed Fawzi  (1918-1966)

Actor, singer, composer. Owned Masrphone Studio and recorded singers including Mohamed Abdel Wahab and Om Kalthoum.

Mohamed el Qasabgi (1892-1966)

“ Master of the oud”

Taught Mohamed Abdel Wahab 1920-1923

He formed his own band and 1924 and Om sang his music.

In 1933 Asmahan sang his music  1933

1948 he composed  his last song for Om. He nearly quit composing but stayed with Om’s orchestra until his death in 1966

Recognized as being the master of the new music spirit. Kept sense of pure Oriental music with the newest foreign western musical techniques.

Naima Akef  (1929-1966)

Came from a circus family of entertainers. She was my teacher’s sister (Fatima Akef). Worked briefly for Badia but went on to other clubs and finally to films.

Nagib el Rihani (1889-1949)

“The Father of Comedy”

Also known as Kish Kish Bey – Kish Kish Bey was a character in a play that Nagib al Rihani wrote and played who was an Omda, a village elder who loved the young (especially foreign) girls.

Theater owner, playwright, actor, comedian, on again, off again husband of Badia

Cairo born of Kurdish, Iraqi, Assyrian background. Was Coptic Christian. He died while filming one of Egypt’s most important films Ghazal el Banat.

Om Kalthoum (1898-1975)

“Our Lady, The Star of the East”

Began her singing career singing religious songs dressed as a boy.

Was known as Bint il beled, was a traditionalist

 Said Darwish  (1892-1923)

“Founder of Modern Arabic Music"

Singer, composer,  and leader of the cultural revolution. Wrote working class songs and was part of Nagib el Rihani’s troupe.

Samia Gamal (1924-1994)

Born Zaynab Ibrahim Mahfuz, she joined Badia’s troupe where Badia renamed her Samia Gamal. There she studied under Taheyya Karioka and also studied ballet and Latin dancing. Meeting Farid el Atrash (at Badia’s?) she eventually became his musical/film dance partner and also real life companion. However they never married because Farid said “Marriage kills artist talent.” In 1949 King Farouk named her “The National Dancer of Egypt.”

Taheyya Karioka (1919-1999)

Singer, Dancer, Actress, (appeared in over 30 films). Began her career as a chorus dancer for Badia and was known as Taheyya Mohamed. She was Badia’s protégé and because she included Brazilian dancing in her routines, her name changed to Taheyya Karioka. Was married 14 times.

Zeinat Sedki aka Zizi (1913-1978)

“Always a co-star, never a star”

Appeared in almost 150 films

Died poor and neglected.


1. Take me back to Cairo was a hit song in Egypt in the early 1960’s and was written and sung by Karim Shukry, a Canadian-Egyptian singer based on an old Egyptian folk song.

2. Quoted from Ismail Yassin.

3. Habibi Lasmar by Mohamed Abdel Wahab. In You Tube Samia Gamal watches Taheyya dance

Habibi al Asmar was also the name of a movie in which Taheyya starred with an ingénue dancer named Samia Gamal (also of Badia fame). 

4. ”Shepheard’s Hotel” by Nina Nelson, Barrie, 1960. “It was not people who lent atmosphere to Shepheard’s, but Shepheard’s to them.”

5. Gafnuhu by Mohamed Abdel Wahab written for the 1933 film “The White Rose” the first musical in Egypt. 

Very Latin sounding.

6. “Leh leh leh" is from the song Illi Shagal balli written and sung by Mohamed Fawzi. Is very "Desi Arnaz" sounding.

7. A drink invented at the Shepherd's. It was mostly gin and bourbon with bitters and sweetened with the sweet juice of Egyptian lime and ginger ale.

8. Quoted from Asmahan.

9. Kish Kish Bey – A character in a play that Nagib al Rihani wrote and played who was an Omda, a village elder who loved the young (especially foreign) girls.

10. Imta hata’raf imta composed by Mohamed Qasabji – lyrics by Bairam Tunisi?) for Asmahan for the film Intiqam Gharam 1949. This was Asmahan’s last film. She died in 1949.

When will you know, when? That I love you, when?

When will you know that I love you, when, when, when?

When will you know, when, when will you know?

11. Albi muftahu  written by Farid el Attache and is very Latinized.

1. Take me back to Cairo was a hit song in Egypt in the early 1960’s and was written and sung by Karim Shukry, a Canadian-Egyptian singer based on an old Egyptian folk song.

2. Quoted from Ismail Yassin.

3. Habibi Lasmar by Mohamed Abdel Wahab. In You Tube Samia Gamal watches Taheyya dance

Habibi al Asmar was also the name of a movie in which Taheyya starred with an ingénue dancer named Samia Gamal (also of Badia fame). 

4. ”Shepheard’s Hotel” by Nina Nelson, Barrie, 1960. “It was not people who lent atmosphere to Shepheard’s, but Shepheard’s to them.”

5. Gafnuhu by Mohamed Abdel Wahab written for the 1933 film “The White Rose” the first musical in Egypt. 

Very Latin sounding.

6. “Leh leh leh" is from the song Illi Shagal balli written and sung by Mohamed Fawzi. Is very "Desi Arnaz" sounding.

7. A drink invented at the Shepherd's. It was mostly gin and bourbon with bitters and sweetened with the sweet juice of Egyptian lime and ginger ale.

8. Quoted from Asmahan.

9. Kish Kish Bey – A character in a play that Nagib al Rihani wrote and played who was an Omda, a village elder who loved the young (especially foreign) girls.

10. Imta hata’raf imta composed by Mohamed Qasabji – lyrics by Bairam Tunisi?) for Asmahan for the film Intiqam Gharam 1949. This was Asmahan’s last film. She died in 1949.

When will you know, when? That I love you, when?

When will you know that I love you, when, when, when?

When will you know, when, when will you know?

11. Albi muftahu  written by Farid el Attache and is very Latinized

12. Ya wardat al hob Another Latinized song written by Mohamed Abdel Wahab for the film "The White Rose." 1933

13. Ya Gharam a song by Karem Mahmoud. Also Latin in flavor.

14. Zuruni Visit me every year the time.It is shame to forget me with time. Composed by Sayed Darwish 

Albi Muftahou composed by Farid al-Atrash Sung by Husain Resan The Pasha Band & The Aswan Dancers
El Leil is a cabaret show about the Golden Age of Egyptian Music, Song and Dance El Gheira Ya Nar El Gheira - Written and sung by Badia Masabni. Dedicated to Taheyya Carioca who loved to incorporate Latin elements in her dancing. Dancers: Hana, Irina, Kerima, Lylia, Maya, Shara, Susan