Madame Badia Masabni (center) with her troupe (Collection of Lucie Ryzova)
One of the world’s greatest 20th-century cosmopolitan cities, Cairo was a magnet for the ambitious and talented. During the 1920s and 30s, a lively music, theater, film, and cabaret scene flourished, dominated by women—as stars but also as impresarias, entrepreneurs, owners, and promoters of the arts industry.
Buffeted by crosswinds of colonialism and nationalism, conservatism and liberalism, religious and secular values, patriarchy and feminism, this new generation of celebrities offered a new vision for women in Egypt and throughout the Middle East.
Mix yourself a drink from one of the accompanying recipes to sip as Raphael Cormack, an award-winning editor and translator, pulls back the curtain on these boundary-breaking women in entertainment. He unveils the rich histories of independent, enterprising figures like vaudeville star Rose al-Youssef (who launched one of Cairo’s most important newspapers); nightclub singer Mounira al-Mahdiyya (the first woman to lead an Egyptian theater company) and her great rival, Oum Kalthoum (still venerated for her soulful lyrics); and other fabulous female stars of the interwar period, a time marked by excess and unheard-of freedom of expression.
Cormack’s book Midnight in Cairo: The Divas of Egypt's Roaring '20s (W.W. Norton & Company) is available for purchase.
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