Poignant entertainment graces the audience at the charming 16th century Qubbat Al-Ghouri (Al-Ghouri Dome) located in the wholly authentic, utterly crowded Khan El-Khalili district as Sufi chanters from Pakistan and Algeria create currents of spiritual tunes that strike your heartstrings. This is the Samaa International Sufi Festival.
On the fourth night of the Samaa Festival, members of the Pakistani Rafi Peer band cross their legs on stage in their turquoise and cream-colored tunics, facing the eager crowds. The vocalists fervently belt out melodic chants that the audience may not understand, but that certainly infiltrate their being. One chanter extends both arms spiritually as he shouts, “Allah, Allah, Allah.” Screams of “bravo” meet the songs, as members of the varied audience smile gleefully.
The festival seeks to merge different cultural interpretations of Sufi music and chanting by inviting Sufi bands from multiple countries. The result is a unique amalgamation of culture, spirituality and art. Religious heritage is brought to the fore at the Ghouri Complex in El-Hussein with a spontaneous flair as Sufi musicians celebrate their cultural differences and their shared spirituality.
Sufi chanting entails reaching a euphoric state of spirituality through singing and whirling to music. Sufi music and Samaa branches out from Islam’s mystical dimension. As a practice, Inshad, or religious chanting, springs from Islamic heritage. It is often traced back to the first caller for prayer in Islam, Belal Moazen El-Rasoul.
In Egypt, Sufi chanting first appeared in Islamic schools or kuttabs. Chanting then proliferated with the spread of Sufi sects. Today, Sufi music fills traditional moulids, while other folkloric celebrations breed many more chanters in the mystic art. Celebrated folkloric Munshidien today include Sheikh Yassin El-Tohamy and Sheikh Ahmed El-Touny.
Festival director Intessar Abdel Fattah presents the Algerian group. The Algerian Issawi Sufi Musical Band of Constantine is 30 years old and remains at the forefront of Sufi chanting in the country. Dressed in black and white and embracing traditional instruments. They praise the Prophet Muhammed in smooth voices decorated with the sounds of the tambourine and tabla (drum).
Abdel Fattah is keen on creating a dynamic experience that engages the audience and provides a vigorous atmosphere for the chanters, which ultimately results in innovative and invigorating performances. His journey started a few years ago. In an effort to create a web of divine voices weaved with innovative compositions, Abdel Fattah established a workshop and named it "Al-Ghouri Monshed" (the Ghouri chanter) in 2007, and later decided to proceed with his endeavor for reviving Sufi music. Abdel Fattah jumped from one governorate to the other and combined the finest Egyptian munshedeen for his Samaa troupe.
The annual Samaa International Festival is one of the composer’s projects, and it continues to deliver culturally diverse musical infusions. International workshops bring together groups from different cultures in an effort to unify an artistic vision, as various cultures fuse in a moment of collective spirituality.
While the Pakistani and Algerian bands separately gave the audience a poignantly musical night, it is a completely different experience when various groups collectively take the stage and spontaneously create heartrending and exciting harmonies.
This year’s festival also features bands from India, Morocco, Syria, Sudan, Spain, Norway, Indonesia, the United States and Turkey,
Daily until 25 August at Al-Ghoury Dome, Al-Hussein District, at 9:00pm