We have come to learn about Paris in the 1920's through the famous "Lost Generation" crew -- made up of key figures like Ernest Hemingway and Gertrude Stein. We may even know a thing or two about The Cotton Club in NYC during that time when Harlem became a cultural hub for dynamic jazz and blues as well as a platform for rising jazz artists like Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith.
Yet little was known of Cairo during the Roaring '20s, until Raphael Cormack's book Midnight in Cairo: The Female Stars of Egypt’s Roaring ‘20s was published earlier this spring by Saqi Books. During that era of newfound freedom, after WWI and the Spanish Flu outbreak which had caused the Western world to come to a halt, women in Egypt's club scene expressed themselves in the bright colours of feminism, independence and transgression.
The 1920s in Cairo were a time of revolution – political, social, and cultural. Egypt had recently won independence from British rule (officially at least if not always in practice), women were becoming more prominent in public life, and Cairo was one of the most multicultural cities in the world where Muslims, Christians, and Jews all rubbed shoulders in cafés, bars, and theatres.
Starting this 21 September and for a period of four weeks, the Arab British Centre will offer an online, once-a-week course titled "Cairo in the Roaring ‘20s." Based on the research behind the new book Midnight in Cairo: The Female Stars of Egypt’s Roaring ‘20s, this online course uses the stories of the singers, actresses, and dancers of this period to tell a different kind of Middle Eastern history. Exploring the political, social and cultural histories of the period, historian and author Raphael Cormack will guide you through the smoky cabarets, raucous music halls and crowded theatres of Cairo’s nightlife district where legendary Oum Kalthoum got her first break and where a former nightclub singer, Mounira al-Mahdiyya, performed the first Arabic opera. This is the story of the vibrant culture of the 20th century Arab world; and the hidden history of a Middle East defined by creativity.
Cormack has a PhD in Egyptian theatre from the University of Edinburgh and is currently a visiting researcher at Columbia University. He is an award-winning editor and translator and has written on Arabic culture for the London Review of Books and elsewhere.
Women like Aziza Amir (pictured here) burst onto Cairo's nightlife scene in the mid-1920s and, in 1927, produced 'the first Egyptian film', Layla. While pictured above in our header is Badia Masabni, a comic actress, singer and dancer from Damascus, who was a performer and owner of a nightclub. Masabni was a famous comic actress and singer in Cairo during the mid-1920s; but in 1926, when she opened the first sala (cabaret hall) on Emad al-Din Street, she became a superstar. She is surrounded by her troupe.
The classes, which will take place from 6pm-7:30pm each afternoon -- London time, will explore the following:
On 21 September: Beginnings
Explore how Cairo's modern entertainment industry developed over the late 19th century and early 20th century with the rise of theatres, nightclubs and 78-rpm records. We’ll look at how it transforms with the carnivalesque 1919 revolution which ignited the social change and cultural boom of the 1920s.
On 28 September: The Golden Age
Look at the political, social, and cultural movements being born (including the feminist movement) as well as the increasingly diverse makeup of the city's population. Examine how this paved the way for this period of creativity in music, dance, and theatre, as well as its biggest stars, some of which are still celebrated worldwide today.
On 5 October: Global Arab Celebrities
How were modern celebrities created? Dive into period magazines, records, films, and autobiographies and learn how Egyptian and Arab performers became international superstars, touring the world in the 1920s and 1930s, from Baghdad to New York.
And on 12 October: Endings
Chart the various forces that led to the decline of Cairo’s interwar nightlife – from the rise of the film industry worldwide to the forces who sought to censor it, culminating in the Cairo Fire of 1952 which destroyed many of the bars and cabarets that had fuelled the entertainment world. Discover why the incredible history of Egyptian nightlife and culture more generally should be celebrated today as it was in the roaring 20s.
The course ticket + book is offered for £130, while without book £120. But I highly recommend that you get the book. UK book delivery is included, while for other countries it can be posted to but please contact email@example.com before booking the course to confirm postage cost.
For more information and to book your slot, visit the Arab British Centre website.