Sunday, April 21st, 2013

Surf Rock is Arabic in Origin

Misrlou – the start of Surf Rock

Miserlou (1963) by Dick Dale and the Del-Tones was the start of American surf rock.

However, it goes back to a Mediterranean folk song of unclear origins.

The earliest known recording of the song was by a rebetiko musician, Tetos Demetriades, in 1927. In 1930, Michalis Patrinos and his rebetiko band recorded a cover version in Athens, Greece.[2] As with almost all early rebetika songs (a style that originated with the Greek refugees from Asia Minor in Turkey), the song’s actual composer has never been identified, and its ownership rested with the band leader. The melody was most likely composed collaboratively by the band, as was often the case at the time; the initial lyrics were almost certainly written by Patrinos himself. Patrinos, who originally lived in Smyrni, named the song “Mısırlı” or “Misirlou” which means an Egyptian Muslim girl, as opposed to Egyptian Christians who were referred to as Αιγυπτιοι (Aigyptioi) in Greek.

Dick Dale was half-Lebanese, and an Oud player before he picked up guitar. He grew up playing these tunes, and would have been familiar with the tune.

The song was rearranged as a solo instrumental rock guitar piece by Dick Dale in 1962. During a performance, Dale was bet by a young fan that he could not play a song on only one string of his guitar. Dale’s father and uncles were Lebanese-American musicians, and Dale remembered seeing his uncle play “Misirlou” on one string of the oud. He vastly increased the song’s tempo to make it into rock and roll. It was Dale’s surf rock version that introduced “Misirlou” to a wider audience in the United States

The Greek recording

One of the comments on the video says:

There are claims “Misirlou” is Arabic in origin, specifically coming from Alexandrian singer/composer Sayyid Darwish and his song “Bint Misr.” He supposedly recorded it around 1919 but until a copy surfaces, we’ll just have to wonder! DICK ROSEMONT

The song’s oriental melody has been so popular for so long that many people, from Morocco to Iraq, claim it to be a folk song from their own country. In fact, in the realm of Middle Eastern music, the song is a very simplistic one, since it is little more than going up and down the Hijaz Kar or double harmonic scale (E-F-G#-A-B-C-D#).

The song goes back to a Greek refugees from Turkey, composed about an Egyptian woman.

However, the melody seems to go back even further to the Arabs.

The melody may go back to the Hijaz, the West end of Saudi Arabia.

So there you have it. Surf Music may be Arabic in origin.

So it looks like this:
Hijaz → Egypt → Greek neighborhood in Turkey → Greek recording in America → Adopted by Dick Dale to Surf Music

Try not to forget that when you hear these blond, blue-eyed All-American boys play the song.

May 8, 2017 – Edited: Minor edits.
November 24, 2017 – Edited: Added video.