#152 Sayid Henkesh Part 1

#152 Sayid Henkesh Interview Part 1 May 2019

This interview with Sayid Henkesh took place at a kahwah on Mohamed Ali street, on the same
block as his family’s Henkesh music store. It was noisy with traffic, the light was difficult, and I
was working with a translator that I had never worked with before. Thus is often the case with
research interviews.

I was glad we could fit in an interview to clarity some confusing answers from 3 weeks before.
During most JtE-3 Cairo study/tours our group meets and interviews with Sayid. Sometimes it
is a challenge to get everyone’s questions fully answered. Also as can happen in interviews,
the interviewee can have assumed cultural knowledge, and assumes that the foreigner understands references and correlations.
Sayid was so kind to meet again to clarify.

Question 1; I knew that in past times wedding entertainment would be held in the street, even
in Edward Lane’s book (referencing 1830’s) he mentions that the dancers dance in the street or
courtyard. Sayid had quickly mentioned in the previous interview that at one point the government suppressed weddings in the street, so then they would have weddings inside in special
clubs and buildings, and that this was not so good for the entertainers’ finances.
So one of the questions I had was; when did this repression and change happen? I was hoping
to know if the change was fast, or in what years was this change?

Somehow I was not getting this question understood. So I started at the beginning by asking
when did Sayid’s father, Raiis Henkesh, work? I knew that Raiis Henkesh worked in the old

Past Questions; I have known and had Sayid help me with research since 1989. He knows the
subjects I am interested in. And I have asked questions in the past about awalem and the
entertainment system. So as he answers the question I currently ask, he also lays down a
framework of information that he feels is important in understanding the answer.


  • 0:16 Sayid starts by introducing the subject of awalem and certain important and wealthy men,
    who would be the patrons to support the entertainment.
  • 0:33 As Sayid talked the translator would talk at the same time. It would irritate Sayid, and I
    have edited out sections where she would add things to the explanation.
  • 1:27 Unfortunately I did not know what he was saying, so I did not know if he was answering
    my question or not. So I asked about the dates. Normally Sayid does not include
    references to dates.
  • 2:43 After the confusion about 1940’s, or his father’s 40’s, etc. we got back to the story.
    Raiis Henkesh started working as a musician and wedding impresario before he was
    married to Sayid’s mother. Luckily this led to information I did not know before. He had
    said before that his mother had not been a dancer, but I also I had been told that she was
    of awalem heritage. Here he tells us her father had been an oud player.
  • 2:54 His mother and her sister were both violinists and they would play duets together. His
    father would take them to weddings to perform. Women playing violin in a band on stage
    was an unusual thing.
  • 3:45 Even today it is not usual to see women as a main part of the band. This means that they
    would go on stage with the whole band and stay up there for the full show. This is
    different than a girl going on stage for a part of the show.
  • We got him off topic, so this subject was finished.
    Unfortunately we did not return to his family in the interview.
  • 4:35 Sayid tells a story about Nagwa Fuad who did not normally dance in baladi weddings.
    She was not awalem and the whole scene was strange for her. But somehow his father
    managed to get her to perform.
  • 5:34 At that time dancers were awalem, from Mohamed Ali Street and it was not normal for a
    non-awalem artist to perform here.
  • 5:38 By the way, the owner of this coffee shop used to be an artist, and a good one.
  • 5:49 This also was new news to me; I had been told that a man owned this kahwah. Now
    Sayid is telling us that an almeh was the owner, who had been a dancer and singer.
    The wedding dancer also had to sing.
  • 6:12 Returning to Nagwa Fuad; she never imagined that she would be in this area.
  • 6:55 After Raiis Henkesh was able to bring Nagwa Fuad to a wedding in Mohamed Ali street,
    Raiis Henkesh then became the impresario for the rich families of the area. Sayid names
    the sons of Mostafa Marzuq, including Mohamed Roushdy.
  • 7:15 He names men who would go on to be stars, but were not stars yet. They were starting
    on their road. Starting on their road with his father.
  • 7:45 Sayid uses examples of how his father as an impresario were able to hire the entertainers,
    and that they trusted him. Raiis Henkesh would go between the client (who owned the
    wedding) and the entertainment. The client would pay the entertainment, and the tips
    would belong to his father.
  • 8:11 Shakoko was originally from Darb al Ahmar, and was a carpenter working with Sayid’s
    father. Shakoko was talented at monolog and it became his career.
  • 8:36 Sayid’s father’s name started to raise and become more powerful. If the wedding was not
    arranged by Raiis Henkesh or without a Henkesh band, it was not a proper wedding.

About Sayid Henkesh, as I wrote in #150 before;

When I came to Cairo in 1989 to do research towards my Master’s Thesis in Dance Ethnology,
the pioneering Mahmoud Reda introduced me to Sayid Henkesh of Mohamed Ali Street to help
me get information on the Zeffat al ‘Arusah. Mohamed Ali Street was well known to have been
the center for Cairo wedding zeffah and farrah entertainment. The Henkesh family was known
to be both excellent musicians and famous wedding entertainment organizers. In addition,
Sayid Henkesh was also a musician in the Kowmeyya National Troupe. Mahmoud Reda had
been in a leadership position over both Firqit Reda and Kowmeyya. He felt Sayid Henkesh
would be the one he would trust to help me in my quest for information.

Sayid Henkesh had also been the primary contact for Karin van Nieuwkerk in her research of
Mohamed Ali street for “A Trade Like Any Other: Female Singers and Dancers in Egypt.”

In his career he has been helpful to many foreign dancers and scholars. For years I have wanted to give him his due. I have interviewed him many times, but never achieved a polished
interview that is easy to view and hear. For that reason I started this series on Estaz Henkesh
with a TV program, #150 “Sahibet al-Saada” moderated by Esaad Younis.

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