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Anisa & Nabaweya: A Hint of a Repertoire

Shining Peacekeeper Nabaweya Mustafa is a lesser-remembered but still prominently featured dancer of the Egyptian cinematic golden era (appearing in over 45 films between 1935 - 1955), whose background, training and life story has remained largely unknown.

With new information supporting her position as a well-known and popular artist raised by the almah Ms. Anisa el Masreya in the traditions of Mohammed Ali Street entertainers, we can start to examine what skills and talents their work together entailed.

According to current findings (Sept 2023), the first publications to appear, which mention Anisa el Masreya (aka Anous), her ensemble and her “sister” Nabaweya follow the 1932 Arabic Music Conference. It appears Anous was invited with her ensemble to participate at the conference in Cairo to represent the traditional kinds of music sung by Awalim for weddings and other important ceremonies such as the metahir (circumcision), a few recordings of which still exist here. (listen below):

"Metaher ya Oud Oronfil"

"Leyla el Henna"

Zeffat al-Arousa "Ya Talaa Talaet el Badr"

Zeffat al-Arousa "Onzor Beeinak"

I have yet to see anything that specifically lists each member of Anous’s ensemble and their duties, but it's implied by her presence in the publications which followed the conference that Nabaweya was likely singing if not also playing something like a frame drum.

Caption: Singer Anisa Al-Masrya and her sister Nabaweya [78rpm Recordings] (Awalim) at the Arab Music Conference. Translation: "I had the opportunity to hear samples of the (Awalim) records being made at the music conference by Gramophone Company featuring the famous almah the singer Anisa el-Masreya, her sister Nabaweya and the members of her band. I liked how the melodies were set on (the wahda [rhythmic mode]) and what increased their beauty is that they were composed of beloved popular melodies. It would be great if the Gramophone Company rushed to produce them and have them ready for listeners. ([Signed: A Musician])"


We see in the above musician's review, some details about their program at the conference such as the use of popular [shaabi] melodies set to the Wahda rhythm which we heard earlier in "Metaher ya Oud Oronfil". A few years later we get just a handful more details to embellish our understanding of the shows these artists gave.

"True tarab, excellent raqs sharqi, and serious music are available in the concerts given by the famous almah, Ms. Anisa el Masreya and her sister Miss Nabaweya, who perform throughout the country, at all the major parties in the homes of the dignitaries and notables of Egypt. (Muhammad Ali Street, Al-Manasra Lane, No. 80 in Egypt)."

"Miss Nabaweya el Masreya in one of her graceful dances performed at major wedding parties with the band of the famous almah, Ms. Anisa al Masreya, (Muhammad Ali Street, Al-Manasra Lane, number 80)"

These two clippings appear in the same issue of Al Sabah Magazine, a few months following the below review of their performance from a private family event in Mansoura, solidifying our understanding that Nabaweya was indeed performing raqs sharqi at weddings and other high society celebrations before and concurrent with her work in cinema, alongside Anous and her ensemble of musicians and vocalists.

The promotional photo of Nabaweya used here also coincides with other featurettes which mentioned dances she prepared such as "The Peacock" and "Star Soliloquy" but not where she performs them (whether they were made for film, casino/sala shows, or otherwise was unidentified), suggesting these dances were created specifically for the parties where she and Anous entertained.

"We saw Ms. Anisa el-Masreya, last Thursday evening, at the el-Qasaby family party in Mansoura, and we found her a true artist who demonstrated brilliance, genius, and ability in her art, and all the members of her troupe proved their skill and ingenuity, so I congratulate her as I congratulate miss Nabaweya for her wonderful raqs sharqi." ([Signed: female spectator from the audience])

Also presented at these events was a careful selection of "serious music" and tarab-inducing songs.

Could this include the "higher education" repertoire such as dawr or zikriayt? The ad below specifically mentions the creation of interesting and innovative monologues, a rising form at this period which was developing as a visually and lyrically satirical genre of light entertainment: “A monologue is a completely lyrical picture of words and melody, presentation, singing and movement…”(

While a second type of monologue of a more serious and romantic nature also exists in this period, it is less likely to have been in the repertoire of any awalim due to the high compositional demands of the form, but without more information it’s impossible to conclude that Anous wasn’t among the female vocalists of the 30’s to present her version of the poetic monologue.

Certainly, as wedding entertainers it's not a leap to include other "light music" such as vocal taqtuqa, a category of song traditionally performed by awalim for celebratory events, from which the comedic monologue is not too dissimilar in structure (Classical Arab; or instrumental dance melodies, in the repertoire of Anous and her ensemble, but I remain curious about what other forms were presented by their (often mixed-gender) ensemble, and what percentage of each show was allocated to which kinds of vocal or instrumental pieces.

"Ms. Anisa el Masreya and Miss Nabuweya Mustafa on the occasion of creating new dances and interesting, innovative monologues to be presented for parties and family celebrations. Her ensemble is formed from a select group of beautiful [female] voices. Address: Muhammed Ali Street No. 196, Egypt."

After exposure to these tiny new pieces of information, I am seeing with a different eye, Sabah in the 1946 film عدو المرأة [Aeduun al Mar’a’] ("Enemy of Women"), imagining Anous in her place with all her ensemble around her while Nabaweya dances for the guests, and rewatching 1945 أحلاهم [Ahlahum] ("The Sweetest") where Nabaweya is depicted dancing and singing to the bride and her guests, wondering if indeed it is her voice and how accurate a representation it is of her real life work.

An Acting, Dancing and Singing Star: The thing Egyptian cinema needs most is the new faces which directors search for here and there in order to introduce to the audience shining stars who will appear on the screen and impress them with their charm and magnetism. The well-known director Ibrahim Lama managed to find our young star Nabaweya Mostafa, and his discovery was a very important event in the local cinema. Miss Nabaweya Mostafa is not only one of the few girls who possesses talents rarely found in other girls, but her talents combine three arts: acting, dancing, and singing, and the audience will see her in her roles in each of those arts.... [Read the rest of the translation in Badriyah’s Bellydance Museum!]

As we dig further back into Nabaweya's start in film it seems more and more likely she sang as well as danced, even if that's not what she became famous for. In at least one featurette on the new star from the film Maruf Al Badawi (1935) we are promised to see her in this leading role using all her skills of singing, dancing and acting! Unfortunately, this film has been difficult to track down in order to see it for myself, so I'll have to wait to make a comparison to the scene in Ahlahum ("The Sweetest") about whether this could actually be Nabaweya’s voice or a dubbed in singer.

As for Ms. Anisa el-Masreya, she has a small appearance in Maruf al Badawi as well but whether as a singer or actress is currently unclear, and there is no explicit information to indicate she was ever a dancer, her title remains throughout "Almeh" with seldom more specific addendums such as Mutriba ("Singer"). Although the information on these artists and the specifics of their work is still so limited, this collection of magazine clippings serves to widen our understanding of what awalim shows looked like throughout the mid-20th century, and help us be observant of where true-to-life crossovers occur in Egyptian cinema, in addition to adding more color and roundedness to Nabaweya and Anous’s personal stories.


Special thanks to George Sawa, Mari M., Ahmed Elsemallawi for assistance with translations as well as

musical and cultural points in the texts.

Additional References:

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