Letter to the Editor

It’s been a long time. I dropped off the face of the earth for two months with a broken ankle, a mild addiction to painkillers, and a set of jobs that is slowly killing me. And then, the day before yesterday, as I was limping to work, some old lady tossing trash out of her sixth-story window drenched me in a liquid I first thought was dirty water. Moments later, I recognized the metallic taste in my mouth and the red stains on my shirt for what they were: the thin, watery blood of a freshly slaughtered sheep.

I decided to take the blood in the very best way possible, as a symbol of rebirth and rejuvenation and an opportunity to tell my boss that I was worried I had gotten AIDS from a sheep, an admission that probably didn’t even lower me in his estimation. And then I took the week off from work.

How are things?

Are you still interested in an article from Egypt, after all this time? I am working on something that might indeed fit in with the issue. It’s about Ahmed Adaweya, the premier Shaabi (meaning “for the popular classes”) singer of the 1970s and early ‘80s.

Before his castration by the Saudi government, Adaweya was by far the most popular singer in Egypt. He sang songs like “Zahma, ya Donia, Zahma” (“the traffic, world, the traffic”) about the traffic in Cairo and “Drive slowly, taxi driver, drive slowly / I’ve got a child in the back seat.” And then there is his classic song “Haba fo’, haba taht” (“a little bit down, a little bit up”), about bringing the classes together to meet in the middle.

I’ve managed to track down his address, and I’m going to interview him in a couple of weeks. To be completely honest, I’m preoccupied with figuring out two things.

  1. Whether he was indeed castrated by the Saudis. Rumor has it that, in what seems to be a dramatic reenactment of the death of the great Russian Shaabi saint Rasputin, the Saudi royal family poisoned and stabbed Ahmed Adawaya before surgically castrating him in a British operating room. There are several reasons given as to why the Saudi royal family didn’t like him, all stemming from his incredible popularity: one story has it that a Saudi princess had fallen in love with him and was living with him in England, another that a prince had moved to England to smoke drogas with him and his gang of monotonous and merry music-makers. I tend toward the former of the two.

  2. Where his ******* currently resides. Rasputin’s reportedly traveled around the Russian countryside, drawing forth crowds of peasants to pay homage. It’s possible that, if found and properly packaged, Ahmed Adaweya’s would have much the same effect in Cairo, as he remains, a decade after he dropped out from the music scene, the second most beloved singer of Egypt behind Umm Kulthum. He was the first musician to sell more than a million copies of an album, and still, if you (as a foreigner) mention Ahmed Adaweya to a mechanic, taxi driver, or street cleaner, you’ll make a friend for life.

Indeed, it will be a great disappointment if his ******* is still attached to his body, but there are a lot of other things that my article could touch upon, such as the trends in Shaabi music that have led to its current incarnation: the “notorious” Shabaan abd al'Raheem, whose songs about the World Trade Center (“C'mon, folks, it’s only a tower, and America is the one that tore it down”) and the Palestinians (“I’m not afraid to speak my mind, Sharon is a killer”) have been featured on CNN and in Congressional reports.

Other subjects addressed would be religion, sex, and drugs, and why, a decade and a half after Ahmed Adaweya’s popularity peaked, he has become the preferred musical choice of Cairo’s intellectual elite, who all but ignored him when he first recorded.

And the manner in which rumors of Adaweya’s castration, whether true or not, fit in with the general crisis of Egyptian masculinity. Shaaban recorded a song just a few years ago about Viagra, which was recently legalized in Egypt. If nothing else, I am hot on the trail of *******, working and not, in Egyptian cultural life.

If all goes well, I might be able to get an interview with Shaaban, but that’s kind of a long shot, as his schedule is all but booked for the next decade. Though, in lieu of talking to the man, I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time translating a recent book written about Shaaban that explains why he continues to smoke even after recording a wildly popular anti-smoking song: Shaaban, the man himself explains, only smokes blue cigarettes.

Well, let me know if you’re interested. Or if you’d prefer an article about Egyptian freemasons, the pyramids, and conspiracy theories.