Ramses Shaffy (1933-2009)

He was a Dutch-Franco-Polish-Russian-Egyptian mixture of Tom Waits and Frank Sinatra: Ramses Shaffy! With his spirited, lively and touching songs he seduced the Dutch, who - at least until the late 1960s - were renowned for their lack of flamboyance. It's said that during the 1960s everybody in Amsterdam was in love with him. And it was reciprocal!

Born on August 29th, 1933 in Neuilly-sur-Seine (France), Ramses Shaffy spends the first six years of his life in Cannes, together with his mother, a Polish countess of Russian origin. They have no contact with Ramses' father, an Egyptian diplomat. Ramses will meet him for the first time in his life half a century later, during the 1980s. When Ramses is six years old, his mother is taken seriously ill and sends her son to an aunt in the Netherlands. After this aunt has fallen ill as well, Ramses is adopted by a Dutch family, and receives an excellent education. During the 1950s, Ramses soon becomes a very promising actor, but ten years later he decides to choose for his real passion: music. In Amsterdam, he starts a cabaret: Shaffy Chantant. Together with other gifted young musicians and actors he sings his own songs and recites poems.

Shaffy Chantant is not only the start of his own musical career, Ramses also launches other stars, like the young singer Liesbeth List, and in 1968 Thijs van Leer, who some years later will be a world star with his band Focus. During the swinging 1960s the passionate, poetical and libertarian Ramses Shaffy becomes a legend. Some of his songs now are classics: 'Sammy', 'Zing-vecht-huil-bid-lach-werk-en-bewonder' (Sing-fight-cry-pray-laugh-work-and-admire), 'We zullen doorgaan' (We shall go on), 'Het is stil in Amsterdam' (It's quiet in Amsterdam).

During the 1970s alcohol more and more dominates Shaffy's life. He is a man of many passions; especially for life itself, but also for vodka. In 1978 once more he has a hit-record, with the meaningful title of 'Laat me' (Let me be). One decade later he has won his battle with the bottle, but inspiration has left him; besides some notable exceptions, he doesn't write songs like before. Instead, he successfully starts acting again.
During the early 1990s Shaffy once more is applauded, playing Don Quichotte in the musical 'The Man of la Mancha'.

Unlike many other Dutch singers, Ramses Shaffy's mostly sings in Dutch (although his first record in 1960 was in English). However, occasionally, he does shows in English as well. For example in 1975, when after his show 'Ramsessie' during the night he repeats the whole show in English, called 'Ramsession'. In 1991 he interpretes the songs of one of the people who inspired him: Frank Sinatra.
Also in English, the American jazz-singer Blossom Dearie recorded Shaffy's song 'Sammy'. Singing in one of Shaffy's shows during the late 1960s, she became one of his many admirers: "I think Ramses is one of the most gifted musician/songwriters in the music world. His melodies are wonderful, I don't understand Dutch but I am sure the lyrics are first class. As a performer he is definitely first class - a world class artist and I am crazy about him."

Five days after a last performance Ramses Shaffy dies peacefully in Amsterdam on December 1, 2009.

© Sylvester Hoogmoed, 2004/2009
(thanks to Priscilla and Janine for their corrections)

 Dutch radio show about Ramses Shaffy