Al-Ahram Weekly Online   17 - 23 July 2003
Issue No. 647
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Obituary:

Kamal El-Tawil (1922-2003)

By Amina Elbendary

Celebrated composer Kamal El-Tawil died last Wednesday, 9 July, at the age of 81.

Born on 11 October 1922, El-Tawil studied singing at the Higher Institute for Music, graduating in 1949 and turning to composition for the remainder of his career. He worked at the Egyptian Radio until 1956, when he moved to the Ministry of Education, in which he remained until 1965. For several years he worked as an adviser to the Ministry of Information in Kuwait. Although cultured and proficient in several foreign languages, El-Tawil, ironically for a composer, never mastered a musical instrument. He was known to depend on the internal music of the poetry he was trying to set to music, working closely with the poets in question, many of whom thus became close friends.

Among El-Tawil's most famous compositions is Salah Jahin's Wallah Zaman ya Silahi (It's been long, my gun), first sung by diva Umm Kulthoum during the Suez crisis of 1956 and for years afterwards Egypt's national anthem. Indeed El-Tawil is often remembered for the upbeat melodies to which he set to nationalist songs inspired by the July 1952 Revolution such as Hikayet Shaab (Story of a People), Al-Mas'uliya (Responsibility), Bustan Al- Ishtirakiya (Orchard of Socialism), Sura (Photo) and Khalli Al- Silah Sahi (Keep the Weapon Awake). Along with poets such as Jahin and Abdel-Rahman El-Abnoudi and the famous singer Abdel- Halim Hafez, El-Tawil is associated with the propaganda of the revolution. He also composed the music for the national anthems of several Arab countries including Kuwait and Mauritania.

His music in the form of songs was propagated by the Arab world's most famous singers including Nagat, Sabah and Warda. It was with Hafez in particular that he forged a special relationship, and they cooperated on many songs. Their romantic melodies, such as Asmar Ya Asmarani (O Dark One) Fi Yawm Fi Shahr Fi Sana (One Day, One Month, One Year) and Balash Eitab (No Need for Rebuke) remain popular to this day. Also among his most famous songs are those from the soundtrack of the famous film Khalli Balak Min Zouzou (Beware of Zouzou), starring Soad Hosni, like Ya Wad Ya T'il (Cool One), which remain integral to popular culture and are associated with the memory of Soad Hosni.

Yet El-Tawil managed to adapt himself over the years and to continue to work with younger generations of artists after Hafez's untimely death. Among his more recent hits, for example, was Mohamed Mounir's Alli Sawtak Bil-Ghuna (Raise Your Voice in Song), the theme song for Youssef Chahine's Al-Masir (Destiny). He composed soundtracks for numerous films and television dramas including a documentary on Naguib Mahfouz and Huwa wa Hiyya (Him and Her).

El-Tawil's political commitment was not limited to patriotic songs, however. In fact, despite the composer's association with the July 1952 Revolution and after briefly joining the leftist Tagammu' Party, he ran for parliament and was a Wafd Party MP from 1987 to 1990, his family having adopted the Wafdist tradition since before the revolution. As an MP, El-Tawil is best remembered for generating discussion of problems relating to money investment companies in parliament in the late 1980s.

On his death El-Tawil had just received the State Merit Award. He is survived by his wife Paola Ezzat and two sons, Khaled and Ziyad, with the latter establishing a reputation as a composer.

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