Blast from the Middle East Past - Omar Khorshid
Blast from the Middle East Past is a new section I am adding to this site that will be dedicated to music, movies and anything cultural from the days of old. It will be a collection of memories I will share with you, and I hope in return, it will take you back to some good times. If you have any similar memories or stories to share, please feel free to leave a comment or drop me a line.
For the first issue, I would like to introduce you to Omar Khorshid from Egypt - known as the greatest Middle Eastern electric guitarist. Born in 1945, he grew up playing the piano and violin. He took up the guitar much later and played with his band Les Petit Chats in the underground rock clubs of Cairo in the 1960s.
After seeing him perform in Alexandria, Abdel Halim Hafez invited Khorshid to play the electric guitar with his Oriental Orchestra. This paved the way for Khorshid to play with the legendary Oum Kalthoum and Mohammed Abdel Wahab. With his Western-style electric guitar, his music added a new freshness to traditional Arab music and broadened the scope of Egyptian orchestral pop music.
He lived and worked in Lebanon between 1973-77 and during that time released several albums that included guitar versions of Middle Eastern classics to experimental and Westernised tunes. He also acted in several Egyptian, Lebanese and Syrian movies and composed over 40 movie soundtracks during that period.
After the civil war broke out in Lebanon, Omar Khorshid returned to Egypt in 1977. He was killed in tragic car accident in 1981 under what some consider are suspicious circumstances.
So although he left us too soon, his contribution is long lasting. His fusion of traditional Arabic music with Western sounds and the blend of American surf guitar that makes you want to shimmy and belly dance is what I remember hearing on the radio or watching on TV when I was a child.
I don't think I realised how unique his sound was at the time and I have not heard anything like it since. Sadly, I don't own any of his records, but I have just recently started looking for his music online and adding to my music collection. What I would do to get my hands on some of the original LPs and cassettes...
In April this year, Sublime Frequencies released Guitar El Chark (Guitar of the Orient), a double double vinyl set with a short biography and almost 90 minutes of music.
Guitar El Chark collects instrumental recordings that Khorshid made in Beirut from 1973-1977, which was one of the most prolific and creative periods of his short career. The collection centers on music by Arabic composers, ranging from traditional songs to tunes by contemporary songwriters like Nour al Malah and Khorshid himself. The playing is peerless: Khorshid’s reverb-mad middle eastern surf guitar mixed with intricate hand percussion, serpentine accordion and sci-fi synth sounds. Some of the finest moments come when Khorshid lets loose on the Moog, injecting a singularly alien glow over the proceedings — this is perhaps most notable on the scintillatingly propulsive title track. But even on a more straightforwardly sensuous song like "Habitaty (My Beloved)," Khorshid’s guitar work is out of this world.
I just finished listening to this album and it is divine. For more Omar Khorshid love, there's a site, omarkhorshid.org, which is lovingly dedicated to him. It includes old interviews, magazine clippings, filmography, discography, links to download his music and much more. If you want to know more about him, I strongly recommend you spend time there.
Could this be a revival of all things Omar Khorshid? I hope so. He was such a talented heartthrob, he deserves it. For now, enjoy this tune, Ya Gamil from the Farid El Atrache album.
Guitar El Chark reviews: