In the 1950s, the late Egyptian poet Fouad Haddad began his poetic career whilst a political prisoner in the 1950s. Along with other prisoners, Haddad built a theatre where they performed music and spoken word on a weekly basis; creating a unique space for voices to be heard and truth to be spoken. While much of society was focused on defeat, the poets overcame their circumstances with a courageous spirit of unity.
The art form of spoken word continued to grow for decades, leading Haddad to meet the famous Salah Jaheen and form a legendary duo of colloquial Egyptian poets that would be known for years to come. Through the use of this art form, a collective was formed where individuals could creatively engage and through the use of poetry speak their minds. Although Haddad and Jaheen were the founding leaders of this, their families have since carried on their legacy and have been fully involved in keeping the art of poetry alive in Egypt.
Cairo 360 had the delightful opportunity to sit down with Samia Jaheen, Salah Jaheen's daughter. To her, this poetry is unique in the sense that it is performed in a semi-theatrical way; providing a humorous look into pressing, cultural issues, including topics from political oppression to social solidarity; as well as the power of an individual's spirit. 'Just because it's fun', she says, 'Doesn't mean it’s meaningless.'
She noted that having a father as a prominent figure in the scene has been both a blessing and a curse. Jaheen died when she was a young child, and although she didn’t start reading his profound and influential poetry until she was in her teens; she has always felt the weight of the duty of keeping his words alive.
Along with her family’s influence, passing these words onto the younger generations is one of the driving forces behind her performances. Many Egyptian youth attend the poetic performances, and the words shake them to their core; stirring in them a passion as if the words were written just yesterday. It's relevant and relatable.
Jaheen is part of El Share3 poetry and musical group, which has worked on several projects, including workshops with children in Upper Egypt and most recently performing at a music festival in Qatar. The group includes Amin and Ahmed Haadad, oud player Hazem Shaheen as well as other local musicians.
Samia Jaheen also performs alongside the local band, Eskenderella playing songs by legendary musical icons including Sayed Darwish, Sheikh Imam and Ziad El Rahbani. The thought-provoking subtlety found in the poetry of Jaheen and Haddad is indescribable, and keeping that alive is a beautiful thing. If Jaheen and Haddad's work has taught Samia Jaheen anything; it's the value of the spoken word: if the spoken word is aligned with an individual's heart, people will listen and a difference can be made.
Catch Eskenderella's show this Thursday at El Sawy Culturewheel as they celebrate Sheikh Imam’s birthday with some of his classic tunes and stay tuned to Cairo 360 as Ramadan kicks off, for more exciting performances.