Released on Cairo Steps’ YouTube channel Thursday, the collaboration is a creative fusion between one of Western music’s most iconic pieces and Sufi singing to the lyrics from old Sufi repertoire.
Besides Darwisch on oud and Sheikh Ehab Younis’s vocals, the work also features a plethora of German musicians: Max Klaas on percussions, Jan Boshra on cello, Maria Voigt and Angelika Low-Beer on violins, Rageed William on duduk (a double reed woodwind instrument resembling a flute), Stefan Hergenroder on e-bass, Sebastian Mueller-Schrobsdorf on piano and Wolfgang Wittemann on soprano saxophone.
The video was created during Darwisch’s recent stay in Sinai. “I did not really plan to create this video. I was in St. Catherine with two German videographers; we were shooting visuals for another piece from an album Mountain Melody.”
Inspired by the beauty of Mount Sinai, Darwisch thought about capturing additional footage for Naeim Redak. “Sherif El Alfie took footage of Sheikh Ehab on Kasr El Nil bridge at dawn hours and creation of a visual collage.
With music recorded in Egypt and Germany, mixing and mastering done by Bassem Sobhy from Egypt, the whole project became a real collaboration between two countries,” said Darwisch, referring to Dream Studios-Mafdy Thabet in Cairo and Germany’s Oberlin Studios.
The music video, which also incorporates a few shots from Egypt’s south, was directed by Mohamed El Alfie.
This is not the first collaboration between the Germany-based Egyptian musician and Sheikh Ehab. In 2016, Cairo Steps released their highly successful Yamaleka Al Qadri in which Sheikh Ehab’s Sufi chant interweaves Erik Satie’s Gnossienne No 1. This was followed by another collaborative title, Malek Al Molk.
Albinoni’s Adagio which “carries a lot of passion and sadness” as Darwisch puts it, took two years to shape itself in the musician’s mind who looked for a vocabulary that would express his own blended soul. Indeed, the Egyptian oud player, composer and music producer seats his work deeply in Middle Eastern ethos. At the same time, the years he spent in Germany has granted him an education and sensitivity that allow him to absorb other creative cultures. As a result, Darwisch and Cairo Steps, a band that he founded in 2002, are a reflection of his complexity as an artist and a human.
As for Adagio in G-minor, the composition has been attributed to the Venetian Baroque composer Tomaso Albinoni, giving it the weight of over three-centuries of musical history. However, some researchers claim it was composed by a 20th century cataloger and musicologist, Remo Giazotto. Regardless of its origin, Adagio in G-minor is a standard of Western music today that has made its way into many film scores and concert halls over the past decades. Adagio’s popularity however is a devil in disguise, a true blessing and a curse for the performers. The composition calls for unique creativity that could infuse this earworm-inducing melody with artistically novel and convincing concepts.
As the term indicates, an adagio is a slow piece of music, one characteristic of Albinoni’s Adagio in G-minor. Adagio Naeim Redak is faster, yet its pace – supported by Middle Eastern percussion – serves the conceptual purpose of the composition. As Darwisch explains “Oriental cultures love rhythm. I opted for a compromise between the rhythm and the original work, trying to keep the authenticity of each.”
The composer adds that Sheikh Ehab Younis, a blind Sufi chanter, is perfect for such musical procedures. “I have known Sheikh Ehab since 2015. He has a great knowledge and a malleable musical sense. His affinity for the classical music allows him to incorporate this creative culture into his own. This is a very unique quality.”
The final result is a melting pot of cultures, religions and musical traditions, in which Naeim Redak meets the expectations formulated by the experienced listeners and music afficionados alike.
Darwisch’s composition draws from Albinoni’s work its solemnity and an elegiac tone, and transcends itself beyond the material existence and into Sheikh Ehab’s vocals, singing the old Sufi spiritual wording “And if I obey – It is the bliss of your satisfaction – You created me and you created me – if it were not for you…”
As we walk on a soft contemplative carpet embroidered with gentle percussion, in the second half of the work the soprano saxophone’s reedy tonality delivers some awakening yet without deflecting our senses. By the time the warm line from the strings closes the composition, the listeners’ minds are already transformed. The silence that follows Naeim Redak is a moment of rumination about one self, cultures, religions and passage of time.
Besides its emotional charges, the decision to make Adagio in G-minor as lining for Naeim Redak carries technical responsibilities. The composition is not as easy as it may seem and according to Darwisch “its delivery requires an impeccable intonation and sense especially in strings section,” a quality he was happy to find in the musicians with whom he worked on the composition.
In our short conversation, the musician reiterates on multiple occasions his gratitude towards all the musicians and crew who contributed to Naeim Redak’s output. “It is a great and big team from Egypt and Germany behind this work. Without them it would not be so good and emotional,” Darwisch concludes.
For the time being, listeners can enjoy Naeim Redak on Cairo Step’s YouTube. Darwisch plans to perform the piece live in one of his upcoming concerts in Egypt for which we will have to wait until December 2022.
Founded in 2002 as a collaboration between Darwisch and German pianist Matthias Frey, Cairo Steps has performed extensively in Egypt and Germany, and on many other international stages.
The band brings together numerous music genres – traditional Egyptian and Oriental grooves, Sufi traditions, Western classical music, European ethnic music and jazz improvisation – into one melting pot. The final blend is a unique combination of compositions from Eastern and Western musical cultures.
In 2018, Darwisch’s Cairo Steps received the German Jazz Music Award for their album Flying Carpet, created with Quadro Nuevo. This collaboration also saw the participation of flutist Ines Abdel-Dayem, who is also Egypt’s culture minister.
In 2021, Basem Darwisch and the jazz music ensemble Quadro Nuevo were honored with a German Gold Award. The award was given for the album Mare by Quadro Nuevo, which includes Darwisch’s track Cafe Groppi, a composition inspired by the iconic coffee shop in downtown Cairo, as well as to Darwisch himself and the sound engineer.