Popular singer, Hassan al-Asmar, passed away on Sunday morning, marking the end of an era characterized by the rise of Sha’bi (working class) music. He died at the age of 52 due to a sudden heart attack, a medical source reported.
Asmar’s family comes from the Upper Egyptian province of Qena, yet he grew up in the historical middle-class neighborhood of Abbasseya in Cairo.
He was strongly influenced by the legendary Sha’bi singer Ahmed Adaweyah, who succeeded with the advent of the tape cassette in turning Sha’bi music into a powerful genre sought by distribution companies in Egypt.
In the mid-eighties, Asmar achieved some success, getting small acting roles in cinema and performing mawwals – a traditional kind of vocal music sung in colloquial Arabic.
His first cinematic appearance was in the 1984 comedy film “Tabounet Hamza” (Hamza’s Bakery). He then found roles with various comedian stars of the 1980s, such as Younis Shalaby and Sayed Zian. And in 1988, he performed in the movie “A Man against the Law”.
Within a few years, many of his songs and mawwals became very popular, including “Kitab Hayati” (The Book of My Life), “Mawwal Omri” (Mawwal of My Age), “Taam al-Ayam” (The Taste of the Days), “Hila Hila”, “Tajer al-Sabr” (The Merchant of Patience) and “Ala Fein Ya Hawa” (Where are You Going, Love?).
“People saw al-Asmar in movies and plays, so he was more famous than most of his contemporaries,” says Hatem Hafez, lecturer at the Academy of the Arts.
But it wasn’t until Adaweyah gradually disappeared from the music scene due to health problems, that Asmar gained increased recognition. In fact, some critics see Asmar as Adaweyah’s natural heir to the throne of Sha’bi music.
“His role in the music scene can’t be compared to Adaweyah,” says Hafez. “But Asmar was more talented and knowledgeable about music compared to his contemporaries.”
In the famous TV serial “Arabesque”, Asmar performed some of his finest Mawwals, which the public received positively and memorized.
“At the time he was acting in ‘Arabesque’ he knew that he had raised the bar and couldn’t go back to singing bad songs similar to those on the market,” says Hafez.
Asmar kept a low profile for almost a decade before starring in the 2008 TV series “Qamar” (Moon), which was met with mixed reviews.
Last month, he sparked controversy by announcing that he would file a lawsuit against the April 6 Movement, accusing its members of orchestrating the Abbasseya protest march last month, which was attacked by armed civilians and resulted in the death of one demonstrator.
This post was originally published in Al-Masry Al-Youm