On Thursday 20 June, the French Institute in Cairo held the Fête de la Musique in Egypt's historical Salah Eddin Citadel. Hundreds of mostly young and '30-and 40-something music lovers gathered in front of the stage set in the courtyard surrounded by the 12th century walls.
Fête de la Musique, a large music festival, was launched in 1982 by the French culture ministry and has since been held yearly, usually on 21 June, across over one hundred countries on five continents where people celebrate what has now become known as the World Music Day.
Although usually held every year in Egypt, last year's festival did not take place due to "complexities in the organisational and the administrative procedures," according to Charlotte Hiesse, the head of communications at the French Institute.
This year, the Fête de la Musique returned in its full power with an interesting line-up, including bands Darwasha, Salalem and the Egyptian Project.
Hiesse explained to Ahram Online that this year the French Institute wanted to highlight Egyptian bands that embrace new musical and artistic experimentations. According to the French Institute's website, the three selected bands are characterised by their dynamic music and festive atmosphere, in keeping with the concept of the Fête de la Musique.
Darwasha was established one year ago by composer Mohammed Darwish and fuses Arabic rock and metal with electronic music. Darwish tells Ahram Online his band's name, aside from being a version of his own name, is also a derived from the Arabic word, darwish, which means the person who is committed to something. Darwasha, moreover, explains the band's innovative music fusion.
"We play the songs that can best reflect the surrounding political events, although we do not always talk about them directly," Darwish explained to Ahram Online
Darwasha opened their concert with Um Um, which is an Arabic word that refers to closed and dark places, in this case a metaphor for the oppression that limits freedoms and rights. Other songs included Benmed Ard (We are Extending Land) which symbolises the attempt to move beyond the earth with all its problems and disasters.
Salalem (Photo: Mina Ibrahim)
In some of the songs Darwasha sung the lyrics of well-known Egyptian poet Ahmed Fouad Negm, who is famous for his songs opposing Egyptian ruling regimes, especially during the '60s and the '70s.
This time, instead of singing Negm's lyrics, oriental instruments and electric guitars and drums hummed the harmony. Negm also wrote for Darwasha Ya Shaab (O People), which is full of political connotations and reflections.
After Darwasha, Salalem took the stage.
Launched in 2004, Salalem, finds the light side of the daily lives of Egyptian youth, even their social and economic obstacles.
"This festival was a perfect chance for us to prove that Salalem is an original band that has its own original songs apart of the covers we perform," said Mohammed Gamal, known as Jimmy, one of the six members of Salalem to Ahram Online.
Jimmy also emphasised that their choice of songs sends clear messages of the importance of music to the Egyptian people.
Salalem played a classic, comic sketch made by in famous the '60s by the band Tholathy Adwaa El-Masrah (Trio Lights of Theatre).
The audience sang along to some of the well-known songs: Ana Mosh Mehtam (I do not Care,) Habebty (My Loved One) as well as El- Zol Sadeky (My Generous Friend).
Salama Metwally and a Conservatory student are rehearsing at the backstage (Photo: Mina Romel)
The last one is of Nubian-Sudanese origins and was born from a cooperation between an Egyptian and Jordanian band called Istirad, with whom Salalem performed at one of Egypt's resorts on the Mediterranean north coast, just one day after the Fête de la Musique.
The enthusiastic audience was then taken to the third part of the evening, where the Egyptian Project band took the stage.
The Egyptian Project is the product of ongoing coordination between three performers of Egyptian traditional music and two French musicians. It combines the tunes of Cairo and Lower Egypt's Delta region fused with western trip hop, electro hop and classic music.
Its first album, Ya Amar, (Oh, the Moon) was produced in 2012 and was followed by a tour in France and Europe during the summer of the same year.
Jerome Ettenger is the mastermind behind the Egyptian Project idea. The Egyptian musicians in the band are Ragab Sadek, Sayed Imam and Salama Metwally, who were all members of El-Nil band for folk arts under the leadership of Abdel Rahman El-Shafei.
Together, with the other French musician in the band Anthony, Ettenger has attempted to revive Egyptian folkloric, religious, Sufi and oriental artistic heritage and combine it with a western pattern.
"I met Jerome more than ten years ago and he asked me to teach him how to play on the Egyptian drum in addition to other traditional instruments," Ragab Sadek told Ahram Online.
The Fête de la Musique was a coronation of an important episode of Ettenger’s Egyptian project. Ettenger tells Ahram Online that "seven students from the Cairo Conservatory have been training with the band, especially with Sadek, Imam and Metwally since February 2013 on how to integrate different kinds of music in one piece. The rehearsals were held at the French Institute itself."
Sadek added that the band wanted to "prove that traditional Egyptian music, with all its instruments can be performed within an orchestral framework, exactly like the music taught in the Conservatory.
"We want to counter the arguments that are made about the instruments such as the rababa and the nay that they are weak instruments of low sound volume."
As the Fête de la Musique, aka, Music World Day brought attention to the gems of music across the world, Egyptian audiences were reminded of the many values that the country can offer through its independent music scene. The historical Salah Eddin's Citadel only added to the scent of the priceless history that Egypt offers and how the products of today's artists are in fact nurtured – even if subconsciously - by centuries-long cultural records.
Darwasha (Photo: Mina Romel)