Mother of Wonders: Naïssam Jalal, Franco-Syrian musician presents Egypt from a personal perspective
Maria K, Wednesday 24 Apr 2019
Om El Aagayeb, or Mother of Wonders, a sentimental concert by flautist Naïssam Jalal with Egyptian musicians, concluded the 8th edition of D-CAF Festival on 21 April

To wrap up the festival schedule for 2019, the 8th Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival (D-CAF, 29 March-21 April) did not opt for a mass event, but rather chose an exquisite experience: impressions of Egypt through the heart of Naïssam Jalal, French-born flautist and composer of Syrian descent.

The concert took place at the cozy El-Falaki Theatre of the American University in Cairo on Sunday, 21 April.

The concert borrowed its name from a song by Sayed Darwish, “Aho Dah Elly Sar,” where Egypt is addressed as the Mother of Wonders, Om El-Aagayeb.

In her memoirs, the still quite young musician expressed her admiration for the country, its people and heritage in a programme she called “an intimate story, an act of recollection” of the time when she was imbibing the art of Oriental music during her early twenties in Cairo.


Naïssam Jalal opened the evening with a solo introduction on the Western transverse flute. Gradually unfolding the programme, she took the audience on a sentimental time travel through soft meditative world music marked with sudden outbursts of emotion in her peculiar and special technique of vocals over flute.

To help convey her complex message to listeners, the composer invited several Egyptian musicians to perform along with her.

The core team supporting flute and ney solos with a jazzy blend of Oriental grooves was comprised of Mohamed Sami on violin, Mohamed Salah on cello, Salah Ragab on double bass, and Hany Bedair on percussion.

Prefacing the compositions in the course of the concert, Jalal kept narrating her memories and feelings connected to them. One by one she introduced and brought to the stage some cherished guests. First of them was her frequent collaborator since 2008, the celebrated oud player Hazem Shaheen, leading and founding member of the Egyptian band Eskenderella.

Fondly remembering the occasions when she used to play for Nubian weddings in Imbaba disctrict of Cairo, Jalal added a Nubian flavour to the fusion mix. The widely respected Nubian percussionist and vocalist Adel Mikha joined artists on stage with some traditional beats and tunes.


While introducing a piece titled “Bent El-Balad," the flautist confessed with a smile that she wished she could actually be a “girl of the country”, one of the local Egyptian girls. For this piece she invited a senior female singer, Om Sameh, one of the few remaining exponents of the Zar musical ritual, well known for her participation in Mazaher band.

One of the compositions towards the end of the programme was called “Am Abdo” (Uncle Abdo). Naïssam Jalal dedicated it to Abdo Dagher, the great master violin player who used to be her guide in the world of maqam music.

The pillar of Egypt’s underground musical scene, accordeon player Wael Al-Sayed, contributed a true baladi feeling to the overall sound of the concert. The final piece where all the voices came all together became perhaps the most moving composition of the evening.

The concept of the concert went perfectly in line with the festival trends highlighted in D-CAF 2019. As the festival’s founder Ahmed El-Attar underlined in the press statement this year, D-CAF is keeping the “focus on women through presenting talented female artists” and continues to be “the cross-cultural bridge between Western and Arab/Egyptian arts."

Jalal, with her unique vision and style oscillating between East and West, is the ideal candidate to embody these ideas.


Born in 1984 to Syrian parents in Paris, Jalal started playing the classical flute at the age of six. At 19, after having studied in the conservatoire, she expanded her horizons by exploring Oriental music throught the traditional flute, or ney. She attended the Great Institute of Arabic Music in Damascus, followed by time in Cairo.

The flautist keeps experimenting and exploring and stays open to musical influences and collaborations ranging from Lebanese and Palestinian rappers to international jazz stars.

Among her notable collaborations in Egypt was with Fathy Salama, with whom she took part in the creation of El-Dor El0Awal and Bakash bands.

Jalal’s first album Aux Résistances was released in 2009. In 2011, Naïssam Jalal formed her own quintet, “Rhythms of Resistance”. Two albums of the quintet where released, in March 2015 and November 2016.

For those who missed the Om El-Aagayeb performance in El-Falaki Theatre but wish to join Naïssam Jalal on this musical journey, an album by the same name will be produced.

As the artist herself mentioned during the concert, the work is nowin progress and we can expect the recording to be released in six months.


Ahram Online is media partner of this year's D-CAF festival.

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