Music as a Vector of Political Engagement: Youssef Chahine’s Cinema as a Case Study


Wed, 03/31/2021 - 1:00pm to Wed, 05/25/2022 - 6:33am


Part of the Spring 2021 Middle Eastern and North African Studies Colloquium Series

Amal Guermazi, Visiting Scholar, Center for Middle Eastern Studies

Amal Guermazi

Egyptian cinema is a booming industry at the beginning of the twentieth century. The sale of films abroad is the country’s second main resource after cotton until 1973, making Cairo the fourth largest exporter of films in the world in the 1950s. During this golden age, “entertainment at all costs” is the only objective of this business empire that multiplies the musical genres. In contrast to his contemporaries, Egyptian filmmaker Youssef Chahine uses music for more than entertainment. His melodies convey a critical political discourse that cannot be expressed otherwise in narration or dialogues, either because of censorship or because of societal taboos. This presentation looks at the functions of music in the director’s cinema. It tries to uncover how music manages to go beyond its usual distraction role to become a real vehicle of engagement. In order to answer to this question, the director’s own career-path is revisited in light of his most significant musical films.
Dr. Amal Guermazi is a musicologist, musician, and an Arabic music expert. She holds a Ph.D. and a MS degree from the Sorbonne University in Paris. She specializes in the role music plays in Arab culture and its expression in film, specifically in the ways it embodies political and social engagement. Recently, she was the curator of Chahine’s exhibition at the Cinematheque Française. Dr. Guermazi has authored a book chapter and numerous outreach texts in partnership with different cultural institutions in France. She has also been numerously invited in French media to provide her perspectives on her subject of expertise.

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