Sheikh Sayyed Darweesh was a major influence in modernizing Egyptian music. Little known during his lifetime, Darweesh has been revered since his death, from an overdose of cocaine, in 1923. In addition to composing numerous adwar and muviashshahit, Darweesh wrote operettas for the Arabic lyric theater. Many of his songs, including "Salma Ya Salama" and "Zuruni Koll-e Sana Marra," have gone on to become part of Egyptian folklore. Trained to be a munshid (cantor), Darweesh initially supported himself as a bricklayer. His first break, according to legend, came when the manager of a theatrical troupe heard him singing to fellow workers and was so impressed that he offered him a singing job and an opportunity to study music in Syria. Returning to Egypt in the early 1910s, Darweesh continued to sing in cafes. Although his initial repertoire focused on songs by 19th century Egyptian composers, he soon added his own compositions. When the popularity of the cafes began to fade in 1918, Darweesh moved to Cairo and became involved with the leading theatrical companies. Together with playwright and poet Badi Khayri, he composed seven operettas for Nagib Al-Rashani's troupe, many reflecting on the oppressive political climate in colonial Egypt. Darweesh also composed many tunes for Rihani's rival, Ali Al-Kassar. In the early '20s, Darweesh composed several comical operettas for actress and vocalist, Munira Al-Mahdujya and an opera, Cleopatra and Mark-Anthony, that premiered in 1927. As his reputation grew, Darweesh found his services requested by Egypt's top theatrical companies. Deciding to launch his own company, he produced two shows in 1921 -- Shahwazad and Al-Baruka. Neither was successful, and Darweesh was forced to seek work with other companies for the rest of his life. Darweesh's productions were known for their reliance on westernized influences. Rather than utilizing the traditional takht, he used a European ensemble conducted by Il Signore Casio. Darweesh's compositions were released by three labels. Between 1914 and 1920, he recorded for Mechian. His light theatrical repertoire of 1922 was released by Odeon. In the same year, three original adwar were recorded and released by Bardaphon.
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