Nuba Nour band perform in El Dammah Theater in Abdin region, Cairo, Egypt (Photo: Hala Safwat)
On Thursday, amidst incredibly cold weather for Egypt, “Lights of Nubia” warmed the hearts of a dedicated audience in Al-Dama Theatre. Nuba Nour, or Lights of Nubia, is a folk band that was first founded by Sayed Gamal in 1968 in an attempt to preserve and revive the tribal dialects and tunes of Nubian villages that were displaced while building the High Dam in Aswan in the early 1960s.
Famed for its wealth and pre-historic multilayered civilisation, the "Land of Gold" (Nubia) was in the 1960s flooded to form Lake Nasser – the High Dam's water reservoir. Some 44 Nubian villages were submerged, along with 12 million palm trees.
Nubians are known for their rich vocal heritage. They have songs to match almost all daily life rituals. Hence preserving their ritual songs has always been viewed as an act of resistance and persistence.
"It started with 11 members who wanted to preserve the Nubian heritage, dialect and to pass it on to the coming generations," Osama Bakri, the band's manager, explained.
The tribal beat left no audience member sitting. Everybody danced to the Nubian tunes despite not understanding the lyrics, for they were all in Nubian dialect.
Among the folk songs performed was El-Mary Mary Tu (Mary and Happiness), a song praising the Virgin Mary, as well as songs praising the Prophet Mohammed. Both are usually sung during the zaffa (wedding march) in Nubian weddings, regardless of the religion of the bride and groom. This yearn to bless the newly-weds highlights the profound respect and harmony of Christian and Muslim beliefs in traditional Egypt. “The aim is to bless the marriage," Bakri said.
"Even in the joyful songs commemorating social events and feasts, we remember with sorrow our displacement," Saad El-Din said. "That's why you will find in songs celebrating weddings, birthdays, harvest time, and even songs to mourn the dead, lyrics about Nubia and the displacement," he added.