ARCHIVES OF ARABIC MUSIC
SHAYKH SAYYID AL SAFTI
(1867 – 1939)
Shaykh Sayyid al Safti began his career as a cantilator of the Koran and a munshid (singer of religious hymns). But he eventually switched in the early years of the 20th century to the secular learned repertoire. He served as a madhabgi(chorist) for Shaykh Ibrahim al Magribi and had the opportunity to learn through this master the arcane rythms associated with muwashshahat. Al-Safti subsequently became of the few great voices of the Egyptian school to master and record those songs as soon as the recording industry penetrated Egypt (1903). Very much unlike the modern choral renditions of muwashshahat, those old recordings underline the central role of the solist singers in the rendering of those compositions.
A very popular interpret of the learned repertoire, he was among the first Egyptian artists to travel around the middle east and propagate the quintessence of the Cairene school in Syria, and Lebanon. Used by excess and intemperance he was eventually taken in by his sister in his native village and quit the profession of singing in the thirties. No trace of him is to be found in radio programs of the period and he was not invited to record the patrimony of the khedivial school during Cairo’s Congress of Arabic music in 1932.
Safti’s art in his recorded versions of the adwar composed by the masters of his generation such as Abdu Hamuli and Uthman and later Dowad Husni and Qabbani reveal a search for professionalism and exactness which owned him the nickname of almutrib al amin, ie the trustworthy singer. His variations remain in the frame suggested by the composer and unlike Abd al Hayy Hilmi or Salama Higazi he is not naturally drawn to an inspired reinterpretation of those works nor is he keen to follow Manyalawi in his playful renderings and tendency to add whole sections. His subtle and powerful voice rather carries reserved emotion and tenderness, as in his remarkable recording of Uthman masterpiece kadni I- hawa. Al Shaykh al Safti was one of the most prolific recording artists of the early century: from the early Zonophone cuts in 1903 until his last Polyphone records in the late twenties, he probably issued more than 300 disks.