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SurfGuitar101 Forums » Surf Videos »

Permalink Origins of Misirlou ... Maybe

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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

Collection of videos of El Hilwa Di


Sounds closer in some ways. And some of the more Westernized renditions of El Helwa Di sound very different, so that I wonder if I trust my ear there. Wish this one gave a title I could decipher! The Google translator says the Arabic part is just "Sayed Darwish" again, and I think I hear his name in the lyrics. I think this is actually a fairly recent song about Sayed Darwish.

Recordings of Darwish singing, I believe:

The song LHR offers has the melody of "Pull Your Belt" (the song of the luggage carriers), so either I very coinfused (surprise) or one of his melodies was recycled.

Any Arabic-speaking surfers out there? Confused

Found this link on wikipedia to the US Library of Congress. Two versions of Misirlou recorded before WWII:



Let the campaign begin now to rename this site ""

Fascinating stuff here, boys. That Library of Congress info is insane.

Actually, wondering if this isn't the start of a new Forum Category in the index... a few more threads like this and it just may be deserving.


El Mirage @ ReverbNation

We can guess where it came from by the range of people who know it today: it can be heard at celebrations of Greeks, Turks, Arabs, or Jews. The logical explanation for this wide range is that it originated in Asia Minor, in what is now the borderlands of modern Turkey and Greece, i.e., between Salonica and Constantinople (the title means “Egyptian girl” in both Greek and Turkish). The song, surely one of the catchiest melodies ever, spread throughout Greece and the Ottoman Empire, and was also presumably picked up by the local Jewish community and spread from there. Who originally wrote it, of course, is lost to history; this, of course, doesn’t stop the Turks and Greeks from both claiming it, adding yet another dispute to their endless list of grudge matches (see the discussion page of the English Wikipedia article for amusing examples). We also don’t really know when it was written, although a reasonable guess would be late–19th-century.

Most sources state that the earliest known recording (spelled “Mousourlou”) was made in New York around 1930 by Michalis Patrinos, a Greek bandleader who had recently arrived in the United States. As of this writing, Wikipedia baldly states that Patrinos or his band wrote it; this is almost certainly baloney. It may not even be the earliest recording, despite claims to the contrary; Richard Spotwood’s Ethnic Music on Records, Volume 3: Eastern Europe lists a recording by Tetos Demetriades for Victor in 1927.

One thing everyone agrees on: the song was not written by Nick Roubanis, the credited songwriter. Like with many folk songs in the United States, the credit (and the royalties) went to the first person obnoxious enough to register a copyright. In this case, Greek-American bandleader Roubanis recorded a big band version in 1941 and listed himself as the songwriter, and that was that

See also:

The latter two are obviously related.

This may be part of their ancestry, probably an earlier version of the Wikipedia article!

What I find most interesting in the Wikipedia article is that Richard Monsour played the entire Misirlou on a single guitar string.

Second most interesting is that Monsieur Monsour calls himself Dick Dale.

The Insanitizers!

I was reading the liner notes the new Dick Dale best of cd.
and was surprised to find out the Mr. Richard Monsour was the child
of Lebanese and Polish parents.

not Italian at all.
wonder where that myth came from.
Shocked Wink



What I find most interesting in the Wikipedia article is that Richard Monsour played the entire Misirlou on a single guitar string.

Second most interesting is that Monsieur Monsour calls himself Dick Dale.

The story of the kid asking for a one-string song sounds a little too pat, like maybe it was a story to introduce a tour de force Dick Dale came up with on his own, but who knows. I have the impression that for the core of the song at least two strings are traditional, though only one at a time.

As far as Dale instead of Monsour, I believe it is one of those old "Kid, entertainers can't have an ethnic name" things from the past. Why Dale I have no idea. Monsour is apparently Arabic for "victory by divine aid." We owe a lot to Dick's family background, I think. Not just the ethnic chance that introduced him to the song in the family band. I gather they used to play a lot of Greek weddings. Actually, more the musical training and general family support he got.

The funniest Misirlou comment I ever heard was one I ran into on line by an Indian movie fan, saying that what he loved about Raat Se Kaho (the Bollywood version) was the exotic Western sound of it. At that point it dawned on me that if you're Indian, the West starts considerably further East than it does for most Americans and (Western) Europeans. Like somewhere in northwestern Pakistan.

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