Tuesday May 21st, 2024
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Omar Khorshid: Egypt's Electric Guitar God

We revisit the life of this legendary performer, from the moment his mom threw his Spanish guitar out a window to becoming an essential presence on Umm Kulthum’s band.

Omar Ghonem

Omar Khorshid: Egypt's Electric Guitar God

Omar Khorshid, a legendary Egyptian musician famed for his innovative use of the electric guitar, was a true artist in many respects. A skilled electric guitarist, he also enjoyed success as an actor, composer, and film producer. While the details surrounding his death remain unclear, his vast artistic career continues to reverberate across Egypt’s music scene.

Born in 1945 into a creative and wealthy family (including his father, renowned cinematographer Ahmed Khorshid, and his sister, iconic actress and singer Sherihan), Khorshid took an unconventional path into the arts. He embraced the electric guitar, an instrument then considered unusual in traditional Arabic music. At the young age of nine, Omar received his first Spanish guitar. His passion for playing was so strong that his mother, concerned about his studies, even threw it out the window!

Khorshid refined his skills through performances with various bands and by undertaking temporary gigs and contracts, his electric guitar performances revolutionized Egypt's music scene, offering a unique fusion of Western-style sounds with the traditional oriental music of Egypt. This groundbreaking blend ushered in a new era of funk-rock that epitomized the spirit of 1970s Egypt. He quickly became the star attraction at the hippest nightclubs in Egypt, captivating audiences with his innovative surf-rock riffs infused with the intricate finger-picking techniques reminiscent of an oud player.A pivotal moment arose when he became a member of Les Petit Chats, a groundbreaking rock band in Egypt and the Middle East. The band comprised some of Egypt's most exceptional musical talents, including Omar Khairat, Hany Shenoda and Omar Khorshid himself, not to mention the keyboard player, Ezzat Abo Ouf (yes, the actor!). Khorshid embraced a Western style heavily influenced by the rock 'n' roll movement of the early 60s.

After six years with Les Petit Chats, Khorshid's talent captured the attention of the legendary singer Abdel Halim Hafez. Invited to join Hafez's esteemed group, The Diamond Band, Khorshid contributed to one of their tracks with a subtle yet innovative guitar line, a moment that marked a groundbreaking development in Eastern music. Though barely audible, it paved the way for the electric guitar to establish itself within classic Arabic music. Following the successful integration on this first track, 'Sawah', Omar Khorshid and Abdel Halim grew more confident in incorporating the instrument, allowing Khorshid's masterful guitar lines to shine in songs like 'Zay El Hawa', where he demonstrated the electric guitar's versatility by skillfully adapting it to play Eastern melodies.

Later on, Khorshid garnered the attention of the legendary Umm Kulthum, who recruited him to play on ‘Daret El Ayam’. Subsequently, he became nearly omnipresent in her band, contributing to recordings of her iconic songs such as ‘Alf Layla’, ‘Enta Omri’, and ‘Amal Hayaty’, amongst many others. He collaborated with prolific composers who were working with Umm Kulthum at the time, including Baligh Hamdi, Riad El Sunbaty and Mohammed Abdel Wahab.Omar Khorshid's artistic journey extended beyond music. In the early 1970s, he began to appear on the silver screen, taking on various roles alongside established Egyptian actors. This foray into cinema led him to discover a new creative outlet: composing film scores. Khorshid's musical talent found a fresh expression in this area, as he composed over 48 melodies and scores for films. Some of his notable works include ‘The Bullet is Still in My Pocket’, ‘Where is My Mind?’ and ‘The Enemy Brothers’.

Omar himself spoke about his ability to inhabit different artistic roles: "I am an actor, a guitarist, and a composer. But when I act, I fully immerse myself in that character, and the musician or composer fades away. And on stage, I'm completely focused on the music, creating and performing." This ability to completely dedicate himself to each artistic pursuit –  acting, playing guitar, or composing –  underscores his remarkable versatility.

As Khorshid's popularity soared, he found himself presented with opportunities that further illuminated his stardom, transforming him from a mere guitarist into a bona fide celebrity. He forged connections with Egypt's most influential circles, reaching its pinnacle when he became a member of President Anwar Sadat's entourage during a visit to the White House in 1977.

Having integrated himself within the influential circles of Egypt, Khorshid, the electric guitar virtuoso’s life was tragically cut short in a car accident on Haram Street in 1981. While the cause remains officially undetermined – accident or something more sinister? – his musical legacy endures to this day.

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