The Last Artist of Egypt’s Most Famous Popular Band

Ezzat el-Fayoumi, 73, performing in a small room in Mohamed Ali Street, downtown Cairo. Credit: Menna A. Farouk

In a coffee shop in Mohamed Ali street in downtown Cairo, a 73-year-old man sits on a chair laughing with the waiter and performing some songs to his surroundings.

By doing this, Ezzat el-Fayoumi is reminiscing his glorious days in one of Egypt’s most famous bands which were called “Hasaballah band”.

“It was the best time of my life working for this band,” he told Majalla.

The Hasaballah band had a great reputation, working for birthdays, weddings and most occasions. It is known for performing on the streets with its members wearing distinguished blue uniforms and holding their instruments on every occasion.

El-Fayoumi learned music from a young age and grew up to its tunes until he joined the Hasaballah band to work with Mohamed Ali Hasaballah who is the son of the band’s founder.

The founder used to play for kings and palaces only and never performed on the streets.

 

HISTORY OF A BAND

“The beginning was in 1965, and at that time I was a young man, fond of music and folklore,” he said.

El-Fayoumi came from his hometown in Fayoum city and wandered in downtown Cairo’s streets.

At a cafe known as the café of musicians, El-Fayoumi got to know Mohamed Ali Hasaballah, the son of the founder of the band and he worked with him in the band until Hasaballah’s death.

 

Ezzat el-Fayoumi, 73, posing for a photo in a small room in Mohamed Ali Street, downtown Cairo. Credit: Menna A. Farouk

According to El-Fayoumi, the band’s founder died in 1945 and he was among the members of military music of the Police School in the late nineteenth century.

During that time, he established his musical group and called it Hasaballah and it consisted of 24 Individuals wearing uniforms and playing all musical instruments, foremost of which are the tabla, the parchment, the trombita, and the municipal flute.

Hasaballah roamed with his band throughout Cairo, Giza, and the neighboring cities of Qalyoub, Qanatir al-Khayriyyah and al-Sharqiya, and he continued to lead them until his death and then the band was handed over to his only son, Ali.

 

PAST AND PRESENT

Very smoothly, El-Fayoumi also tells his story in the historic Mohamed Ali street and how the street, which served as the great family home for the people of art, talents, and those who want fame and their daily meeting place, changed to become like its nearby Ataba Square streets, crowded with mobile, furniture, printing and other shops.

El-Fayoumi remembers his first working day in the Hassaballah band in 1965. The band was performing in a wedding in the Munib area in Giza city.

The street was crowded with the relatives of the newlyweds and the people of the neighborhood, to watch the band and the ululations and songs rose with the music of the Hasaballah band.

El-Fayoumi added: “I was playing the trumpet and I got 25 piasters.”

El-Fayoumi also appeared in artistic works which were not limited to plays and films only but also in TV series.

Ezzat el-Fayoumi, 73, wearing the band’s uniform in a small room in Mohamed Ali Street, downtown Cairo. Credit: Menna A. Farouk

 

The band is still performing on weddings, birthdays and other occasions but not like in the past.“In the past, we used to perform on many occasions. Now, we rarely perform,” he said.

Ahmed Fakher Abu Hagar, a violinist, described Hasballah band as “a pioneer” and said that “their playing of music is of the unique kind but they were neglected”.

He added that the aristocracy in Egypt also played a role in ignoring these types of folk music and therefore the music of the Hasaballah band was limited and is still popular among ordinary people.

“But the presence of the Hasaballah band was important on special occasions to the extent that it was a kind of pride for a man to request that band at his son’s wedding,” he added.

“It was creating joy for many middle-class and people in lower social and income groups and I hope that it can revive its music and make a comeback,” Abu Hagar said.


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