Home > Reviews > Ramadan Scores 2022, Part 1

Ramadan Scores 2022, Part 1

Every year, during the holy Islamic month of Ramadan, television stations across the Middle East and North Africa broadcast lavishly-produced, high profile drama and comedy television series. The cream of the Arabic-speaking world is involved in their creation – directors, writers, actors, and composers – and the resulting shows play to audiences of millions across the region. Many of the best series come from Egypt, and this article takes a look at the music from five of the most high profile Egyptian-made Ramadan dramas of 2022, featuring music by composers Khaled Al Kammar, Khaled Hammad, Layal Watfeh, Mohamed Nassef, Ashraf Elziftawi, and Adel Hakki, among others, plus additional scores from shows made in Kuwait and Syria.

I want to publicly thank my friend, the award-winning author and poet Hasan Namir, for his invaluable help here – this article literally would not be possible without him!

 

THE CHOICE 3: THE DECISION – Khaled Al Kammar

In 2020 one of the most acclaimed Ramadan TV series was Al Ekhteyar, known in English as The Choice. Produced primarily in Egypt, the series told the true story of Ahmed Saber Al Mansi, an elite commander in Egypt’s Special Forces, who sacrificed his life to save dozens of others during a terrorist attack in the Egyptian city of Rafah, Sinai, in 2017. The second season of the series, subtitled ‘Regal El Dhel’ or ‘Men of Shadow,’ expanded the concept of the original series beyond the story of one man, and instead looks at the lives and deaths of numerous individuals who worked for the Egyptian Ministry of Interior between 2013 to 2020. This new third season, subtitled ‘Al Qarar’ or ‘The Decision,’ depicts the events Egypt witnessed in the years following the January 25 Revolution, chronicling the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power, and the crises that afflicted Egypt during that period, which ended in the outbreak of the June 30 Revolution.

The first season of The Choice was scored by Tamer Karawan; for the second season he passed the musical baton to his fellow Egyptian composer, the superbly talented Khaled Al Kammar, and Al Kammar has returned for Season 3. The music is genuinely excellent – broadly orchestral, richly thematic, emotional, authentic, and often very action packed and exciting, with a sound that reflects some of Hans Zimmer’s best action music tendencies, blended with middle eastern phrasing, chord progressions, and instrumental choices.

The “Season 3 Main Titles” is a rousing, brassy militaristic march, a noble tribute to the patriotic men and women of the Egyptian military; these ideas continue later in “Ascending” and the superb, sweeping “End Titles” which could have come straight from a Media Ventures-Remote Control power anthem, and “The General – Slower Version,” which reprises the main theme with a sense of solemn dignity. Cues like “Sinai” and “Ekhwan” embrace a more traditional sound, using oud, qanun, ethnic flutes, and lots of percussion textures, but these are often layered alongside contemporary electronic pulses to bring them roaring into the twenty first century – a stark but excellent collision of ancient and modern.

On the other hand, cues like “Dignity” and “Somewhere Between Losing and Winning” are very emotional, featuring earnest string writing with a special focus on solo violins, and which are often very beautiful. Interestingly, the “Elegy” reprises a theme from the Season 2 soundtrack – the Investigators theme – re-orchestrated as a slow, heartfelt cello solo filled with poignancy and pathos, performed with emotional depth by the great Tina Guo.

Unfortunately, the score for The Choice Season 3 has not yet been commercially released, although the composer did produce a 35-minute promotional album for awards consideration purposes, and several selections can be heard on the composer’s Youtube page here: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCJ42aP0WyUOvN7h69w5i_jA.

Track Listing: 1. Al Ekhteyar Season 3 Main Titles (3:21), 2. Sinai (2:39), 3. Terror (2:21), 4. Dignity (2:46), 5. Ascending (3:32), 6. Ekhwan (3:32), 7. Somewhere Between Losing and Winning (2:46), 8. Eastern Emotional (2:44), 9. The General – Slower Version (2:18), 10. Trumpet Static Underscore (3:32), 11. Elegy (2:10), 12. End Titles (3:07). Promo, 34 minutes 52 seconds

 

ENHERAF – Mohamed Nassef

Enheraf, which translates to English as Deviation, is an Egyptian TV series directed by Raouf Abdul Aziz, starring Rogina, Abdel Aziz Makhyoun, and Samiha Ayoub. It is based on a true story, and follows the lives of a number of individuals in contemporary Cairo whose lives are manipulated by an amoral and unscrupulous psychiatrist with a hidden agenda. The score for Enheraf is by Egyptian composer Mohamed Nassef, and is again anchored by a thrilling main theme, filled with intense percussion ideas, and overlaid with a swirling, twisting, snake-like string melody full of traditional Arabic chord progressions, which then cleverly moved between oud, woodwinds, and piano as it progresses.

The rest of the score is good, but it doesn’t quite reach the heights of the main theme. Cues like “Hidden” and “Fire Truth” and “Treason” tend to be a little more abstract and dissonant, explorations of string harmonics and unusual metallic ambient sounds, with just fragments of the main theme appearing from time to time. It’s all quite dark and dramatic, really leaning into the idea that this psychiatrist is ruining these people’s lives with her unethical and manipulative behaviors.

There is a more intense and rhythmic element in “Chasing Fears,” which passes a little ostinato around between cellos, pianos, and oud, and then eventually becomes an action-chase sequence anchored a propulsive string figure and heavy percussion that is very satisfying. The conclusive track, “Peace,” is really lovely, an arrangement of the main theme for a delicate, lyrical solo pianos backed by electronic bass to give it some depth, and which finishes with a melodic and warm string flourish. Overall, it’s really good; perhaps a little repetitive in the middle, but worth exploring for the highlights.

The End Titles piece for Enheraf is available on Nassef’s soundcloud page here: https://soundcloud.com/nassef-1. Unfortunately, the rest of the score has not yet been commercially released, although the composer did produce a 35-minute promotional album for awards consideration purposes.

Track Listing: Enheraf Titles (3:36), Hidden (2:54), Fire Truth (5:12), Treason (5:28), Dawn (6:25), Unforgiven (4:25), Chasing Fears (5:05), Peace (3:21). Promo, 36 minutes 28 seconds.

 

MEN SHAREA EL HAREM EL – Amir Hedayah

Men Sharea El Harem El is a drama TV series from Kuwait directed by Muhammad El-Shura and starring Noor Al-Ghandour as Karima, a dancer who travels from her home in Kuwait to Egypt to attend a wedding, but then decides to switch from dancing in a folklore troupe to dancing in one of the nightclubs on Haram Street in Cairo. The story develops as Karima must subsequently contend with three men fighting for her affections: a local government officer, the manager of the nightclub, and the drummer in her belly dancing group.

The score for Men Sharea El Harem El is by Egyptian composer Amir Hedayah, and it’s very stylish and quite unusual. The opening titles have a playful, bouncy, almost Danny Elfman-esque vibe for mischievous woodwinds, coupled with a touch of 1940s American jazz, and with a Hollywood sheen in the strings. It’s an unexpected tone for the show to take, but it perfectly captures Karima’s dreams of dancing stardom and the slightly naïve worldview she has. There are also two themes, both called “The City,” which are sort of a representation of Cairo by night, one anchored by violin, and one anchored by piano., and which have an elegant, romantic tone that is really appealing.

This light jazz vibe carries on through much of the rest of the score and has a way of evoking an unusual atmosphere that is at once sultry, slightly comedic, playfully romantic, but also with an undercurrent of menace – aa difficult balance to achieve . I really like the duet for clarinet and pizzicato strings in “Sexy Sneak,” the salsa/pop vibe in “Time Shop,” and the almost caper-like atmosphere of “Dumb Love” and “Eyebrows”

More serious cues include the emotional cello writing in “The Story” and “Waves of Tears,” the rumbling piano textures in “The Murder,” the use of waves of rolling percussion in “Waves of Sorrow,” and the gentle intimacy of the piano version of the main theme in, appropriately, “Piano Main”. Overall, it’s an excellent score which successfully captures the life of a young woman in contemporary Cairo, and all the various emotional pitfalls, romantic interludes, and serious dramatic episodes involved.

The score for Men Sharea El Harem El has actually been released commercially, and is available to stream via Spotify here: https://open.spotify.com/album/4GUHrvgABrABeRtYbTg9lj

Track Listing: 1. Opening Titles (2:18), 2. The City Violin (1:45), 3. Sexy Sneak (2:12), 4. The Story (1:51), 5. The Murder (1:12), 6. Time Shop (1:20), 7. So Far Away (1:46), 8. Strange Convo (1:25), 9. Waves of Tears (2:44), 10. Dumb Love (1:59), 11. Piano Main (1:38), 12. Eyebrows (1:22), 13. A Thought of Crime (1:15), 14. Lame Elegance (1:00), 15. Waves of Sorrow (2:44), 16. The Darkest Attempt (1:38), 17. Sweet Coincidence (1:14), 18. An Evil Plan (2:09), 19. The City Piano (1:45). Hedayah Music, 33 minutes 25 seconds.

 

AL MISHWAR – Layal Watfeh

Al Mishwar or Mishwaar, which translates to English as The Journey, is an Egyptian drama-thriller TV series starring Mohamed Ramadan, Dina al-Sherbiny, and Iyad Nassar, directed by Mohamed Yassin. It follows the story of Maher, who is forced to leave Cairo with his wife and his young to escape from a dangerous and violent businessman and antiquities dealer, and start a new life away from the public eye.

The score for Al Mishwar is somewhat groundbreaking as it by the Syrian composer Layal Watfeh who is one of the few – if not the only – female composers working regularly in the Arabic film music industry. It’s also quite outstanding, a sweeping orchestral piece recorded with the Prague Metropolitan Orchestra featuring prominent cello solos, and traditional middle eastern instruments such as an oud and a qanun.

The main theme is a knockout, big and bold, with a memorable melodic line, clever percussive patterns, and dramatic use of a female vocal, performed by Watfeh herself. Other cues are softer and more intimate; there is some pseudo-classical, almost renaissance-style writing for strings and qanun, which almost doubles as a harpsichord, as well as some lyrical and tender moments which focus on piano and woodwinds.

The frequent use of cello adds a great deal of emotional depth, lamenting for the life and peace and safety Maher wants for his family but seemingly cannot provide; there are also a couple of quite intense action sequences, representing these constantly dangers, with make terrific use of bold string figures underpinned with some subtle electronics and metallic percussion textures, and occasionally descending into something quite shockingly brutal and anguished. It’s all really, really good, and very much worth exploring.

The main title music for Al Mishwar is available on Youtube here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z_VrnO3mVIE. Unfortunately, the rest of the score has not yet been commercially released, although the composer did produce a 90-minute promotional album for awards consideration purposes.

 

RAGEEN YA HAWA – Khaled Hammad

Rageen Ya Hawa (translated to English as Coming Back, Love) is an Egyptian drama TV series starring Khaled al-Nabawy, Nour, Hana Shiha, and Anushka, directed by Mohamed Osama. The story follows Baligh, a reckless young man who returns returns to Egypt to claim an inheritance after accumulating enormous gambling debts while traveling in Europe, but who quickly becomes embroiled in a sinister family drama – specifically relating to the fact that his brother, whose inheritance is central to the plot, may have been murdered. The score for Rageen Ya Hawa is by the outstanding Ukrainian-Egyptian composer Khaled Hammad, who some may remember from his scores for Awalem Khafea in 2018, and El Tawoos and Nagib Zahi Zarkash in 2021.

The score is classically elegant and very rich, concentrating mostly on layers of strings layered around a solo cello. “Theme 1” has a slightly melancholy air combined with wealth and opulence. “Theme 2” introduces a piano line into the strings to bring a different tone and timbre, while the strings have a slightly more whimsical and playful tone. Things turn serious with “Theme 3 – Version 1,” which captures the more treacherous and dangerous side of Baligh’s life with a chattering, tinkling oud solo backed by ominous synth ambience. On the other hand, both “Theme 4” and “Theme 5” almost seem pastoral and idyllic, warm and homely folk tunes that have a welcoming feel to its oud and ney flute performances, and which are backed by lovely accents for strings and piano.

The score continues very much in this vein for the rest of album, offering warm and mostly strongly classical pieces full of emotional content and lovely writing for piano, string orchestra, and the handful of middle eastern speciality instruments. Perhaps one mild criticism I could make of the score is that it does tend to be a little repetitive, and there isn’t a great deal of content dealing with the darker parts of the story regarding Baligh’s brother’s murder, but these are small quibbles for what is otherwise a lovely listening experience.

The score for Rageen Ya Hawa has not been released commercially, but is available to stream in its entirety via the composer’s Soundcloud page here: https://soundcloud.com/khaled_hammad/sets/rageen-ya-hawa-original-tv-series-soundtrack.

Track Listing: 1. Theme 1 (2:58), 2. Theme 2 (2:03), 3. Theme 3 – Version 1 (2:22), 4. Theme 4 – Version 1 (2:12), 5. Theme 5 (2:00), 6. Theme 6 (2:08), 7. Theme 3 – Version 2 (3:24), 8. Theme 7 (2:15), 9. Theme 8, 10. Theme 9 (1:54), 11. Theme 10 (1:08), 12. Theme 4 – Version 2 (2:26). Promo, 24 minutes 50 seconds.

 

SHADOW – Ashraf Elziftawi

Shadow is a Syrian TV drama series directed by Mahmoud Kamel, which focuses on the lives of three brothers. Qais leaves his legal profession because he cannot bear to remain silent about injustice, Jalal uses the law for his own personal interests, while Gibran – the only brother not involved in the law – is an international fashion designer trying to overcome the suicide of his girlfriend.

The score for Shadow is by Egyptian composer Ashraf Elziftawi, and it is an elegant and thematic orchestral work strongly based on western classical traditions. The “Main Theme” is gorgeous, a deep and sonorous piece for solo cello and strings, with just the merest hint of familiar tremolos and chord progressions that are so familiar in Arabic classical music. This theme follows the three brothers through the story, adapting and changing to fit their circumstances – in “New Beginnings” it is playful, hopeful, and flavored with pizzicato textures and light chimes, while in cues like “The Anonymous Writer” and the searing “Gibran’s Death” it focuses back on the cello with dramatic intent. Perhaps the highlight performance of the theme comes in the romantic and longing “Eternal Love,” which is just gorgeous.

The ”Conspiracy” theme is much darker, a blend of moody piano chords and sometimes quite harsh and ambient electronica, clearly showing the shadowy threat of danger that looms over the brothers and the lives. Subsequent cues like “Dark Secrets,” “Buried Rage,” “Mystery Visitor,” and the occasionally quite dissonant and unnerving “Jalal’s Plan” explore these ideas more deeply, with “Mystery Visitor” having a sequence of light action/thriller music towards the end that is effective at creating a threatening mood. One other cue of note is “Poisoned Fall,” which uses 1980s-style synth textures in an interesting way.

The conclusive pair, “Finale” and the title track “Shadow” end the album with a supremely satisfying 10-minute exploration of the main theme, during which the music rises to some powerful emotional heights. This is great stuff, moody and emotional and thematically strong, highly recommended.

The score for Shadow has not been released commercially, but is available to stream in its entirety via the composer’s Soundcloud page here: https://soundcloud.com/ash-ebrahim/sets/shadow-full-soundtrack.

Track Listing: 1. Main Theme (2:51), 2. Conspiracy (2:12), 3. New Beginnings (2:11), 4. Questions (0:52), 5. The Anonymous Writer (0:49), 6. Dark Secrets (2:55), 7. Don’t Worry About Me (0:45), 8. Buried Rage (1:26), 9. Eternal Love (2:11), 10. Last Breath (2:56), 11. Mystery Visitor (2:55), 12. Cross Roads (1:32), 13. Poisoned Fall (3:03), 14. Die My Love (1:54), 15. Jalal’s Plan (2:58), 16. Gibran’s Death (2:11), 17. Afraid To Say GoodBye (1:02), 18. Lost Souls (1:13), 19. Finale (5:12), 20. Shadow (4:46). Promo, 46 minutes 06 seconds.

 

TOUBA – Adel Hakki

Touba is an Egyptian drama series starring Amr Saad, Asmaa Aboul Yazid, Maged al-Masry, and Saba Mubarak, and directed by Ahmed Saleh. After leaving a life of crime seven years ago and fleeing Cairo, Touba now lives a quiet life in Port Said with his wife and son. However, Touba’s life is upended when a man from his criminal past arrives on his doorstep, and his secret former life is revealed.

The score for Touba is by Egyptian composer Adel Hakki, who has been writing music for Arabic-language films and TV series for many years, and also spent 15 years living and working in Spain. The score for Touba is melodramatic and emotional, focusing mostly on the tragedy of Touba’s life, and the way his criminal past constantly comes back to haunt him, no matter how hard he tries to leave it behind. It’s anchored by three themes, all of which are just gorgeous. “Theme One” is essentially a lament, a gorgeous and heartbreaking piece for oud, arghūl clarinet, piano, and strings that rises and swells to some superb, dramatic crescendos.

“Theme Two” is a little more circumspect, perhaps a little more traditionally romantic, and is arranged mostly for piano and strings and bass guitar, with a different melodic line for the oud and the arghūl passing back and forth between them. “Theme Three” introduces a ney flute into the instrumental color palette, and is essentially a series of explorations on a third melodic line, which has a haunting, melancholy quality; some of the performance techniques of the ney, quivering and echoing, are very evocative, and the western textures that surround it – delicate pianos and warm strings – are just superb.

Unfortunately, the score for Touba has not yet been commercially released, although the composer did produce a 30-minute promotional album for awards consideration purposes, and selections from the score can be heard via Hakki’s personal YouTube page at https://www.youtube.com/c/AdelHakky.

Track Listing: 1. Theme One (2:22), 2. Theme Two (2:37), 3. Theme Three (6:29), 4. Piano Solo Theme One (Version 1) (2:54), 5. Piano Solo Theme One (Version 2) (3:10), 6. Piano Solo Theme Two (Version 1) (3:36), 7. Piano Solo Theme Two (Version 2) (3:36), 8. Joy Piano One (1:25), 9. Joy Piano One (Long Version) (2:53). Promo, 29 minutes 03 seconds.

  1. June 9, 2022 at 5:30 pm

    Great I have read your article and enjoyed it a lot and am excited to read more from you.

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