INTERVIEW: Egyptian Sufi music troupe Al-Hadra turns five

Amira Noshokaty , Friday 25 Sep 2020

This month, the Sufi troupe Al-Hadra celebrated five years since they first took the stage, and Ahram Online traces their journey as conveyed in their slogan 'from mosques to theatres'

Al-Hadra Sufi troupe (Photo courtesy of Salah Saied)

This month, the Sufi troupe Al-Hadra celebrated five years since they first took the stage, and one extra year of preparation.

Ahram Online spoke to founder of the troupe Nour Nageh about the journey cleverly conveyed in their slogan “from mosques to theatres.”

Despite there being several groups that have Sufi chants in their repertoire, Al-Hadra was the first troupe to take zikr (remembrance of God and chanting his name) to the stage.

Zikr is a constant in Al-Hadra’s repertoire, because it is how they attract the audience “away from materialism and closer to the realm of silence and serenity,” as Nageh puts it.

Since they started their Sufi performance five years ago, they have grown very popular and have succeeded in attracting a diverse audience.

“Our audience varies in age, social background, taste and awareness,” Nageh said.

“That is because I target everyone,” he said, explaining how Al-Hadra’s performances straddle various musical realms that are dictated by the genre of the lyrics themselves.

“If poems are about the Prophet Muhammad, they are called madih (or praising) and the music is usually of the Upper Egyptian folk style. If it expresses love for God, it is called Inshad, and it has a very powerful energy that attracts the audience, even if they are foreigners. Then there are the sophisticated Sufi poems that need interpretation. [These are] written by the pillars of Sufism and have a subtle type of music that leans towards the Andalusian style,” he added.

But chanting Sufi poems is no easy task. From the difficulty of the classic Arabic itself down to the layers of meaning and metaphor that reflect the depth of Godly knowledge the poets have reached, it takes a lot of effort to convey all this in a Sufi performance.

“Take the poems of Sidi Omar Ebn El-Fared, Al-Halag, or Ibn-Arabi, where we share the interpretations on our Facebook page before performances, because as Al-Halag says, ‘He who does not understand our metaphors will not comprehend our statements’,” Nageh said, explaining that although some poems may sound like love poems, they are, in fact, a metaphor of deeper Sufi revelations that are connected to the Sufi poet’s own spiritual experience.

For example, take the figure Salma in Ibn Arabi’s poem, elaborated Nageh. It is not about a woman called Salma. As the poet himself explains in his book, Zakhaer Al-aalak Sharh Torgoman Al-Ashwaq, Salma is one of the Sufi ranks reached by the Prophet Sulayman. 

But being authentic and holding on to their identity does not mean that one must stand still. Using digital media, calligraphy, and whirling dervishes as part of their performance was a form of innovation. Over the course of five years, Al-Hadra managed to reach a varied audience by collaborating with a hand-full of different music troupes.

“We experimented with the Four Quartets troupe, the classical music of Mozart, Chopin and Bach, and this opened up a new type of audience. We played a fusion of Latin and Reggae music, and this encouraged independent troupes to collaborate with us, and we produced our hit track Gamal Al-Wogoud with Sharmoofers.”

Al-Hadra has also participated in numerous spiritual music festivals abroad.

Throughout the past five years, Al-Hadra troupe has learned a lot.

“We have learned that sustainability means success, and it also means lots of hard work. Having our own authentic identity does not mean that we should not always develop. Being bold and experimenting is an essential part of the journey, and of course being true to oneself is a priority, regardless of what the audience wants.”

This year, Al-Hadra produced their first official video clip, which was filmed in Luxor and showcased the authentic Egyptian art of Hajj Graffiti. Moreover, they arrange their own religious tourism tours where they visit the famous wallis (people of faith) as they perform in various Egyptian governorates.

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