Mohammed Najib al-Sarraj (1921-2003)

11. 10. 2008 | Rubriky: Articles

[by Ken Hunt, London] On 16 June 2003 the Arab-speaking world and the Arab diaspora lost one of the great names in music. Born in 1921 in Hama, the Syrian composer, vocalist and multi-instrumentalist – and especially oud player – Mohammed Najib al-Sarraj never achieved the success of many of his contemporaries yet proof of his standing came from none other than one of Egypt’s national treasures, the composer Mohammed Abdel Wahab. He self-referentially and humorously nicknamed him “Syria’s Abdel Wahab”.

One of the prime reasons for his failure to make the most of his potential was his staunch refusal to leave Syria for the greener pastures of Egypt – and financial prospects to be exploited there. This was in contrast to many of his countrymen and -women including Farid al-Atrash, Asmahan and Faiza Ahmad. Sarraj was happier posting his compositions to Egypt rather than emigrate or go there in person. Another reason for his qualified success was his waywardness when it came to copyrighting his compositions. Many of his compositions entered the Arab bloodstream whereas much of the money derived from them went into other people’s pockets. Moreover, people regularly used his melodies as workhorses for other songs with their original composer going unattributed. Without being glib, it is said that belly dancing in North America would be a poorer place without his now-anonymous compositions. It is a tragic irony that Sarraj’s name was and remains so little known despite the fact that he put his classically inflected music on the lips of stars such as Faiza Ahmad and Suad Mohammed and on the hips of belly dancers everywhere. He died in Damascus.

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