Safaa singing his first song in Cassino Andelouse 1981
Safaa Farid has been singing for and
managing belly dancers in Egypt for over 25 years. Over the course
of his career he has performed with many different dancers in thousands
of venues from the Caberettes of Harem to the best five star Hotels
in Cairo. As an orchestra leader, he has directed orchestras in
nightclubs in Germany and Vienna, in theater engagements in Australia
and England and in festivals in Finland and Egypt (both the Ahlan
w Sahlan and Nilegroup
festivals). He has recorded numerous songs for CD's of bellydance
music and acted as art director and producer of CD's for many international
and Egyptian dance artists. He has also appeared in three films
singing with dancers. This interview was conducted in Arabic and
translated by Leila.
WHAT WAS YOUR FIRST SONG YOU REMEMBER SINGING?
When I was 10 years old I sang Om
Kalthoum, "Enta Omri" for the school and
after that I was always the one they would choose to sing for the
haflas. When I was 15 my neighbor passed away and man who reads
(sings) the Koran at funerals didn't arrive so they asked me to
read the Koran. After this, the neighborhood began to ask for me
to read the Koran and after a while I began to make money from this.
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN SINGING WITH BELLYDANCERS?
A very long time, since 1981 or 1982. I started with Badia
al Alami from Lebanon. Our first show was at Cassino
Andalouse (that is the picture of my first show). I had gone
to work for her as an accountant but her husband had heard that
I could sing and it was his idea to make me her singer. My name
is Safaa Mohamed Hassan Hassan but he gave me
his name Farid as he said it sounded better for
WHAT DID YOU LIKE ABOUT YOUR FIRST WORK WITH BADIA?
I found work with Badia that was interesting to me. She made many
taubeauxs and used many classic songs which I like. One tableaux
was very famous from the 1930's that talked about many subjects
of people you would see on the street like soldiers, basha (rich
man), workers and she and her dancers would act out these. She
would also make many Lebanese songs by Fayrooz.
She was a real artist and money wasn't important to her, it was
about the work. She would bring four boys (dancers) and six girls
and a large orchestra. Many famous musicians who are still playing
today started in her orchestra.
WHAT OTHER DANCERS HAVE YOU WORKED WITH?
After Badia went back to Lebanon I began working with the famous
Zizi Mustafa and I stayed with her for 7 years.
Then there was Samasen of Sweden and Dunia
of Morrocco. Following, there was Zahara of Germany
and I directed her orchestra in Germany for two years after she
left Egypt. I returned to Egypt and sang with many Egyptians who
were working in Harem and parties, i.e. Sohair Said, Azza
Sherif and Hindaya but the work in the
cabarets was not my style and it was only about making money and
not the art. It was just the times and a singer would come and
make only one song in the show and then go to another order. Then
I met the English dancer Asmahan
who was working in Hilton Ramses.
found the foreigners to care about the quality of the work and
not to look only for tips.
Safaa and his wife, Leila, at the Nilegroup
Festival, Egypt 2006
would make only one show a night so I would leave her and go to
Harem to work many orders after her show was done. It was during
this time I sang with Lucy
and some of the last orders for Sohair Zaki.
After Asmahan left I worked with another English dancer Yasmina
in Meridian Heliopolis and Camila of
Brazil in Semerameese. Now I had left the cabarets behind.
By the time Camila returned to her country and Yasmina retired,
I was not only acting as a singer but the leader of the orchestra.
If a dancer needed an orchestra I would create it for her. At
the same time I managed Liza Laziza of England
and Aida of Russia. For the last four years I
have been managing Leila
of America and recently Oti of Finland.
HOW HAS THE DANCE CHANGED OVER THE 25 YEARS YOU HAVE BEEN ON STAGE?
All dance has it's time. Everything has changed. In the past the
dance was not so fast and more lyrical. Now the music is faster
and so is the dancing. There is satellite TV and everyone wants
everything faster. The dancers used to have very large orchestras
and they would make a big show. Now people ask the dancer to come
with a small orchestra because they don't want to pay.
WHAT IS THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN EGYPTIAN AND FOREIGN DANCERS?
You can tell instantly when a dancer is Egyptian. It is the feeling.
No Egyptian can dance the dances of Europe like Europeans do and
no foreigner can dance Egyptian dance like we do. If a foreigner
lives in Egypt for many years she may start to understand our
feeling. It is not the movement that can come by training. But
it's not possible to get the feeling from training.
WHAT DO YOU LIKE BEST ABOUT THE FOREIGN DANCERS?
They are polite. A foreigner can do very sexy moves on stage but
it does not seem sexy because in her culture this is OK. But an
Egyptian knows it will be sexy because our culture is more conservative.
Also foreigners come to their show on time and they have a great
work ethic. Foreign dancers want everything straight and they
trust me and I can work with someone who is straight who wants
to make art and who needs direction. It takes five years for a
foreign dancer to become good here in Egypt and she needs someone
to give her advice on how to succeed here. I like to have ideas
for a career.
days there are times I feel I've seen everything an Egyptian
dancer can do in the first five minutes of her show. She doesn't
change. But foreigners study the dance very hard and they put
much time into their show so that is it interesting for a whole
singing in Harem Street 1992
IN YOUR OPPINION
WHAT WAS THE BEST TIME FOR DANCE IN EGYPT?
It was from 1980 until 1990. All the dancers were famous and there
were so many dancers all trying to outdo the other. Each dancer
would make a bigger show than the next and the best was Fifi
Abdo. Her show had power and style and she would bring
20 Saida out on stage just for one number. She was strong and
funny and had exciting costumes. The people loved to go see the
dancers. There were always guests and if they didn't like the
dancer in one nightclub they could go down the street and see
another dancer. The dancers knew this and it made them better
because of the competition.
WHAT WAS THE WORST TIME FOR DANCE IN EGYPT?
Now. There have been many wars lately in Iraq, Philistine, Lebanon
and the state of the world has made the people not in the mood
to be happy, to go out and enjoy themselves. Before, many people
came to Egypt to see dance and be entertained. Now the feeling
DO YOU THINK BELLYDANCE IS DYING IN EGYPT?
No, dance will never die in Egypt. For example, we say: When the
mizmar player dies, his fingers still play. We have talent that
has yet to be seen in the dance. I see many young Egyptian girls
who are trying to become good dancers because they love the dance.
I KNOW YOU HAVE SEEN THE BELLYDANCE SUPERSTARS VIDEO. WHAT DID
YOU THINK OF THE AMERICAN INTERPRETATION OF BELLYDANCE?
is not raqs sharki. This is estaarad and I can't compare it
to raqs sharki. This is something new and maybe the people in
Egypt would be interested in seeing this new type of dance.
But we can't compare two things that are not alike.
HOW DID YOU
COME TO RECORD YOUR FIRST CD?
I made Om Kalthoum, "El Hob Kooloo" on the CD for Raqia
Hassan. This was in 1994. I made this song and gave
her ideas for three more songs in the CD but these songs were
for women singers. After this I recorded many songs and organized
HOW DO YOU PUT TOGETHER A CD FOR A DANCER WHO COMES TO YOU FOR
For example, if she doesn't have any ideas I see her dance, and
then I start to think what would suit her. Some dancers love tableaux
and some like songs. Some dancers dance quickly, and some slowly,
and each has her own style. Sometimes a dancer comes to me with
an idea for the entire CD. I tell her if she needs something more
that people haven't recorded many times before. Also you need
a good variety of songs for a CD to succeed.
HOW DO YOU FEEL WHEN YOU SING ONSTAGE OUTSIDE OF EGYPT? DO YOU
THINK THAT FOREGINERS CAN UNDERSTAND ARABIC MUSIC?
In the festivals outside of Egypt, the people come to the concerts
because they love dance and Egyptian music. They want to hear
Egyptian music from their hearts. Sometimes an Egyptian person
listens to a foreign song, and we don't know what the words mean,
but, we feel the song and love this song. It is the same for foreigners,
maybe they don't understand the words but they understand the
feeling. The artists can convey much of what the song is about
even without the listener understanding the words. Julio
Eglasias came to Egypt and gave a concert. I didn't understand
the words he was singing but I felt the music and I felt the passion
in what he was singing. I love to sing for foreign audiences because
they give me a reason to sing and if they love my songs I feel
I've succeeded even more.
WHAT ARE YOUR PLANS FOR THE FUTURE?
I will travel to England with the orchestra for the Farha
tour with Farida Dance in November 2006 and then
to Finland in the spring for the Yalla Festival. I am
talking now with someone about a tour of Austrailia in 2007. We
can't talk too much about the future, it is not in our hands.
a comment? Send us a
Check the "Letters to the Editor"
for other possible viewpoints!
8-16-07 What Middle
Eastern Audiences Expect from a Belly Dancer by Leila
in the Middle East, especially Egyptians, see bellydancing as
something to be participated in, critiqued, and loved (or hated)
“The Bellydancers of Cairo”
An interview with filmmaker Natasha Senkovich by Betsey Flood
a maid you can find yourself in compromising positions—not
good situations for a woman to be in—but in Egypt, it is
considered so much better than being a dancer.
What's in a Name? A Dancer's
Response to Margo's poem "Much, Much, More" by Erica
of the UK
apologize to anyone who feels diminished and tarnished by Western
appropriation of their cultural heritage turning its labels on
them. I cannot speak for anyone else female or male. This is how
The Road to Heck is Paved With…
Good Intentions and Stone Throwing? by Nisima
the conflicts of interest seem obvious, why cannot the parties
involved negotiate these conflicts -- or avoid them in the first
How I Started a Bellydance Club
in High School by Shazadi
expected hardly anyone to show up at the first meeting. I was
shocked when over 40 girls showed up and were very excited about
the whole idea. So I was able to prove interest.