At a rehearsal room at the Cairo Opera House premises, Nesma Abdel Aziz chitchats with everyone with a cheerful smile. From her back, one suggests that she is a teenage girl in for a music lesson. Nesma Abdel Aziz shares her experience and passion for marimba with Ahram Online.
“I started playing at an early age,” Abdel Aziz tells Ahram Online. The 29-year-old marimba player states that her parents got her a small xylophone at age four and ever since her love of its sound grew. According to Abdel Aziz, the marimba is a light instrument that produces a warm and a heart grabbing sound. “It is a simple and graceful instrument, through which music can be composed,” she says with a light giggle.
As a young student at the Cairo Conservatory of Music, Nesma Abdel Aziz started by studying the violin. But the more she developed in the field, she fell more into the marimba and this was when she switched from violin to marimba as a specialisation.
As her love for marimba grew, Abdel Aziz once approached Egyptian composer Omar Khairat. “Although I was shy I wanted Mr. Khairat to hear me playing. I admire him and wanted to play a composition of his own,” she recalls. After this incident, Abdel Aziz was surprised to receive a special dedication from Omar Khairat. “He had written ‘El Bakheel we Ana’ (The miser and I) for marimba and dedicated it to my small ensemble, which I formed at the time,” she says.
A short while later, Omar Khairat welcomed Abdel Aziz into his music ensemble and added solos for the marimba in many of his compositions, including ‘Masa’let Mabda’a’ (A Matter of Principal) and ‘Meet Sana Cinema’ (A Hundred Years of Cinema); among many others. Afterwards, Abdel Aziz became a crucial member of Khairat’s ensemble and among Khayrat’s fans she became known as “the cute girl behind the xylophone”.
“It is true I remained the cute girl behind the xylophone in Khairat’s band,” Abdel Aziz comments with a laugh. Many audience members rarely differentiate between the marimba and the xylophone but Abdel Aziz clarifies, “The sound of the marimba is much lighter and smoother than the xylophone although both carry the same features as appears to audience,” she states. “Khairat gave me a chance of a lifetime,” she admits. “He is a great mentor."
While playing in Omar Khairat’s orchestra, Abdel Aziz's marimba was incorporated into the Oriental music repertoire.
“The marimba will always remain Western but it can also be used in the Oriental repertoire,” Abdel Aziz explains. Abdel Aziz can master any Arabic composition, including ‘Enta Omry’ (You Are My Life) by Om Kalthoum, solely on a marimba. “The marimba with its smooth tunes can give the illusion of the three quarters tone to your ears,” she claims while highlighting the fact that not all Oriental music can be played. “You have to choose what you play,” she says.
Today Nesma Abdel Aziz holds a master’s degree from the Cairo Conservatory of Music, where she also works as an assistant professor. In her composition, she always integrates Egyptian musical elements. In addition to composition, she has recently been working with her ensemble to perform songs and music compositions of El Sa’eed (Upper Egypt). “I often ask a well known singer to join us at concerts, while other times we keep concerts instrumental only,” Abdel Aziz told Ahram Online.
What is significant about the music of Nesma Abdel Aziz is her dedication to exolore the capabilities of the marimba and to add the Egyptian style of music to it, giving her music a special identity. “I started searching a couple of years back for the origin of the ancient marimba and luckily it was found,” she states. According to Abdel Aziz, the marimba’s origin is derived from the rango of Upper Egypt.
Without a doubt, Abdel Aziz is one of the most active Egyptian musicians, performing with her ensemble in many venues across Egypt. She performs concerts outside Egypt.
From Prague last month to India at end of this month, Nesma, along with her lifetime companion, the marimba, are touring the world. With music coming from the heart, Nesma Abdel Aziz currently prepares for three special concerts in India, where she will add a few songs of the 25 January revolution, including ‘Izay’ (How Come) by Egyptian singer Mohamed ‘Mounir, 'Ya Beladi’ (My Country), written by Beiram El Tonsy as a tribute to Egypt; in addition to a number of Western pieces by Bach and Mozart in Abdel Aziz’s style and marimba tunes.
Photos courtesy of Nesma Abdel Aziz