Oh You Brown Girl!

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Tammy's Headshot

It’s all Yosifah’s fault. Since August I’ve had this earworm, a song repeating relentlessly in my head. It started when I agreed to perform a solo to live music at El Morocco. After an afternoon of sampling the selection from the Al Azifoon (Yosifah’s band) online playlist, I chose a classic: Samra Ya Samra. Why? Well as they used to say on American Band Stand (yes, I’m dating myself,) the song had a good beat and I could dance to it.

The song also has a great history and meaning. Samra Ya Samra roughly means oh you brown girl in Arabic. The lyrics tell of the singer’s admiration of her.

Samra, oh Samra
Time after time I see you
Your love disturbs the hell out of me
Your light blood*, she’s cute.

*”Light blood” is a compliment in Arabic, it has something to do with a person’s mood. (See more of this translation at Shira.net)

But there is more. The song was written by the great Egyptian actor and singer Karem Mahmoud (1922-1995), known as the Melodious Knight.” The story goes that Mahmoud wrote the song for the Egyptian bellydancer, Nagwa Fouad. One night Mahmoud found Fouad crying outside a club. Her band was a no show and she lost the gig as a result.  “Don’t leave, I will sing and you will dance,” responded Mahmoud. And the rest is history.

Being not as fair skinned as other famous dancers of her time Nagwa Fouad could have easily suffered from the colorism that plagued society then (and still does now.) But Mahmoud’s lighthearted love song gave credibility to not only Fouad, but countless other dancers who came after her. Including me. Mahmoud’s song tells me that there is a place for someone like me in this rich dance and musical tradition. And this brown girl is all the better for it.

Check out Tammy’s solo to Samra ya Samra at Boo Raks, on October 27th!

The singer is the legendary Karem Mahmoud and Nagwa Fouad.

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