Picture this: Its the late 1930’s. We’re in Detroit, and as we enter the theater of the Museum of Art, we find Philip Rashid, then around 12 or 13, his younger sister Yvonne, and cousins Muncie, Gladys, DeEtte, Virginia, Inez, Vivian, Genevieve, and Georgia taking tickets and ushering people to their seats. The room fills quickly with three hundred or so newcomers to America from the Middle East. The excitement is palpable. The event? Not a visit from the Patriarch nor a poetry reading by Khalil Gibran. It’s Albert Rashid, newly graduated from the University of Detroit, with a brand new film from the “old country”: White Rose, a musical melodrama produced in Egypt by the famous singer/composer Mohammed Abdel Wahab.
Based on its success in Detroit, and his own instinct that the songs from this film would be a hit, Albert contracted to purchase all of the recordings of White Rose. He then took the film on the road, showing it in cities in the U.S. and Canada that had a sizable concentration of Syrians and Lebanese. More films followed, and more contracts with record companies. Catalogs of recordings were printed, and, to satisfy the demand, Albert started a mail-order business. After W.W. II, he opened the first retail store on East 28th Street in New York City; and later he opened a second store on Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn.
Fast forward to the 1990’s. Albert’s sons, Stanley and Raymond, now operate Rashid Sales Co., the country’s premier Arabic music wholesaler, with over 200 distributors in this country. They recognize a growing interest in not only the classic Arabic music, provided by singers like Om Kalsoum and Fairuz, but the trendy “jeel”, an Egyptian hip-hop-like street music and “rai” from Algeria.
Rashid Sales Co. has recently moved to a new location on Court Street , in Brooklyn’s Cobble Hill neighborhood. The new store reflects the brothers’ look to the millennium and this country’s changing population. The December 19, 1998 issue of Billboard magazine featured the brothers and described the new store and the growing business. Among featured items in the store are 1200 CDs, including Om Kalsoum’s 72-CD concert output and a 32-CD boxed set recording of the Islamic holy book, the Koran. There is also an assortment of Arabic percussion instruments for sale, and a large collection of Arabic books and videos.
Raymond is the outside wholesale marketer, working with such colossi as Virgin and Tower Records. John Coughlan, world music buyer at Tower’s Manhattan outlet says of Ray, “He’s really pivotal in providing a bridge to people who aren’t involved in Arab culture.” One popular “bridge” component is “Mozart Le Egyptian,” a Western/Arabic classical fusion album.
Stanley speaks of the increasing numbers of non-Arabic customers coming into the store and to its web site (www.Rashid.com). He cites as a major breakthrough the fact that many manufacturers are supplying English translations of the lyrics. “This just makes it easier for the music to work its way into people’s hearts,” he says. Another new market for the business is film – filmmakers are seeking out Arabic music for their productions. Rashid Sales Co. recently supplied Dreamworks with music for “The Prince of Egypt.”
Between them, the two brothers have three sons. Stanley and Mai’s son Matthew is 25, and has just finished his MBA in Theater from the Actor’s Studio in New York City. In addition to actively auditioning, he is Art Director at Rashid Sales Co., handling print and cyber advertising. Raymond and Mary Ellen’s sons are still young. Raymond, 13, will be entering Xavarian High School, and Michael, 10, is in elementary school. Though they are still making decisions about their future, can there be an empire in the making? Perhaps. But in and of itself, it is exciting to see a business handed down from father to sons, who then help it grow in new directions. Allah Maacum.