On Thursday night, Egypt lost one of the last heritage-reviving female singers, Gamalat Shiha, at the age of 85.
Shiha was one of the most famous folklore singers in Egypt. She was known for performing on a weekly basis at the Egyptian Center for Culture and Arts – Makan. In her 69-year journey, Shiha presented a unique version of unwritten cultural songs people inherited over the years.
Shiha closed her eyes for the last time due to severe health issues that were not revealed by any of her family members. Shiha was one of the modern pioneers of reviving heritage songs.
Born in 1933 in one of the governorate of Sharqeya’s villages, Shiha was just like any regular woman born and raised in a rural area, where females grew up living in a restricted environment with limited freedom. However, in her case, her father, who was also fond of music, was a real supporter, as she used to describe him in her interviews with local media. “[Where I come from,] it was not acceptable for a woman to sing, yet my father trusted me and defended me all the time in front of people, saying that I have a beautiful voice,” Shiha said in one of her interviews.
Singing was Shiha’s ultimate passion. Growing up, she witnessed her father spoil her mother with songs, who also sang while cooking or cleaning. By the age of 12, Shiha was doing nothing but singing all the time around the house.
Throughout her long years, Shiha focused on heritage songs, as they are what she grew up learning by heart, and adding her touch to the lyrics and rhythm was her unique spell to the songs that have been sung thousands of times by hundreds of different people.
She was married at the age of 16 to a low-ranking police officer, who continued to support her, leading her to take bigger steps to achieving her dream and continue singing despite people’s constant criticism.
Shiha always described her husband as the “greatest supporter” she ever had. In one of her interviews with private media outlet Masrawy, she recalled that after returning home from every concert, he used to tell her, “keep going. One day, you will reach what you want.”
She started her era of fame at the hands of Zakaria Higawy, a cultural songs pioneer, whom she considered to be her “godfather.”
Having weekly concerts in the cities at an old age, she managed to attract and create a wide fan base of youth who were fond of the cultural songs she performed.
Despite her fame, Shiha was known for her humility and love. Until her death, she lived in the working-class neighbourhood of Imbaba.