Nagwa Fouad (1963) فؤاد نجوى

This is Egyptian dancer Nagwa Fouad performing with a shamadan (candelabra) in a scene from the 1963 film ‘Al Qahira fel Lel‘ (Cairo by Night النادر القاهرة فى الليل). The film starred just about anyone-who-was-anyone in Egyptian movie comedy at the time: Shadia, Fouad al Mohandes, Sabah, Nadia Lotfi, The Three Stagelights (Messrs Sidhom, Ghanem and Ahmed), Hassan Fayek, Fayza Ahmed, Maha Sabry, the list goes on….

Katy (1953) كيتي

This is Katy (1927-1980) who starts her performance with a shamadan (candelabra) in a scene from the 1953 Egyptian film ‘Aabid al Mal’ (‘Slaves of Money’ عبيد المال). The scene then moves on to showcase many different styles of dancing, ending with a jazz section featuring Katy’s trademark high kicks and the splits. The film starred Farid Shawki along with Mahmoud al Meliji, Faten Hamam and Emad Hamdi.
Katy (her name is also spelt Kitty, Keti and Katie) was born in Alexandria, Egypt, to a Greek father and Egyptian mother. She acted and danced in many Egyptian movies from the 1950s through to the mid-1960s but returned to Athens in 1965 after being implicated in a spy plot which apparently involved Egyptian/Israeli double agent Refaat el Gammal رأفت الهجّان‎ aka Refaat al Hagan aka Jack Beton. She appeared in at least two Greek language films following her return to Greece. She also speaks Greek in at least one of her earlier Egyptian films where she plays the daughter of the local Greek barber.
Trivia: Refaat al Gammal loved acting and appeared in small roles in several Egyptian movies.

Shamadan (1946)

A shamadan (candelabra) performance by an uncredited dancer in a scene from the 1946 black and white Egyptian film ‘Al Khamsa Gneih’ (The Five Pounds الخمسة جنيه ). The singer is Hamid Tahir (حامد طاهر) who was a popular Egyptian singer and composer at the time. Starring Mohsen Sarhan, Adel Fatah al Kushary, Soad Mekawy and Zuzu Nabil, the film follows the adventures of a 5 pound note as its passed from person to person after freeing itself from life trapped in a safe by its miserly owner.

Shamadan (1985)

A wedding procession featuring a shamadan dancer from the 1985 film ‘Sa7eb al edara bawab al 3emara’ (His Highness the Building Supervisor). The bride and groom in this scene are the film’s stars, Nadia al Jundi and Adel Adham.

Nagwa Fouad (1972) shamadan

This scene from the 1972 Egyptian film ‘Imtithal’ (إمتثال) features a shamadan performance by Nagwa Fouad. The film, which is non-fiction, starred Magda al Kahtib as Imtithal Fawzi who was a popular Egyptian bellydancer and singer in Cairo the 1930s. Imtithal was performing her regular act in the Bosphorus Nightclub (Casino al Busfur) in Cairo one evening in May 1936 when the lights in the nightclub suddenly went out. There was confusion and panic in the darkness and when the lights were turned back on club goers were shocked to see her lying on stage dying from stab wounds. Later investigation showed that she had been killed by a gang for failing to meet their demands for protection money.  Also starring were Adel Adham, Samir Sabri, Katkouta,  Naima el Soghaiar and Nour al Sherif.


Shamadan (candelabra)

Someone kindly supplied the details of the film this shamadan clip’s from when it was on the YT channel. Unfortunately all the details were in the comments section and have been lost. Any clues?
The clip is set in a hamam (bathhouse) during Layl al Aroosa, the night (or two nights) before the wedding ceremony, The bride takes a ritual bath and henna’s applied to the bride and everyone else. Its all considered a bit old fashioned now particularly as every house has its own bathroom and there’s no need to go to a communal bathhouse. My experience has been that henna artists come to the house where all the ladies have gathered. During the henna there’s food, music (if the music is live the musicians are always female), lots of dancing and joy.

Shamadan (1948)

There are shamadans (candelabras) aplenty in this wedding scene from the 1948 film ‘Khuloud’ (Immortality خلود) which starred legendary Egyptian actress Faten Hamama. The dancer in the centre who doesn’t have a shamadan and is wearing the dark top is Hoda Shameddine.
The film also starred Kamal al Shinnawi and Faten Hamama’s then husband Ezz el Din Zulficar who wrote and directed it.  The singer in this clip is Abdel Aziz Mahmoud.
Trivia: Faten Hamama divorced Ezz el Din Zulficar in 1953 and the following year she married  Omar Sharif.

Shedding some light on shamadan and parties

So what’s with dancing with a candelabra on your head? Well, before electricity the bride would be led to her new husband’s home by a procession of friends and family who’d be carrying lanterns and candles to light the way. Young girls often carried huge lit candles and the candlelit procession was called a ‘zeffa’.  In the old days the zeffa would have been led by a dancer using zills (sagat, finger cymbals). With the candles and the zills, the people taking part could both see and hear where they were going and everyone in the local area would know what was happening.  While there’s the usual discussion about who did it first, Egyptian dancer Zouba el Klobatiyya (not her real name of course) is credited with being the first dancer to put a lantern on her head to lead a wedding procession. The lantern changed to a candelabra and candelabra/shamadan have became connected with weddings ever since. Nowadays, the shamadan dancer leads the bride and groom into the reception hall often accompanied by live music.  The bride and groom then sit on a raised stage on chairs that look like thrones while the reception goes on around them.  Family and friends come up onto the stage to wish the couple joy and to have their photos taken.    You’ll still, very occasionally, see the girls with the big candles standing either side of the bride and groom during the reception.  The candlelit procession to the groom’s house is a thing of the past in most places as weddings receptions now take place in function centres and the couple leave for their honeymoon from there.
Over here in the Gulf things are done differently and weddings are segregated; the women go to a women-only party while the men go to a men-only party.  A local lady told me many years ago, “The women’s parties are always the best” and now that I’ve been fortunate enough to go to lots of local weddings, I agree with her 100%!   Sometimes the two separate parties will be held on the same night at the same hotel or reception centre but in different rooms.  In Qatar huge tents are often erected for the wedding functions.  There are a couple under construction at the moment around the corner and one tent is so huge that they’ve bought in a crane to lift it.

So what will we see at the reception in the Gulf?  Here, the bride’s mother and sisters will receive the lady guests as they arrive and the ladies who are covered will have a cloak room to take off their abaya and sheyla.  Once in the main hall, there’ll be so much food, there’ll be music, bedu ladies will bring around perfume oil on a long stick that you put into the bottle to take some liquid and apply it to your skin.  The local bedu are often hired in to carry bukhour burners around so the guests can waft the fragrant smoke over themselves, The entertainers for the functions are flown in from overseas, particularly Lebanon, and I’ve seen an incredible range of Arabic female singers performing at weddings here. Meanwhile, the male musicians sit behind a screen on stage. The reason for this is that the majority of the lady guests will have removed their abayas and hijab on entering the reception hall.  The male musicians are screened so they can’t see the lady guests and while the female guests can’t see them, the musicians can still see the singer or dancers.  Once the abayas have been removed the lady guests will be wearing the most amazing array of exquisite evening gowns you’ve ever seen.  And the jewellery that’s on display, well, I’m not into jewellery but even I could see that some of the pieces must be very, very, valuable.  After attending a wedding in Dubai in the UAE I knew I had to seriously lift my game and I was at the gown shop pronto! Anyway, back to the party. The bride will make her big entrance and I mean BIG entrance.  I’ve seen one bride come up out of the floor seated on a revolving throne while another floated down from the roof in a silver egg.  And there’s always masses of dry ice!  The bride does a few laps of the crowd, stopping now and then for photos and then takes her place for the evening sitting on a throne or gilt sofa.  Family members and friends come up to greet the bride and have their photos taken.  Bear in mind that there are often several different photo albums prepared as the ladies are often ‘uncovered’ when they have their photos taken.

At the women’s’ party all the wait staff, camera crews and technical staff will be female.  Its often like a Hollywood production, there are boom cameras, separate sound systems with the huge microphones with the fluffy ends (sorry I don’t know the name for those) and the cameras that the operator has to wear so it can float up and down (don’t know the name for those either).  After the entertainer/s has performed, the band then plays music for general dancing and everyone hits the floor.  This is the time for the single girls of marriageable age to be seen.  They’ll get up to dance and the mothers of any prospective grooms can watch them and if they like what they see they can speak to an intermediary who knows both families. Its not unlike the debutante balls in the West of not that long ago and seems to serve almost the same purpose.  There will be an announcement late in the evening that the groom is coming to claim his bride and the lady guests will put their abayas and hijabs back on.  The groom along with his father, brothers and a few friends arrive to great fanfare. The groom sits up on the throne next to his bride, there are a few photos taken and then the couple and the groom’s companions all leave together. It usually doesn’t take too long at all.  Then, like Western weddings, once the bridal couple have gone, the party can *really* get started……

So what happens at the separate men’s party?  Here I have to rely on second-hand reports of course, but I’m reliably informed that it goes like this: the male guests arrive, they greet the groom and his male family members.  Everyone then sits around and talks football.  They eat dinner then the majority go home to sleep until they get a call from their mum/wife/sisters to come and pick them up from the ladies’ party which will have gone on waaaay longer LOL.

Shamadan (1959)

I think this shamadan dancer is Zeinab Hassan. The scene is from the Egyptian film ‘Ahlam al banat’ (Girls’ Dreams أحلام البنات ) which was released in June 1959. The film starred Berlanti Abdel Hamid, Maha Sabry, Hassan Fayak, Marie Munib, Abdel Salam Al Nabulsi and Shokry Sarhan.
The film tells the story of three girls, all penniless orphans, who live and work together. Each girl has a dream for her future. Badria wants to get rich any way she can, Nahid dreams of fame and Huda dreams of finding love.

Shamadan (1966)

A shamadan performance from the 1966 film ‘Al Zawj al Azeb’ (The Bachelor Husband الزوج العازب).   This film tells the story of Ashour, played by Farid Shawki, who routinely divorces one of his four current wives so he can marry any woman who takes his fancy. Hind Rostom joins Nemat Mokhtar, Zuzu Shakeeb and Linda Badawi as Ashour’s current wives.  In this scene the singer, Mohamed Taha, is slipped some cash by Mahmoud al Meliji’s character to sing lyrics that tease him about his ever changing roster of wives.  The scene ends with a bar brawl.