The Arab Music Archiving and Research foundation (AMAR), in collaboration with the Sharjah Art Foundation (SAF), presents “Min al-Tārīkh”.
Ibrāhīm Sahlūn is an Arab musician and kamān player who contributed to the Arab musical Nahḍa that started with ‘Abduh al-Ḥāmūlī and Muḥammad ‘Uthmān in Egypt in the second half of the 19th century.
His exact date of birth is not known: some say that he was born in the 1840s while a source mentioned that he was born in 1850. Moreover, his place of birth is also subject to some disagreement, as most oral and written sources state that he was born in Cairo, while according to some, he was born in Alexandria to a family who had come from Italy. Kāmil al-Khula‘ī stated that he was among the first to play the violin without having played the rabāba first, and that he imitated Ḥasan al-Jāhil who, according to some sources, shifted from the rabāba baḥriyya to the European violin positioned on the shoulder, known in Egypt at the time as the kamanja ifrankiyya, and in the Levant as the kamanja rūmī.
The Protocol and Ceremony register of the Khedivial Palace mentioned the name of Ibrāhīm Sahlūn repeatedly among those who performed in the palace’s events since 1868, i.e. in the era of Khedive Ismā‘īl. He was also a member of the delegation sent by the latter towards the end of Sultan ‘Abd al-‘Azīz’s era, i.e. in the mid-1870s, to the Topkapi Palace where he learned many instrumental works including bashraf and samā‘ī, as well as Greek Music… a subject we will discuss later on.
These Turkish bashraf include the following bashraf ‘ushshāq composed by ‘Uthmān Bēk al-Ṭanbūrī –one of the major musicians in the Ottoman court during the eras of Sultans ‘Abd al-Majīd, ‘Abd al-‘Azīz, and ‘Abd al-Ḥamīd– to the Turkish ‘ushshāq, a bayyātī sub-maqām in Arabic theory, performed by Ibrāhīm Sahlūn accompanied by ‘Abd al-Ḥamīd al-Quḍḍābī and Manṣūr ‘Awaḍ, and recorded by Baidaphon around 1912 on two sides of a 27cm record, # 12516 and 12517…
Ibrāhīm Sahlūn replaced Ḥasan al-Jāhil –after the latter’s death– as a kamān player in ‘Abduh al-Ḥāmūlī’s takht, i.e. the takht of Al-‘Aqqād, which constituted a major transition in his life, placing him on the throne of violin playing along with Anṭūn al-Shawwā, with Sahlūn playing in Al-Ḥāmūlī’s takht while Al-Shawwā played in Muḥammad ‘Uthmān’s takht.
Upon ‘Abduh al-Ḥāmūlī’s death, Ibrāhīm Sahlūn decided to form his own takht while continuing to work in the takht of Muḥammad al-‘Aqqād who accompanied Yūsuf al-Manyalāwī after Al-Ḥāmūlī died. In those days, recording had started to spread and prosper, and Sahlūn’s takht including Muḥammad Ibrāhīm (qānūn) made recordings with a number of muṭrib such as ‘Abd al-Ḥayy Ḥilmī and Asma al-Kumthariyya, and also recorded many instrumentals pieces such as the following shanbar ḥijāz performed by Ibrāhīm Sahlūn accompanied by Muḥammad Ibrāhīm (qānūn), Maḥmūd al-Qumrukjī (‘ūd) and recorded around 1905 by Favorite Records on one side of a 25cm record, order # 1-54507, matrix # 1203-F…
As mentioned earlier, despite having his own takht, Ibrāhīm Sahlūn continued to play in Muḥammad al-‘Aqqād’s takht until 1909. Moreover, he played as a guest in numerous takht including Odeon’s takht during Odeon’s 1904 recording campaign, recording 35cm records, especially some dawr with Muḥammad Sālim al-Kabīr; and with Al-‘Aqqād’s takht accompanying Al-‘Aqqād (qānūn), ‘Alī ‘Abduh Ṣāliḥ (nāy), and Muḥammad Abū Kāmil al-raqqāq in the following bashraf suzdlāra characterized by the “high mood” of Ibrāhīm Sahlūn’s kamān, recorded in 1908 by Gramophone on two sides of a 30cm record, # 018008 and 018009, matrix # 121p and 122p…
Sahlūn made records with almost all the recording companies. Furthermore, he made some recordings playing a straw kamān, i.e. a non-traditional kamān where the sound is not amplified through the instrument’s wood resonance box, but through the needle placed under each string and that vibrates under the bow strokes that move the strings: the needle vibrates and moves a circular thin leather piece that carries the sound to the brass horn that amplifies it… in a process similar to the phonograph’s sound amplifying process. The clearest examples on the use of this kamān include Sultan Muḥammad the fifth’s march composed by Manṣūr ‘Awaḍ whom Ibrāhīm Sahlūn accompanied in a recording made around 1912 by Baidaphon on one side of a 27cm record, followed by a kamān taqsīm, # 12502…
Ibrāhīm Sahlūn’s style is characterized by its simple melodic phrases, short bow strokes, and graceful left hand motion, as well as by the Arabic-style tuning of the kamān according to the maqām. His taqsīm are characterized by focused playing as well as by the carrying of the trochee of the phrase itself from one aspect to another, from the maqām’s qarār to its jawāb. Moreover, he is among the few who played the taqsīm mujannas, i.e. the taqsīm that starts to a certain maqām and ends to another one… a trend in going from one waṣla to another, yet recorded by very few.
Ibrāhīm Sahlūn’s taqsīm include the following taqsīm bayyātī recorded around 1912 by Turkish record company Orfeon on one side of a 27cm record, # 10907, matrix # 1014…
Sahlūn stopped recording from 1912, probably because most recording companies had stopped recording. Yet, the period’s relators and written press confirm that he had not stopped playing.
Ibrāhīm Sahlūn died in 1920, leaving a significant mark in Classical Arab Music, notably in its instrumental aspect and in kamān playing. He also left numerous pupils and musicians influenced by his violin playing, including Muṣṭafa Bēk Mumtāz, and Karīm Ḥilmī.
Sahlūn excelled in playing all the fixed and improvised forms of instrumental music.
While Sāmī al-Shawwā described Ibrāhīm Sahlūn as an “Egyptianized Italian”, i.e. that he was not of Arab origin, Sahlūn’s playing shows that Arab Music flowed in his veins, free from any European influence.
The strangest pieces played by Ibrāhīm Sahlūn include “Bulbul al-afrāḥ” whose conclusion is an initially Greek melody Ibrāhīm Sahlūn had somehow memorized. The only recording of this piece, after Sahlūn’s, is by the Mazāmīr band that had clearly copied it from him and not from any Greek recording, the first section having nothing to do with the Greek melody.
Let us listen to “Bulbul al-afrāḥ” played by Ibrāhīm Sahlūn, ‘Abd al-Ḥamīd al-Quḍḍābī, and Manṣūr ‘Awaḍ, to the bayyātī ṭāhir, 9-pulse’ aqṣāq rhythm, recorded around 1912 by Baidaphon on one side of a 27cm record, # 12519.
Dear listeners, we have reached the end of today’s episode.
We will meet again in a new episode of “Min al-Tārīkh”.