Cairo- Hani Shenouda went through many stages in his life, drinking folklore from a young age, memorizing popular songs, and frequenting the singers for which his city was famous. He was a contemporary of Sheikh Al-Naqshbandi and was influenced by his performance and the layers of his voice, until he took him as a model for every singer he works with. During his youth, he was kidnapped by Western musical struggles, and with a youth alliance, he formed a band that played and sang all the famous Western songs.
Shenouda became the phenomenon of his time, and from his obsession with every talent, he was able to send a number of talents to the sky of fame, so he was the godfather of a number of stars, including Amr Diab, Muhammad Mounir and others.
Al Jazeera Net met Hani Shenouda on the occasion of winning the State Appreciation Award in Arts for this year, in his studio in Cairo, and had the following dialogue with him:
Has folklore had a great influence on your music, to the extent that you memorize more folk songs than you memorize modern songs?
It was not only folklore, but the folklore, which has no author or composer, and the popular is more general than folklore. It originated in the city of Tanta, which is located in the middle of the Delta, and it is the city of the undisputed “Mawlid”. We would not finish them until the birth of Sheikha Sabah began, and the singers and singers would shout in different voices and multiple tones, and Tanta is the city of singers without a competitor.
On birthdays, popular songs are a great source for anyone who wants to work in music, because these songs are the ones that dyed the conscience of the Egyptian people, and one of the things that affected me the most was the operetta “The Big Night”, written by Salah Jahin and composed by Sayed Makkawi, because it was identical to what I saw and lived in The city of Tanta, where the crowds are in the birthdays.
In this weather full of myths and strange practices, you leave Tanta and become a famous musician. Who planted the seed of your love for art?
I can say that I grew up in a healthy environment. My father was a pharmacist, and my mother was a skilled pianist. She was good at playing the piano, and in her free time and in a moderate mood, she held the lute and sang to Umm Kulthum. My father or mother is on my way, they let me draw my future by myself, and in the youth stage we tended to Western singing and Western music, and being a “little cats” band and with the piano and the Oud we used to play any Western song.
Is it true that religious heritage and Sufi chanting had a role in your musical formation?
I am the son of Arab culture, and just as folklore had a part in my formation, Islamic culture and religious chanting also had an influential role in our music, and for this reason I care a lot about religious chanting, and I see that Sheikh Sayyid al-Naqshbandi is a school in itself that we follow in its approach and train singers in its vocal layers.
Some of the songs were distributed to the great singers, at a time when there were peaks in music such as Al-Sunbati, Abdel-Wahhab, Al-Muji, Kamal Al-Taweel and Baligh Hamdi, what influenced them in your music?
I can say that I lived the era of these artistic peaks, and the more the artist rose, the more his concern was to search for everything that was new, and so it was Abdel Halim Hafez, who searched for me and called me and invited me to have lunch with him, and I would run away from him, and go to my band and my friends who I do not leave. Day and night, we go together to the cinema and eat our meals in any restaurant, and we kidnap a day or two and run away to the seashore. Do I leave all this and go to eat my lunch in the presence of Abdel Halim Hafez, where we eat with a fork and knife!?
But when did you leave the Western song and turn to Arabic music?
This topic has a funny story whose hero was Professor Naguib Mahfouz, after our contract to sing in some governorates, including Alexandria, ended, and before we returned to Cairo, it happened that Professor Naguib Mahfouz attended one of our concerts, and he had not yet won the Nobel Prize. I was surprised by him asking me why don’t you sing “Arabic”? And I told him the Arabic song, its introduction is equivalent to 3 songs from the songs that we play and sing, and the introduction does not have an objective indication of the song, and the song lacks its hidden beauty, so he interrupted me and said, “You do the song that you see as correct from your point of view.” I did not forget his words, and they kept ringing in my head.
And I was surprised one day by the artist Abdel Halim Hafez inviting me to watch a modern device called “The Super Saiyan”, and I went to him immediately and was impressed by the device, which was considered the finest technology produced in the world of music, and he asked me to form a band like the “Little Cats” known at the time, and we began to Playing every day for a new distribution of 4 of his songs, “I Love You”, “The First Time You Love Ya Qalbi”, “Repentance” and “Oh My Heart, Hide It, It Doesn’t Appear to Me”.
And I was surprised by Abdel Halim after that, he told me that the musician Ahmed Fouad Hassan, the director of the “Diamond Band”, was worried about dealing with small bands, and he offered me to include our band in his band, and this was achieved and cooperation began from the first concert in the Al Jazira Club, and Abdel Halim came to me after the concert while he was in a state Satisfaction with the result and he said to me, “Oh Hani, the number of the band is small, so booking hotels and airline tickets will not be very expensive. We will travel around the world and sing, so that all peoples know how beautiful and advanced our music is?”, But fate did not allow him and he left early, and the band’s contract was broken.
After a while, I met the singer Mohamed Mounir, and I started working with him on some tunes, and we were working on modern instruments such as guitar and drums with Nubian tambourines, so it was a strange mixture played by the “Al-Masryeen” band.
How did the critics and the public receive your band, and are there any difficulties you faced?
The band came into existence, and it was something new in Egypt at this time, and a division occurred between supporters and rejecters. The majority celebrated us, but I also remember that during this period the great lyricist Hussein Al-Sayed wrote 3 articles, each article on a full page in the most widely circulated Akhbar Al-Youm In Egypt, it was titled “The Egyptians Wear a Hat Over the Robes,” and the three articles were an attack and satire on the band and its method of work. I responded to it, and he got angry with me at the time.
History repeats itself, and now mahraganat songs are facing the same anger that your band faced, what is your position on these songs?
I said my word about mahraganat songs, that it is a form of music that has won the approval of a certain segment of people, but my objection was that their music be associated with outside speech that is not permissible and should not enter homes and be heard by families, and I am not ready to let mahraganat songs enter my house; Not because she is bad, but because her words are extraneous and unacceptable.
Are you satisfied with their music?
Why am I not satisfied?! And for any reason I reject it, music is an impression of something, it can be named or not, and mahraganat singers are free, whether their musical collection is growing or sterile, and the decisive factor is with the audience, and the result was that when they did not find anything new to present, the mahraganat songs stopped.
Was the artist Mohamed Abdel Wahab satisfied with your music?
I think that Mr. Abdel-Wahhab was impressed and satisfied with my performance in music, otherwise he would not have commissioned me to redistribute 4 songs from his tunes, and when the artist Najat Al-Saghira asked him for the musician Jamal Salama to redistribute them, he insisted and said to her, Hani Shenouda is the closest “Al-Khawajat” to us.
When did you start working on soundtracks, and who recommended you to do the soundtrack for his movie?
Mrs. Faten Hamama nominated me and pushed me to work in the field of film soundtracks, and she asked to meet me and I did not know her personally, and I was very surprised and asked one of her close associates who guided Mrs. Faten Ali, and I had not done any soundtracks before, and he answered me that after I listened to my first singing tapes, she said “This is a “dramatic” artist because he puts things from nature in the song, and he will succeed in making soundtracks for any movie, and the beginning was with the movie “La Solace for Women”.
I liked the music, director Samir Seif, and he said to me, “You are new blood, and I am preparing for the movie “The Suspicious” with Adel Imam, but there is a problem that Adel Imam changed his direction in acting from comedy to action. Think about it and give me your opinion. You wouldn’t have liked it or not, and I sent him the credits, and after 3 days, he told me to complete the movie, and I continued working with Adel Imam until I put the soundtracks for 12 films that he starred in.
At the end of our conversation, I said to him, Didn’t you tell yourself to stop sailing with music and lay anchor on the beach and rest? They planted, so we ate, and we plant so that they could eat.” And I will work until my last breath.