Well…here’s something you don’t see every day (unless after watching this you decide to watch it every day from now on, in which case I understand and stand corrected).
Back in February I ran a post on Umm Kulthum, who had few rivals as a singer in the Arab world. One of that select elite was the beautiful Syrian-born Asmahan, who I only became aware of after a reader kindly suggested I look her up. Her brief life was snuffed out in mysterious circumstances in 1944 when she was just 26.
By that time she had completed shooting on an Egyptian film, Gharam wa intiqam, which features a song-and-dance scene set in Vienna. “Nights of intimacy in Vienna, where the breeze holds the scent of paradise,” go the lyrics, although the Austrian city most likely smelt sub-paradisiacal at the time, coming under sustained Allied bombing as it was.
The film views Vienna’s glittering imperial apogee through an Arab filter, with the music in something like waltz time, the men wearing something like tuxedos. As thrilling as Asmahan’s dark, lustrous voice is, the cross-cultural jam is just as compelling. This piece of Occidentalism is no more authentic than The King and I or Aida, (actually, scrap that – it’s way more authentic than The King and I) but in any case it’s refreshing to see a non-Western view of the West rather than vice versa.
Oh, and at one stage the song stops for someone to play some Hawaiian guitar (watch the whole thing if you think I’m making it up).