Al Jazeera World

Ali Ismael: Egypt’s Musical Maestro

The story of a legendary composer whose foot-tapping, energetic rhythms marked a golden age of Egyptian cinema.

Egypt’s cinema was prolific from the 1940s to the 1960s, a time when the stars of the silver screen captivated a generation of movie-goers.

But the films’ soundtracks were just as much a part of the appeal of these Arab cinema classics, and the man behind the vibrant rhythms of more than 350 movies was the legendary composer, Ali Ismael.

It was through playing the saxophone in the nightclubs of downtown Cairo that Ismael found his niche, and where he met the Greek film composer, Andre Ryder, who got him into movies.

An ardent supporter of former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser, Ismael also wrote many patriotic songs.

‘Leave My Sky’ flew the flag during the Suez Crisis in the 1950s, and his music filled the airwaves during the 1967 Arab-Israeli War. ‘Flags of Victory’ also inspired Egyptian forces when they reclaimed Sinai in 1973, and the song, ‘Fida’i’ or ‘Warrior’, also composed by Ismael, later became the Palestinian national anthem.

Ismael’s life and career were cut short in 1974 when he suffered a sudden, fatal heart-attack aged only 51. His military funeral was widely covered by the press and also shown in cinemas.

Until today, his legacy remains as a prolific composer who brought joy to millions and whose songs became Arab classics.

In this rich and colourful documentary, Al Jazeera World tells the story of the musician’s relatively short but successful life and career. Combining high-quality performances with incisive interviews, the film pays tribute to an Egyptian musical icon, whose popularity and cultural influence were felt by an entire generation across the Arab world.