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Friday, 15 November 2019

Egyptian spring blossoms with music

For music lovers, the upcoming weeks offer a wide range of concerts aiming to satisfy all tastes and generations wherever one is in the country

Ati Metwaly, Thursday 11 Apr 2013
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from left to right: Ghalia Benali, 'India by the Nile', Autostrad
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As the temperature keeps rising and summer makes its way to Cairo, the city witnesses more and more music events.

These showcase not only local talent but also highlights from other Arab countries. Several concerts reach beyond the region, presenting artists from Europe, the USA, even India.

The most recent example of such musical electicism was the Cairo Jazz Festival. Though limited to three days only (21-23 March), the event this year included a wide range of important international musicians – Ziad Rahbani from Lebanon, Ribab Fusion from Morocco, Gilberto Gil from Brazil, The Neil Cowley Trio from the UK, KJ Denhert from the USA, among many others – all bringing the different colours of jazz and world music to the Egyptian audience.

But more events are yet to come.

By now many music lovers are used to the fixed pattern of events at the Cairo Opera House. The Cairo Symphony Orchestra, for instance, bring a number of interesting concerts in the upcoming weeks. On the other hand, El-Sakia String Orchestra, performing monthly at El-Sawy Culturewheel monthly, continue to bring classical music closer to the centre's audiences.

Equally, a number of independent initiatives focus on music in their spring and summer programmes. As such, music is part of the ongoing Cairo festival's Hal Badeel (Alternative Solution Festival for Arts, 24 March-17 April). Hal Badeel has already offered a range of electronic music performances by the independent Egyptian musicians. On Wednesday 17 April, singer and accordionist Yousra El-Hawary will take the stage of the Townhouse Gallery's Factory space.

El-Hawary took the independent music scene by storm in 2012 with the YouTube release of El Soor (The Wall), a song that won her the first prize in the anti-corruption themed Fair Play Global Music Video Competition. Set to lyrics by Walid Taher, El-Hawary's song is a light parody of Cairo's infamous security walls breaking up downtown streets, and a reflection on the many walls erected within Egyptian society.

Launched last week, the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival (D-CAF, 4-28 April) includes street dance, film screenings, workshops and exhibitions; every Thursday (11, 18 and 25 April), the late-evening slots are reserved for music, bringing performers from Egypt, Syria, Tunisia, Lebanon and the USA to the Scheherazade Club and Qasr El-Nil Theatre.

This is but the beginning of a particularly rich musical month. On 13 April, the Embassy of India in Egypt launches "India by the Nile," a Festival of Performing and Visual Arts. The festival will run until 13 May, inviting audiences to music and dance performances, film screenings, crafts, exhibitions and meetings with writers from India. It spans a number of venues: the Cairo Opera House, El-Sawy Culturewheel, the Hanager Arts Centre in Cairo, and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina in Alexandria. It will cater to myriad types and tastes.

On Tuesday 23 April at the Cairo Opera House and Thursday 25 April at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina an especially interesting event will take place: Shubha Mudgal in a concert of Indian Classical Music.

The concert will present the Hindustani style of music where the audience is invited to a performance that follows a delineated pattern. According to the programme notes the evening will begin with "alaap, a non-rhythmic preface that is a step-by-step introduction to the raag or melodic scheme, then the artist introduces the chiz or bandish, which is the composition. The bandish encompasses text (sahitya), tune (raag) and metre (taal)." The virtuoso, Shubha Mudgal, is a renowned scholar-musician-composer.

Another interesting event will take place on 3 May at the Bilbliotheca Alexandrina and a day later at El–Sawy Culturewheel, with a concert by Mrigya, an Indian band blending their homeland's classical music with blues, funk, folk and Latin tunes. Check the festival's programme here.

No musical season would be complete without the contribution of Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafy (Culture Resource). Using the stage of El Genaina Theatre at Al-Azhar Park, Al-Mawred launches a special summer programme through the months of April and May, with events taking place on Thursdays and occasionally on Fridays (11 April-30 May).

Al Mawred's management is known to handpick the best musicians while their concerts usually command a full house. The first concert of Al Mawred's summer line-up will take place on 11 April, featuring the Belgium-based, India-inspired Tunisian Ghalia Benali. Described as "wild and graceful," Benali fuses elements of Arabic classical music and folklore and pure jazz with her knowledge of classical Indian music.

On 25 April the Jordanian band Autostrad will perform funk, reggae and world music. It is interesting to note that this neither Benali nor Autostrad's first time in Egypt. Though completely different in their thematic content and musical qualities, both have the peculiar ability to keep the audience on the edge of their seats: Benali with her captivating sensuality, Autostrad with their spontaneous energy.

Among other musicians from the region, on 18 April, El-Genaina will host the Algerian jazz drummer and percussionist Karim Ziad. Ziad draws his work from Oriental and Berber sources, topping it up with elements of Western music. Among his notable contributions to the world of music were his beginnings with Cheb Mami.

A number of Egyptian independent musicians – Wust El Balad on 3 May, Yousra El-Hawary on 16 May, the duo Maryam Saleh and Zeid Hamdan from Lebanon on 24 May, among others – will remind the audiences of the dynamism of young music.

Unlike "India by the Nile," Al Mawred's summer programme is limited to one performance venue, El-Genaina Theatre.

This does not take away from the unprecedented popularity the stage has gained over the years during which Al Mawred brought many musicians from the Arab World and Mediterranean region especially, through several programmes such as the Spring Festival, the Hayy Programme held during the month of Ramadan, the summer programme etc. The theatre attracts all social strata, from the regular attendees to passers-by to families spending their evenings on the lawn. Check El-Genaina's summer programme here

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