BELLY BEATS: THE MYSTERIOUS ASMAHAN
What do you think of her music???
Asmahan, آمال الأطرش, the famous Syrian/Egyptian singer, was born Nov. 25, 1912 (the year of her birth is debated). She was born in a time of political turmoil into a very politically active family, the al-Atrash clan. Her father was Fahd al-Atrash of Syrian Druze ancestry from Suwayda. Her mother was Alia Al-Mundhir of a Lebanese Druze family from Hasbaya (wondering who the Druze are? click here). Her father’s family was well known in Syria for it’s role in the resistance against the French mandate. Right before Asmahan was born, her family was in Turkey as her grandfather was a governor in Demirci. Due to danger, her family had to flee the country and took a ship from Izmir to Beirut. Asmahan was born on board and named Amal, meaning hope.
Her family’s new home town of Al-Qrayya, Syria, was bombed circa 1923 and Alia, Asmahan’s mother fled with her children to Damascus, then to Beirut, and finally to Egypt, where she knew she was allowed to enter the country due to her husbands ties with the prime minister Saad Zaghloul. In Cairo Asmahan attended a French Catholic school that was paid for by a mysterious benefactor.
Living in Cairo allowed Asmahan to meet many well known composers including Dawood Hosni. One day, Hosni was at the family’s house taking a meeting with Asmahan’s brother, Farid, when he over heard Asmahan singing in a different room. Hosni encouraged her to pursue singing, taught her the oud and is the one that gave her her famous stage name. When she was just a young teen, Asmahan performed at the famous Cairo Opera House and shortly after was asked to make her first album with an Egyptian recording company, where she debuted her first song “Ya Nar Fouadi” by Farid Ghosn. Later she met Mohammed Abdel Wahab and starred with him in his operetta “Magnun Layla.” Asmahan’s beautiful and technically accurate voice was an inspiration to many. She sang songs composed by Mohamed El Qasabgi, Zakariyya Ahmad, Mohammed Abdel Wahab and her brother Farid al- Atrash. Asmahan is considered to be the only female vocalist to give Oum Kalthoum a run for her money. She served as a role model to women, especially because she pursued her dream even though it didn’t fall in line with traditional Druze beliefs.
Asmahan was “a figure of glamour and intrigue,” much of this intrigue surrounded her marriage to her cousin Hassan al-Atrash. Asmahan said that her conditions for marrying Hassan were that they would live in Damascus instead of Jabal al- Druze, they would spend winters in Cairo, and she would never have to wear a hjab. With the conditions understood, Hassan and Asmahan moved to Syria. Asmahan spent 5 1/2 years there. During this time she and her husband had a home built in Suwayda and they had a daughter named Kamellia. Asmahan missed her career and Cairo and in 1939 she filed for divorce and moved back to Egypt where she resumed her career. She married Egyptian director Ahmed Badrkhan but was divorced shortly after.
Okay – this is where all the mystery happens… in 1941, during WWII, Asmahan went on secret journey to Syria at the request of the British and Free French forces. She was on a mission to notify her people in Jabal al-Druze that the British and French would be invading Syria through the Druze territory and that they should not fight, she was promised $40,000 dollars to complete this mission. The allied forces promised Syrian independence, however, independence was not given. At this point Asmahan tried to contact the Nazi’s in Turkey allegedly for money/ information exchange. Simultaneously, she met up with her ex husband Hassan, who she re-married, it’s unclear if this was for political reasons. Following this marriage she attempted suicide two times supposedly to have a valid reason to get another divorce. They were divorced again, and she married Egyptian director Ahmed Salem, this way she could return to Egypt without difficulty.
On July 14, 1944, Asmahan was killed in a car “accident.” She and her friend were in the back of a car with a driver. The driver veered off the road into a canal. While both passengers passed away, the driver escaped, leaving her death shrouded in suspicion. “British intelligence, for example, after many reports circulated claiming she had been working for them, was accused of having got rid of her after she had attempted to meet with German agents. The German Gestapo was also accused of murdering her for the help she had given the British.”