There's a rumor around on the Internet - I won't track down my source at the moment - that Misirlou might trace to a composition (or adaptation of something older) by Egyptian composer Sayed Darwish (many alternate spellings, of course, as usual for Arabic in transcription) called Bint Misr "Daughter of Egypt". I did one of my periodic searches for that just now and YouTube suggested Bint Masr as an alternate. That in turn turned up this rerecording of El Hilwa Di "the Sweet One" which might be of interest.
"In 1918, ninety one years ago, Sayed Darwish, who is considered the father of modern Egyptian music, wrote this song "El Hilwa Di" or (the Sweet One) for a play called "Walaw" for "Alreehany" theatrical troupe ... here is a remake of the same song."
For anything as serious as this, I'd rather hear the original, although, if it exists it would be a recording vintage 1918. Yes - they had recordings back then and Darwish's work is available in that form in some cases. The song does seem to be widely recorded and I believe it is safe to accept that at least the lyrics associated with that name as due to Darwish. The melody might be older still, of course.
I need to state clearly at this point that the melody here is suggestive of the earlier slow tempo versions of Misirlou, but not identical.
On the song:
On Sayed Darwish and his role in Egyptian music, specifically attributing the song to him:
Sayed Darwish (1892-1923) wrote various kinds of Egyptian classical music as well as popular music for the musical theater. He was also an Egyptian patriot who supported Egyptian independence (from British Colonial rule) and wrote what is now the Egyptian national anthem.
Calling the work of known composers "traditional" or "folk songs" is common if the songs are old enough, and for composers to use folk melodies is also extremely common. El Zorongo, the source of Exotic, has two sets of lyrics by Federico Garcia Lorca from the early mid 1900s as well as older folk lyrics, but as a melody and a dance it is supposed to go back to at least the middle 1700s, well before Garcia Lorca and it is definitely attested as a dance c. 1810.
bint = 'daughter' by extension 'daughter'
Misr/Masr = "Egypt'
el/al = 'the'
hilwa/helwa/halwa = 'sweet'
Incidentally when I say this is serious I mean that the Greeks claim Misirlou ("Egyptian Woman") (the word is a loan from Turkish!) and argue fairly fiercely about which Greek rebetiko artist composed it and first performed it. The lyrics (widely translated) are different from those of Al Hilwa Di, but do include some phrases in Arabic and it is always remarked as a bit unusual that this song by a Greek author should be a love song aimed at an Egyptian woman.
Anyway, I suspect there might be certain amount of outrage about the proposition of a (somewhat earlier) Egyptian source. The song (or perhaps rather the melody) is sometimes also suggested to have old Armenian or Albanian, etc., roots, and I wouldn't be surprized to hear of Bulgarian or Turkish versions if anyone looked seriously. These were all parts of the Ottoman Empire (and former Byzantine Empire) c. 1918, of course, though Egypt regularly escaped Ottoman (and Byzantine) control and had fallen into Colonial hands in the 1800s.
The melody could easily be traditional and quite old in the area and perhaps used coincidentally in both songs. Conceivably Basil II was humming it in 1014 as he had Krum's defeated Bulgarian army blinded. In any event, if Al Hilwa Di was available as a popular stage song and probably also as a recording c. 1918, whether or not the melody was traditional, it could easily have been widely circulated within the cultural area represented by the Ottoman/Byzantine state even though the Ottoman Empire had been falling apart from the mid 1700s and was finally dismembered decisively in 1918 after having joined the losing side in WW I.
This is getting long and I haven't even rehearsed the discussion of the documented first appearences of the song within Greek rebetiko (Arabic rabaat 'inn') musical tradition. Let me leave that for someone else!
Last edited: Jan 21, 2011 20:21:04