The Fawanees Festival at Makan, the Egyptian Centre for Culture and Art, featured a traditional grassroots evening with mawal singing and baladi dance.
The performance brought together seven male and three female artists from the Nile Delta whose work reflects the daily life of the peasants. Love and wedding songs framed the mawal, the traditional narrative ballad comprising the gypsy performance traditions of the Nile Delta. They played the rababa, a two-string spike fiddle made from half a coconut shell covered with fish skin, a bow, and horse hair; the kawala, an end-blown, oblique flute with six holes; and the arghoul, Egypt’s double clarinet with two pipes of unequal length (the second pipe serves as a drone and can be lengthened by adding pieces), which requires circular breathing to produce uninterrupted sound and which is the only instrument extant from ancient Egypt.
This was one of the busiest evenings in the festival, with both floors of the small space packed and audience members impinging on the performer’s space on the floor. In his traditional fellahin attire of a heavy galabeya or tunic, Gamal El Touhami started, as per tradition, with a chant in praise of the Prophet Muhammad and members of his household, followed by a mawal on friendship, loyalty and trust. “Eli Ishtarani Mabi’ush,” he sang: he who has bought me, I will not sell. The popular wisdom imparted advised forgiveness, love, and respect as the secrets of happiness.
The guest of honour Gamalat Shiha walked in to frenzied applause: one of the leading female mawal singers who has gained popularity in Cairo, Shiha exuded earthbound dignity in her own galabeya. Her voice clear and powerful, in mawal after mawal she mocked Egyptian society and politics, speaking of her journeys across Canada and the USA. She engaged the audience, who clapped and laughed as well as singing along. Two young companions supplied extra energy with ululations.
The Fawanees Festival continues across Cairo's historical sites, including Wikalat Al Ghouri in Islamic Cairo, until the end of August.