The Holy Month of Ramadan is known for three major icons in Egypt: the Ramadan Lanterns; the 30 days of free iftar tables on the streets of every district; and, that soft drum beat that calls to wake you up in the middle of the night so you can eat before starting your fasting – Al-Mesaharati.
But the Mesaharati we are highlighting is a rather sophisticated one and quite poetic. It’s the dramatic character that narrated the story of the Arab world with rhyming eloquence, grace and wit.
The brain child of the pillar of vernacular poetry, Fouad Haddad (1927-1985), these 30 episodes of musical sublime were greatly applauded by the radio audience when they were first broadcast during Ramadan 1965.
“In 1964, Egyptian Radio decided to dramatize the Mesaharati in an art form. They first approached renowned Egyptian Poet Salah Jaheen, who told them that vernacular poetry icon Fouad Haddad is the most appropriate for the concept of Mesaharati,” recalls poet Amin Haddad, the son of Fouad Haddad.
Fouad Haddad turned it into an art project in which the lead character, or narrator, did the Mesaharati’s job, but to awaken the whole Arab nation. Addressing colonialism, emphasizing the importance of Arab unity and highlighting the essence of the Arab culture were a few main themes of the project.
He created a fixed form for the beginning and ending of each poem, and started the series with reference to Hijazz, the birth place of Prophet Mohamed. Then he surfed into the social and political challenges that faced Egypt and the Arab world back then. There was one poem on Jerusalem, another was “A Salute to the People of Levant” during the Israeli occupation of Lebanon 1982, and there was the famous “Estemara” (Form) that criticized Egyptian public service procedure back then by picturing the trip of a form from one desk to the other in an endless cycle.
“Fouad Haddad created the first Mesaharati series for Egyptian radio in 1964, then created new ones in 1968, and again during the seventies when he dedicated one poem as a tribute to Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser when he died in 1970, and another poem when Egypt won the 1973 war,” added Amin Haddad.
The Mesaharati of Fouad Haddad were recited and composed by renowned music figure Said Mekkawi. The series of poems is more of an Egyptian/Arab rhymed chronicle that delved into the heart of the Arab nation with great love and true appreciation. Born in Egypt, and coming from Lebanese origins, Fouad Haddad’s poetry has always reflected his belief in the Pan Arabism. He always regarded himself as an Egyptian as well as an Arab. All of his work, especially the Mesaharati, has showcased the grandeur and essence of the multicultural layers of Egypt.
“Mesaharati included poems on Jerusalem and its great history and resilience, on Damascus, and on Tunisia. It reflected on great Arab figures like Omar Ibn Al-Khattab and always reflected a message that encouraged waves of Arab resistance that can be high or low but, just like sea waves, are always there,” added Amin Haddad.
Known within the Arab world as the Father of Poets, Fouad Haddad has excelled in capturing the essence of the Egyptian and Arab identity by mastering the art of “listening.”
ورفعت فنى لمقام الشعب
I held my art up high to reach the status of the commoners
الأرض بتتكلم عربى
The land speaks Arabic
إيدك تكون أخشن و قلبك أرق
Your hands should be more firm, your heart more soft
Such finesse and brilliance made his writings more of an epic poem about Egypt and the Arab world, Al Mesaharati included. In the eighties, the Mesaharati series was adapted to be shown on Egyptian National Television, and was sung by renowned Egyptian composer Said Mekkawy.