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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Samia Gamal Interview
Kawakeb Magazine, 1968

 

Translated By Priscilla Adum

 

In 1968, Fouad Moawad interviews Samia Gamal in her home for Kawakeb Magazine. In 2010, another magazine republished Moawad's old interview. This translation by Priscilla is based on the 2010 copy at this link.

 

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Samia Gamal, a Dancer Who Believes That Middle Ground is Best!

God Bless You, Madame Zeinab!

by Fouad Moawad

Introduction to the 2010 Reprint: Zeinab Khalil Ibrahim who was known by the name Samia Gamal was born in the governorate of Bani Sawaf in 1922. She began her artistic life in Badia Masabni's dance group and made her first film in 1943.

In my early career as a journalist for Kawakeb magazine in 1968, the manager of the magazine named Ragaa el Nakash, asked me to do an interview with Samia Gamal.

 


 

It's difficult to locate Samia. She is either at home sleeping, or in the bathroom, or at the hair salon, or she has gone out with Kasmet (Rushdie Abaza's daughter). So I left her my name and phone number so she could return my call when she was not busy. The phone rang in my office and I said, "Alooo?? Who is it?" and she said, "It's Samia Gamal." I responded, "No wonder I felt the phone dancing!"

And we agreed upon a time for our meeting.

Samia was facing me as we sat in her living room, and looking at her made me recall my neighbor's daughter whom I'd been in love with. She had exactly the same features. She was a copy of Samia, dark skinned like the color of chocolate when moonlight pours over it. She also had the same name: Samia. I always dreamt that we'd have a home and a little baby carriage to put our baby in. We had agreed to name our baby 3ahd and I dreamed of hearing him call me Papa Fouad. But the dreams died and we went our separate ways, although when I see people on the street I still feel the urge to point to them and ask them, "Are you 3ahd?" I dreamed of returning to the past, and looking at Samia's face made me feel the warmth of old times.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: This photo of Samia was included with the 2010 re-publication of the original interview.

The story of my old love caught Samia's attention and she said to me "This was El Kadar we Maktoub" [Editor's note: this means, "it was destiny and written"].

It was destiny that led Samia to walk from Masr Station to Opera Square. She was like the farm girl who came to see the fair. The Opera house was on her right and Azbakeiya Gardens were to her left and she asked a man, "Where is Badia's Casino?" But the man was busy and so a woman answered her and told her, "Badia's Casino is the one directly in front of you."

Samia said "To me, finding Badia's Casino was like finding Suleiman's ring" [Suleiman's ring is a popular Egyptian story of a ring with a genie in it who can make all the finder's wishes come true.] Madame Badia whom I stood in front of was very famous, even more famous than El Gala Bridge which some people called Badia Bridge due to her fame.

Badia asked me, "What's your name, Beautiful?" and I answered "Zeinab Khalil Ibrahim Mafouz." Badia said to me doubtfully, "Zeinab is a name for someone who sells grilled corn. From now on your name will be Samia."

It was the will of God that made me aspire to be a famous dancer. As famous as Taheya Carioca. I was hired for 3 pounds a month. This was the salary that Badia decided upon for me. It was big money in those days. The first time I stepped on a theater stage it was as an extra. I didn't know anything. I didn't know what was left or right. My dance in those days was like 3agen el fala7." [Editor's note: Villager bread dough. This expression is used in Egypt when someone or something is completely unrefined. It is said that they are like villager bread dough, and Samia meant that she didn't know a thing about dance.]

Samia Gamal

"The following day I asked dance instructor Isaac Dickson to train me to dance well. I agreed to pay him 10 pounds. But I told him, 'I don't have the money right now so I'll give you 50 piasters per month.' [50 piasters equals half a pound.] So we began with the training until the day came when I was able to dance solo. That night I faced the people alone with no background dancers around me. I could hear the voices of my colleagues wishing me success and the manager of the casino held the microphone and said, 'Ladies and Gentlemen, now we'd like to introduce to you Samraa' el Nil [dark skinned one of the Nile] ...Samia Gamal!' My name was unknown and not famous. So the people in the sala booed at me and yelled, 'Booooo! Boooooo! We want Taheya Carioca!!' They became louder and noisier and began to demand their money back or else they'd destroy the casino."

"After that I disappeared for about a month."

"In a room that I rented on a rooftop in the 3ashmawy area which was close to Badia's Casino, I trained by myself every night with some old records that I had bought from a man who sold old things on the street. I wanted to be like Taheya Carioca. She was my role model from the days that I lived with my sister. She'd give me 2 piasters to buy foul [beans] but I'd go to the cinema to watch Taheya Carioca instead."

"I eventually returned to try learn more about authentic dancing. I attempted this more than once, and once again, the Casino master of ceremonies held the microphone and presented me to the audience: 'Ladies and Gentlemen! It is with pleasure that the management of Casino Badia presents to you the Samraa' el Nil, Samia Gamal!' The audience applauded warmly when the master of ceremonies announced me, and they applauded even more warmly when they saw my dancing."

"I became a respected dancer, five in the eyes of all the envious! And then I began earning a salary of 18 pounds a month. My name got bigger to the extent that the managements of other casinos would make me bigger offers. It was a salary of 30 pounds per month that led me to leave Badia's casino after i had worked there for a year and I moved to El Dolf Club and then to others where I gained even more fame."

"In addition to that I was invited to work on the film Russassa fil Qalb (A Bullet in the Heart) with Mohamad Abdel Wahab and also in the movie El Hub el Awal (First Love) with Ragaa' Abdu and Galal Harb. I danced barefoot in that movie and was henceforth given that title, 'the barefoot dancer' in the field of the arts. It is unbelievable that anyone would say that the reason for that was me having a financial crisis and being unable to afford shoes! Because at that time, especially with my money, I could buy all the shoes that were displayed at Bata stores." [Editor's note: these are huge chains of shoe stores.]

"After that, I was in Taxi Al Hantour (A Hansom Carriage) in a leading role, with Mohamad Abd el Muttaleb."

"And then in Al-Bani Adam (The Sons of Adam) alongside Beshara Wakim, and then Ahmar Shafayef (Lipstick) with Naguib Al Rihani."

"It was only my talent in dancing and acting that landed me these roles and it was not due to any other connections with someone or another."

ABOUT THE PHOTO: This photo is a film still of one of the scenes in the movie Afrita Hanem.

Then she recalls a little ditty which goes: "Go pretty one to the casting call, you will find there a leering old man, he might be ugly but you should smile and give him a look with heavy-lidded eyes — after a few evenings you will be an artist. Just humour him and that's that!" [Translator's note: It's not a direct translation of this poem, obviously — it rhymes in Arabic.]

"My fame increased after a series of films that I did with Farid el Atrache. I starred alongside him in Afrita Hanem (The Genie Lady) and Habib el Omr (Love of a Lifetime). Also, Ma T'olsh el 7ad (Don't Tell Anyone) and Ta3ala Sallem (Come and Say Hello), the one in which Farid El Atrache sang his famous song "Travel in peace, and return safely...O I am afraid she will be away for long...and her heart towards me might change.'"

"After that, I travelled to Italy to be in the international production 'El Saqr'."

Samia Gamal

"I also acted alongside Robert Taylor in the movie Valley of the Kings and with Fernandel in the movie Ali Baba et Les Quarante Voleurs (Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves). I forgot to mention that this movie was filmed in Marrakech and on the way there, on the plane, the comedic actor Fernandel had us in tears with his anecdotes and humour. One of his jokes was impersonating a quack salesman and it goes: There was this quack selling elixirs that he claimed would prolong one's life and then he called out to the audience: 'Look at me!! I am in full health and full energy despite being 300 years old!' So one audience member asked the quack's assistant: 'Is it true that he is really 300 years old?' And the assistant casually replied, 'I don't know. I've only been working with him for the past 100 years.'"

"Destiny is what led me to meet Rushdi Abaza one day at Studio Masr, and it was from then that the friendship between us developed. First it was just friendship, and the flirting and courtship came second. There is a saying by Mark Twain who said that flirting can lead either to jail or to marriage. Rushdi Abaza's flirting led us to be married. We married on September 21 1962 and from then on, I decided that I wanted to be a full-time wife."

ABOUT THE PHOTO: This photo is a film still of one of the scenes in the French movie Ali Baba et les Quarante Voleurs.

"An artist must be as devoted to his or her personal life as he or she was devoted to his/her art. After the divorce, i returned to the spotlights."

"You are asking which I prefer, the theatre or the cinema?"

"To tell you the truth, this dancer is a woman who believes in middle grounds."

"The happiest moments of my life have been when I could see my audience face to face while dancing for them. The last movie that I did was called Bint El7etta (The Girl Next Door) and I wasn't too happy with my role in it."

"You want to know what I think about dancing these days? Farida Fahmy is the only one whose elegant dancing appeals to me. I don't have an opinion about Nagwa Fouad or Suheir Zaki or Nahed Sabry. I'd rather not offend anybody. You have to protect your head from the blows of the tongue! Because sometimes your tongue can cause you headaches!"

Samia Gamal

 

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About the Translator

Priscilla is a dancer of Lebanese heritage who enjoys researching the Golden Era of Egyptian dance. She owns a collection of more than one hundred classic black and white Egyptian films which is continually expanding.

Priscilla has also gathered a large library of dance related articles and clippings from Middle Eastern magazines and newspapers, many of which she has translated from the original Arabic to both English and Spanish.

Priscilla currently resides in Central America where she is a dance instructor. 

Priscilla

 

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