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PHOTO CREDIT: Above photo by John Rickman Photography, San Jose, California.

Bamba Kashar:
A Legend of Raqs Sharqi


By Farouk Yousuf Eskandar

Translated by Priscilla Adum




Introduction by the Translator

Bamba Kashar was an Egyptian raqs sharqi dancer who was a contemporary of Shafiqa el Coptiyya and was equally as famous, though they worked in different venues. This article about her appeared in the Egyptian newspaper Al Kahira, a weekly newspaper published every Tuesday by the Ministry of Culture. It was written by Farouk Yousuf Eskandar. The original article in Arabic used to be at the link but it no longer is online.



Bamba Kashar:
A Legend of Raqs Sharqi

Bamba Kashar was the first to operate an art festival in Egypt half a century before the world had heard of them. She was the first artist to show a sense of patriotism when she lined Moski street with fine carpets at her own expense to celebrate the return of Sa3ad Zaghloul from exile. The dancer of kings and Sultans, Bamba Kashar sat on the throne of raqs sharqi for more than half a century, specifically during the last 20 years of the 19th century and the first 20 years of the 20th century.

It began with her birth in 1860 into one of the most famous families in Egypt. Her paternal grandfather was Sultan Moustafa Kashar, one of the most notable Egyptians of the 18th century, and her father was Sheik Ahmed Moustafa, one of the greatest and most well known Quran readers in Egypt. Her mother was the granddaughter of the Mameluke Egyptian Sultan El Ashraf Eetal. So Bamba Kashar is regarded as being the only Egyptian dancer to come from a rich and ancient Egyptian family who held prestige and power.

As fate would have it, Bamba was the fourth born among her siblings, and as fate would also have it Fathya Ahmed (the singer of the two lands) was the daughter of her sister Nabaweya. Bamba was very close to her father from the moment she was born. She grew up loving art from childhood until the death of her father in 1874 when she was 14 years old.

After that Bamba's mother married the Quran reader Sheik Ismael Shah who was the private reader for the Khadawi Tawfik. Bamba didn't accept this marriage, so she and her siblings severed all relations with their mother and settled away from the mother's home in the Al Hussain neighborhood. There, they lived next door to the home of the most famous Turkish 3alma known in Egypt in the 19th century, Salem, who was well known in all the Egyptian palaces and mansions. Bamba became close to her and worked with her, presenting Egyptian muwashahat [art songs] and her fame began to spread throughout all of Egypt.



Her Marriages

Bamba rode a donkey that was owned and led by someone from the general public. He married her and continued to accompany her coming and going to wedding celebrations according to the schedule of the 3alma Salem.

Bamba soon divorced this husband and married the artist Sayed el Safti, one of the pupils of artist Abou Khalil El Kabani who had achieved wide fame in Egypt.

After him, Bamba married Tawfik El Nahas, the son of the most important shahbandar merchants. He was the only man with whom she had children, two daughters Hosn and Khadija. She divorced him due to his family's insistence that she retire.

Bamba then married for a fourth time, to an important man from the Saidi area. He gave her a bride gift of 60 acres of the best agricultural lands.

Then she married her 5th husband who brought her many gifts and money. He scattered gold beneath her feet, but she didn't feel passionate love for him and so she asked him for a divorce.

Afterwards she married the kanoun player in her band.

Bamba concluded her journey of marriages by marrying one of the important notables in Cairo.

ABOUT THE PHOTO: Bamba Kashar is the seated older woman with the necklace. The others may possibly be her daughters.



Her Own Troupe

Bamba separated from the 3alma Salem's troupe while she was not yet 20 years of age, and she formed her own troupe which quickly exceeded all limits of fame and she became a fierce competitor to Shafiqa El Coptiyya. Bamba promptly surpassed Shafiqa and she became the most famous of the awalem of Egypt, setting down the condition at her parties that no other singer or 3alma was to perform at any party where she performed. She danced with a tray on top of her head full of money and gold and the Pashas and Beks called her Set El Kol (Lady Among Ladies).

Bamba's pride in herself was such that she'd walk among special bodyguards. She was the second artist after Shafiqa El Coptiyya to ride in a carriage, preceded by a group of men who cleared the way for her. This carriage was purchased for her by her 5th husband who'd had her initials written on it in English in solid gold. He had brought it for her from Europe.

Her fame and her parties increased and she sat on the throne of the performing art for many years without a competitor. The demand for her reached the highest heights and her life became like the legends and stories of the Thousand and One Nights.

Bamba Kashar

Creative Mind

Bamba Kashar had a creative mind that allowed her to come up with many ideas. She was the first artist to organize the first art festival of its kind and she named her festival The Zar Concerts. They were held every year and she was able to attract the notables of Egypt and of the Arab world, including the most important dignitaries and politicians. The program of the concert and the festival began with the band Hasab Allah. They welcomed audiences from every country by playing the Egyptian National Anthem while beautiful girls, members of her troupe, lined up and sang beautiful songs.

The first night's program would end without the appearance of Bamba. Then came the second night of the festival's program and the two singers Saleh Abd el Hayi and Abd El Latif El Bana performed a procession for the Zar Chair which was carried by 2 or 3 men. Bamba sat on it swaying like a Sultana as they sang the words, "This chair which was built to your health, it was made befitting of you so now stand up from it and demonstrate your dance." No sooner had these two singers finished the chair procession when they completely disappeared and she began her dance performance amid a warm welcome from the audience.

Thus her festival became widely acclaimed and its reputation reached every Arab country.



What is interesting is that, although Bamba Kashar achieved widespread fame, she didn't make it into cinema. By the time Egypt began making films in the 1920's, she was already over 60 years of age. So she didn't appear, except in the silent film Leyla, which was produced in 1927 and was written by Wedad Araki, Aziza Amer, Stephan Rosti and Mary Mansour. In the film Bamba played the part of Salma the mother of Leyla, who was portrayed by Aziza Amer.

Bamba also acted in the film Daughter of the Nile written by Mohamed Abd El Kadous from the theater play Ehsan Bek. The main actors were Aziza Amer, Ahmed 3alam, Abbas Fares and Hassan El Baroudi in conjunction with the singer Abd El Latiff El Bana. It was directed by Rouka and Amr Wasfi. It opened for the first time in theaters on April 24, 1929.

After the filming, Bamba became increasingly ill, and she silently left our world in 1930, without ever having made her fortune in films.



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About the Translator

Priscilla is a dancer of Lebanese heritage who enjoys researching the Golden Era of Egyptian dance. She owns a collection of more than one hundred classic black and white Egyptian films which is continually expanding.

Priscilla has also gathered a large library of dance related articles and clippings from Middle Eastern magazines and newspapers, many of which she has translated from the original Arabic to both English and Spanish.

Priscilla currently resides in Central America where she is a dance instructor. 




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