When the Drummers Were Women : A Spiritual History of Rhythm
by Layne Redmond

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The Gilded Serpent presents...
A Child Prodigy grows up, An Interview with

Reda Darwish

by Lynette Harris

When I was talking to my brother who is in Sydney recently, he said that he had brought me a small American trap drum set when I was seven years old. Next, he brought me the bongos. I was interested in a variety of music even at that time. When I turned eight I appeared on an Egyptian television show for kids, which was called "Ganit el Atffal" (Heaven for Children). Mama Samiha, was the star and Mistress of Ceremonies of the show. In order to be on the show, kids had to have an interview, then the staff did an audition of the child playing with the other musicians. I played and made it onto the music staff of the show. I was happy! Every Friday the show scheduled to air a musical presentation for children. I made a little money too! I played the trap drum set and the bongos on that show. I filled in on the drumset when the regular drummer was gone as well as playing my bongos. Also, my brother used to take me along with him. Though he's an engineer and artist, he plays the tambourine. He often took me along to shows when he was going to be performing. I performed with him, too, sometimes. He gave me a few Egyptian pounds for my pocket. I was really happy to be earning that kind of money at that age!

Eventually, I quit the television show and played at my school for the pledge to the Egyptian flag. At that time, the music teacher asked me to play for her dance class. This was the third grade class at
Atef Baraket Primary School. All of the girls are required to take this class. I joined and played for them. That was very fun. When I was in the fifth or sixth grade, I returned to the television building because they were having a big group under the maestro from the army, Abdel Aziz Armer Ghazal. Again I was required to audition before I was accepted into the show. I somehow convinced the violin and accordion players to play the melody while I played the bongos. It was scary for a young kid because the people were looking at me. We played a piece from Oum Kalthoum. I was anxious for this one because there was a major producer present who was a friend of my eldest brother.

I am the youngest of five children, three brothers and one sister. My eldest brother was
Ahmed Darwish; he was a lyricist. He was a friend of the late Abdul Wahab Mohammed, a songwriter, or lyricist for Oum Kalthoum. In Egypt they are called "songwriters." The songwriter writes the words and the composer writes the melody. It is confusing but Abdul Wahab Mohammed is a different person than Mohammed Abdel Wahab. My brother also had an additional job with an oil company, and he did songwriting part time. My brother died about 10 year ago.

My next brother,
Farouk, is a draft engineer in Australia and he also plays the tambourine. My whole family was into music and art. They were fearful of my being away from school because of the music. One can play the music and also stay in school. They were afraid because I started playing in the nightclub scene very young, twelve years old. The bad reputation of the clubs included drugs, and they were scared that I might become involved in drugs and worried for my reputation because I was playing for dancers. I had to wake up early in the morning, but I was making good money. First I was playing for a few dancers every night. There were two or three dancers, each in different nightclubs. Among them were Sohair Ahmed, Zezit, and Mirvet Bader, who is well known now. Then they were considered third class. I will tell you all the dancers. But, remember, this was at a young age for me, and I don't remember the exact times or order. More dancers I played with included: Amar Gamal, Hanan, Rebab. Rebab was married to a famous accordian player at that time called Farouk Salamah. I played for Mona Abrahim. (This was a good group, a move up for me.) I played for weddings also. I went up another serious step when I was played for Fifi Abdu. I stayed with her and her good group, for quite a while. Then I quit Fifi and joined Nelli Fuoad's group.

I remember one incident that I'll never forget! In a nightclub in Giza, the "
Lona Bark", I was working for Fifi Abdu, but I wanted to go to a different band, to quit playing for Fifi and go to Nelli's group. I was very important in Fifi's group and she found out I was going to leave. After we finished the show, I was on my way to tell her that I was going to quit.On my way, one of Fifi's assistants that carries the instruments confiscated my bongos. Fifi wouldn't give them back to me! Usually we would go to the coffee shop in the morning to be paid. I almost cried. These were the bongos that my brother brought me from Lond

Reda says this is the wrong album, although this is Nelli Fouad. Does anyone out there have the first "Cairo by Night" album?
on. I was a kid and they made fun of me, mimicking me and taunting me. In the morning, about 5:30 a.m., Fifi came in her car and tried to convince me to stay with her. I didn't stay, but none the less, Fifi and I remained good friends. Nelli paid me more money and I recorded with her husband, who was a keyboard player.

My other brother and sister are not involved in music.

I recorded
"Cairo by Night" with Nelli. It was my first professional recording completed while I was thirteen or fourteen years old. I accompanied the famous accordion player, Hassan Abu Saoud. He is the king of the accordion in the Middle East. He calls himself that too! This album was recorded in Studio #34 in the television building. The sound engineer in Studio #34 was the main guy who worked with Oum Kalthoum.

I played with
Catkot El Amir, nicknamed "the Cat". Later, I played for the dancer Aza Sharif. She used to be married to Catkot El Amir. After that, Nahid Sabry. Now, we are talking about first class dancers. For example:
1 class, Sohair Zaki, Nagwa Fuoad, Nahid Sabry, Mona Said
2nd class, Aza Sharif, Nelli Fuaod, Fifi Abdu.

I also performed with
Ahmed Adaweya. He was the singer on the "Ya Salaam" tapes.

Let's go back again to Nahid Sabry. She, I think, has a unique style, up to now, that no one can do, in my opinion. I haven't seen any dancer dance that fast and still can do technique! When she runs on the stage, she's like a horse, never giving up for almost one hour, like fire from A to Z!

Then, I went to
Sahar Hamdi. The reason I went from one to the other was that I wanted to explore, and I also went with whoever was willing to pay the most. I needed to expand at that time. I knew Sahar Hamdi from the time when she used to be a customer watching Fifi Abdu. She came just to watch. She became interested in the dance and started her own group. Boom! She was big right away! Then I came to play for her. She became a very good dancer.

I went to play for Mona Said. Mona Said was considered right up there with Nagwa Fouad and Soheir Zaki, except she was mostly performing in London, not Cairo. Mona Said paid the highest pay I ever received from a dancer. In Egypt, the dancers hire the musicians; they inquire about who plays well and they search for that musician. Since I was experienced, and known from here to there, I was recommended to her. Mona Said hired the most sophitiscated musicians at that time. For example, Samir Srour on saxophone, Saad Mohammed Hassan played violin, Omar Farahat also on violin, and the keyboard player, Mohsen Adley. This is top of the line!

When I quit the nightclub scene and weddings, I began to play with
Hani Mehanna 's Orchestra and worked big concert gigs and with them, I recorded for big stars. I became a studio musician with better hours and would go every day into the studio. There weren't many recording studios at that time. Musicians went to the television building to Studio #34, #41, and #46. Studio #46 and Zakaraya, the sound engineer, did the entire recording for Mohammed Abdul Wahab. Studio #46 was it, the pinnacle! I didn't work with any dancers anymore.

My family only requested that I was good in school. I passed and have a degree in Egyptian law. I was studying my academics and my music altogether. During my second year, I failed my law school exams. I was going to my exams when my father died. I had studied well, and my family insisted I go to my exams. I tried, but I could not think. I failed in all five subjects. I repeated the work and the exams over the following year. I graduated from law school at Cairo University in May 1980.

On the VIDEO with Mona Said:
Famous nai player was with Oum Kalthoum,
Jalal Hussin. He played the song Ya Maseherni with her.
Samir Srour
There was the most classical violin player,
Abduou Dagher!
Our keyboard player
Mohsen Adley, was the main man for Orchestra EL Ferka El Mesaya (Maestro Ahmed Fouad Hassan). (I also played with this orchestra for about 2 month before I went to play with Hani Mehanna Orchestra.)
Mona Said came from London for this video and paid a lot for this group. The other mizmar player played for
Abdul Halim; his name was Ahmed Kawatim. (Kawatim means rings.)

Here is a story of that video: Nobody in my neighborhood knew for whom I was playing. I didn't tell people I was playing for dancers. On a Thursday night on television a lot of people were watching when this video aired. Here is Mona Said, and there I was. The next day everyone told me, "There you were with Mona Said!"
Mona was excellent.

Every dancer I worked with had a different character. Fifi was fun. She does a great show, unless she doesn't want to dance. If you see her in a good mood, she does a great show. Mona Said was always like a princess; she's a fanana, an artist. We call the dancers, "fanana," not a dancer. One who absorbs the music, not just a dancer! I loved being with every one of them!

I have lost count of all the people I played with and for in the studio. I also played deff, tar, conga, whatever was needed for the recording.

I played for lots of singers like
Fayza Ahmed, Nagat Ilsaghira, Samira Said from Morocco. Not just anybody is allowed to play for these people.

After that, I played along with
Meharem Fuoad, Hani Shakir, Medhat Saleh, Mohammed Tharwat, and Mohammed El Isabi, who sang with the Reda Dance Troupe, Yasmeen el Kayam (these are all singers) and Ali El Hagar. All of these performers, I played for in recordings and concerts: Omar Fathi, Mayeda El Hinaoui from Syria, Suad Mohammed of Lebanon, and Afef Radi.

In one event, I performed for
Beligh Hamdi, a great composer for Oum Kalthoum and Abdel Halim Hafez. I was in Kuwait for a national festival on television. He sang one of his songs that he wrote for Oum Kalthoum. Another composer/singer there was Sayed Makoui. He is a blind man, and did "Ya Maseherni" for Oum Kalthoum. Hani Shaiker and Fayza Ahmed, were singers accompanied by our orchestra, Hani Mehanna. I did this after law school and after I was in the Egyptian army for one year. The event of which I was speaking, lasted one week in Kuwait. I did all of this before I came to the US. I started at such a young age.

Another event, was performance with our orchestra, at a private party with
Nagat el Saghira. The special dancer for that event was Samia Gamal. She came out of retirement to do this party. Her own drummer, Mahmoud Hamouda, recommended me. He is one of the greatest drummers. He plays for Reda's troupe also and Hani Mehanna. I admired Samia Gamal as an artist, a true artist. It was a total pleasure to work for her. We called her Fanana Samia. I received more money for Samia Gamal than from Nagat el Saghira.

On this second video...
...I was with the singer,
Fayza Ahmed, and with the Hani Mehanna Orchestra. Fayza was a wife of Mohammed Sultan, a composer. He is recording the albums for Leyla Haddad now. Those musicians, most of them, were really famous; they played for Oum Kalthoum. I was the only drummer with her. Oh! She also had a trap drum set. We were the main group.

For so many years, I worked with great composers for all these people:
Balegh Hamdy, Riyad Simbati, Said Mekoui, Ahmed Sadi, and Mohammed El Moughi. The composers have to come to the recording studio with the artists, so I worked with them all.

In France I went with a female singer and actress from the "old time TV days" named
Shadia for a wedding for a Saudi Arabian princess. We stayed for three weeks. A special song was composed for this princess by Helmy Baker. I returned to Cairo, after that, the United States. I came to the U.S. when I was twenty-six and that was fifteen years ago. I did not intend to stay here at all. I made good money all of my early career. I did parties in New York, Los Angeles, and in Florida.

Muharem Fuoad, asked me to join them in Florida for a party, a wedding for Shiek Mohammed El Fasi. We were suppose to stay only one week, but we stayed one month, along with Sohair Zaki and her group. The Sheik paid for everything. We did one other concert after the wedding. We played two events in our one-month stay. It was fun. This was my first month in America. Next, I went to Los Angeles and played in a nightclub, the Sahara beside the Hollywood Theatre (one block away). I worked in Jordan with Latifa Tunasia from Tunisia, five years ago, at the "Maharajan Gharish", (the Festival Gharish). It happens every year in Jordan.

At that time, I was waiting to go to London for another gig, and there was nothing here for me. I knew that there was big money waiting for me in London. It didn't happen. I came to San Francisco and played at the
Bagdad Cabaret. It was supposedly just to fill up the time until I was to go to London. I found out that the work permit in London was going to be very difficult to get. I had an "H1 Visa" here, which is a work permit with which one may go back and forth. I used to make good money, and I know I still have the ability to make good money in Egypt. I like it here, even though I make less money! I now drum with the oud players, Raad Zawaidlh and Elliot Bales, at Café Amira in San Francisco. I also usually play at Cleopatra's on Friday with Nazir Latouf and at Salamat Sundays with the Arabian Knights. I've never revealed much about my background. Only a few people have known about me. I have my videos. I have played for people who will only play in concerts, the top! Whenever I return to the Middle East, I am always blessed to get work.

On Reda's Flower and Valley of the Kings, I included my own original composions. These were produced by Horacio Cuefentices. Ya Sallem Ya Reda, and Walk with the Moon. Now these last two are vavailable on one CD.

Photo #1

This photo was taken three years ago in rehearsal for Hani Mehanna's comeback show. We played his music for Abdul Halim.This was a very big show, with sixty people in the orchestra. The singers were Zakra from Morocco, Medhat Salah, and another singer. Hani Mehannin is the one of the main keyboard players in Egypt; he has his own group. Violin player Tamir (in back with glasses) is a famous arranger in Egypt. The cello player is Asherf Sharara, the son of Atya Sharara, from an old Cairo family, and another well-known composer. His brother Hassan Shahara also participated as a soloist in this show. The next man is Hani Mehanna. When he started, he had his own group of ten musicians, the Hani Mehanna show, performing for Moherhem Fouad, Hani Shaker. These are the main singers in Egypt. Hani Mehanna composed "Mashaal". I recorded this with him. He composed "Nasa" which I recorded with him also.

There are so many more names, especially the people from the Gulf and other Arab countires with whom I worked, that I can't name them here. Another story, another time...

Now I plan to keep inspired, and to make my music. (Whatever I can do with a small budget.) I know how much a big group costs. I'll never be satisfied with sound less than I had with the big groups. My satisfaction will come just to keep playing music. I have two sides of me: One when I play with the big groups, and another when I play with two or three musicians. My style is different with the two different sizes of groups.

My New CD is called
"Halawah", meaning, pretty and nice girl, or a dessert, "halvah", which is sweet sesame. Halawah was recorded here, in San Francisco. The musicians included Samir Srour on sax. It has two original songs and vocals on it. I hope everyone will like it! It is mostly single songs on a fifty-minute compact disk album. It has traditional songs from Upper Egypt and modern pieces too. It's good for both listening and dancing. I believe it's a fine quality CD. I hope every dancer likes it. It's available now!

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