Recognized worldwide as a leader of the movement to popularize jeel, Hakim is an innovator who has revolutionized the genre of sha’bi. His music adds modern rhythms to a foundation of traditional sha’bi melodies, resulting in entirely new sounds. It is the music of the masses, evident by his ever-growing fan base throughout Europe, Australia, and the Middle East.
Lauded as a musical “trail blazer,” Hakim has sold an estimated six and a half million units throughout his career. Just as sha’bi is defined as the music of the people, Hakim is someone his audience can relate to, through songs that fuse traditional melodies with urban dance beats, and lyrics .that chronicle daily life through the rhythm of street slang.
A major figure in the international music scene, Hakim has played to sell-out crows in Europe, the Middle East, Australia, North America, and Africa. He has received numerous accolades including the award for Best North African Singer 2000 at Africa’s prestigious Kora Awards, and he was chosen to represent Egypt at 1994’s Festival des Allumees in Nantes, France.
In 1999, his rising popularity prompted France’s Blue Silver label to release “The Best of the Big Egyptian Star,” an album of hits that was met with acclaim from crowds of new European fans.
Hakim was born in Maghagha, in the province of Minya, Egypt. A devotee of sha’bi from the very beginning, he began singing at the age of eight. At fourteen he formed a band and started performing at local parties and school functions with the accompaniment of a tabla, a daf, and an accordion. The band played covers of classic sha’bi hits by Ahmed Adaweya, Mohamed El Ezabi, and Abdel Ghani Al Sayed. Soon they expanded, bringing in keyboards and drums and performing all over the Minya province.
Under academic pressure from his father, who, as the mayor of Maghagha, wanted his son to secure a professional future rather than follow his artistic proclivities, Hakim moved to Cairo to attend the prestigious University of El Azhar. Meanwhile he was meeting with other musicians at the cafes on Mohammed Ali Street (a centuries-old gathering spot for artists of all sorts) and his interest in renewing the sha’bi genre was cemented.
It was there on the bustling streets of Cairo that he received his musical training for the music of the streets. One of Hakim’s teachers was the famed street accordionist Ibrahim El Fayoumi, who helped him convey in his music the unadulterated spirit of the street.
Having completed his B.A. in Communications in 1983, Hakim returned to Maghagha with the intent to pursue music. He formed his own orchestra consisting of a blend of oriental instruments (tabla, daf, dohola, accordion, kawala, quarter-tone trumpets) and western instruments (drum set, bass guitar, keyboards). They set about performing all over Minya, and Hakim soon became the province’s most popular singer. Yet he still longed for the artistic atmosphere of the metropolis of Arabic music. So, following his passion and defying his father, Hakim moved to Cairo to devote himself fully to his music.
In 1989 Hakim met the highly-acclaimed producer Hamid El Shaeri and a great partnership was formed. Soon after, Hakim signed a contract with the record company Sonar Ltd / Slam Records and began recording his first album, with El Shaeri as his producer.
Response to the electronic-sha’bi mix of Nazra, released in 1991, was phenomenal, as the album hit the charts immediately and the first pressing of the cassette was sold out within a month. Hundreds of phone calls came in requesting Hakim to perform. Determined to get the word out about the album, he went to DJs and gave them copies of his tape – the first time any Egyptian artist handled his own publicity in this way.
In 1994, after the release of his second album, Nar, Hakim was chosen to represent Egypt at the Festival des Allumees in Nantes, France. Hakim, shrewdly viewing this as an opportunity to bring jeel music to a wider audience, popularized sha’bi as no other musician had, and became known as the “king of jeel”.
1996 saw Hakim receive a nomination for the esteemed Kora Award in the category of Best North African Singer. In the same year he released the album Efred, the first of many collaborative efforts between himself, lyricist Amal El Taer, and composer Essam Tawfik.
Although Hakim stopped doing covers in favor of performing original songs, he has only written a small portion of his songs. In the collaborative process, he offers general concepts, which are then developed further by El Taer and Tawfik.
With 1998’s Hakim Remix, he turned eight of his previously-released hits over to Britain’s Transglobal Underground, who then put their own spin on things. It was a daring move, as Hakim had to maintain the right balance between tradition and innovation. ”I don’t mind pushing towards the evolution but I do not want to lose the identity in the process,” he noted. Also released in 1998 was the album Hayel, a selection of traditional sha’bi and return to his musical roots.
Hakim’s experimental search for the perfect fusion of tradition with innovation is presented in his album, Yaho, which was released by Mondo Melodia / Ark 21 Records on December 5, 2000. Its original version is already a huge success in the Middle East, having sold over 1 million copies.
The U.S. version features four remixes by the acclaimed British group Transglobal Underground and two brand new songs including Yemin We Shemal by French producer Sodi and El Bi Hebeni El. It is a testament to Hakim’s sha’bi roots as well as a musical journey on an international level. In traditional sha’bi style, classical Middle Eastern instruments such as the oud and nay mingle with Hakim’s rich tenor vocals during the mawwal. Also keeping with sha’bi custom, Hakim’s lyrics, which are mostly about everyday life, are never syrupy or heavy, rather they are coy, light-hearted, and witty.
His most significant live album was recorded in the heart of Brooklyn New York, The Lion Roars, Live in America (Mondo Melodia/Ark 21, 2001), produced by Dawn Elder. Singing to audiences who typically didn’t understand a word of Arabic, he captivated them with his voice, and the traditional roots of his sha’bi music.
This release was also followed by the most significant tour in Hakim’s International career. Originally scheduled to start his first major American tour in September of 2001, along with fellow Algerian Artist Khaled, Hakim was shocked as the entire world watched on TV the devastation of the 911 events in the United States. He stood at the airport watching the news with his Egyptian orchestra all set to board a plane to New York on the eve of 911.
The tour was of canceled, but remarkably rescheduled a few months later. Hakim along with his entire Egyptian Orchestra believed it was vital to the healing of communities of all ethnic backgrounds in the United States to proceed with his tour of North America.
In 2004 and 2005 Hakim released two more albums Talakik (Ark21) and Kolo Yorkoss. Talakik featured two hit singles and won several Latin music awards. The first, Ajielbi, a duet with Olga Tañón, that topped the Latin and Arab music charts, followed by a second hit “ Salam” featured in the movie Vanity Fair , starring Reece Witherspoon.
Lela (2006) featured collaborations with James Brown and Stevie Wonder. In 2007 Hakim released “Tigi Tigi.” This was followed by “Ya Mazago” in 2011 that included the song “Kolena Wahed” which called for a unity of the peoples of the Arab world.
In 2014, Hakim was invited to write the lead song for the movie Halawet Rooh, starring the Middle East’s most popular actress Haifa Webhe. The movie was a success and the music video of the song reached millions of viewers:
Nazra (Sonar Ltd / Slam Records, 1991)
Yaho (Mondo Melodia / Ark 21 Records, 2000)
The Lion Roars – Live in America (Mondo Melodia 850 043, 2001)
Talakik (Mondo Melodia, 2002)
Taminy Alek (2004)
El Youm Dol (2004)
Kolo Yoross (2005)
Lela (I.R.S. World, 2006)
Tigy Tigy (2007)
Ya Mazago (2011)
Author: Angel Romero
Angel Romero y Ruiz has been writing about world music music for many years. He founded the websites worldmusiccentral.org and musicasdelmundo.com. Angel produced several TV specials for Metropolis (TVE) and co-produced “Musica NA”, a music show for Televisión Española (TVE) in Spain that featured an eclectic mix of world music, fusion, electronica, new age and contemporary classical music. Angel also produced and remastered world music albums, compilations and boxed sets for Alula Records, Ellipsis Arts, Music of the World.