Teletwar is a fresh take on old folklore

Amira Noshokaty , Monday 24 Mar 2014

Young performers in Teletwar (sidewalk)stitch together a variety of folkloric influences to address sectarianism

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With their fresh row voices, upper Egyptian accent, and folk attire, performers in Teletwar (Sidewalk) unveil the mystery of an enchanting hill that beholds Egypt's most sacred moral: Unity.

In Egypt, folk stories and traditions colour most of our daily rituals. Story telling especially is an authentic Arabic and Egyptian art. From Arabian Nights to Siras (Folk Epics), the social history is passed on from one generation to the other in its richest form through oral heritage, sung to the tunes of the rababa (old musical instrument).

However, Teletwar’s young performers employ a different approach. 

In their latest performance, Teletwar theatre troupe displayed a mélange of vivid folk songs and stories stitched with Egypt's core moral: the value of unity.  In their first of a series titled The Stories of the Nile, Teletwar starts off by telling the story of an enchanted hill in the small village of Ashnin, in the Maghagha district, Minya governorate.

Once upon a time, a stranger stayed by it and cried for three days consecutively. He did not speak to anybody and nobody knew his name and was known as al baki, (he who cries). Only two people of the village provided for him on a daily basis: Hamida Om Kandi and Lotfy Abu Tanious.

Soon, the village proclaimed him as a walli-saint that Copts referred to as Hana Baka and Muslims referred to as Mohamed Baka. Both Hamida and Lotfy asked the walli to pray for them so that God would grant them their wishes. Their wishes were granted when Hamida gave birth to a beautiful boy whom she called Abdel Samad and Lotfy inherited a lot of money and was able to support his children.

Years later, after the saint died, and was buried on the hill, both Muslims and Christians wanted to build a mosque and a church on the hill so they could claim the saint to be one of their own. However, the hill refused and would not let either party build.  Hamida and Lotfy explained to the villagers "The hill and its walli bless all of us regardless of our religion. You are the ones who want to divide the villagers"

"We formed this independent theatre troupe in 2012 but we have been part of the national public culture umbrella for a long time," explained Gomma Ahmed, the founding director of Teletwar. Meaning sidewalk, Teletwar started its first independent performance in Tahrir square in 2012. Their first show, Attention, Hope Zone, granted them five awards in the Alwan Festival for Street Arts in 2013.

"In this performance we collect and tell the stories of the villages on the Nile bank. We started off with one of the folk stories that really touches upon Egypt's most threatening danger, sectarian violence," added Ahmed. Borrowing from the rest of Minya's folk heritage, Ahmed stitched some rhymes of children’s songs, marriage songs, and both Coptic and Sufi chants. The mixture blends perfectly with the storyline that highlighted the folkloric background of one of the most famous Egyptian nursery rhymes:

Hamida gave birth to a boy, she called him Abdel-Samad, she put him on the walker, he brought her happiness, joy, and shade. The little one found a treasure, he gave it to his mother, a couple of necklaces, a bracelet and the most beautiful earring, I told him that's for your wife, may you find a companion, and may I see your grandchild.

This revival of folk songs and stories was applauded even in Minya, where folk marriage songs have been replaced by popular songs. Ahmed shared that such songs were slowly disappearing and survive with the distant memories of late grandmothers

The Stories of the Nile, is a long project that shall also explore Egypt's relationship with Nile Basin Countries," Ahmed concluded.



Teletwar, shall perform Tomorrow Tuesday March 25 at the premises of Al-Warsha theatre troupe  Downtown


And starting next month, they shall perform regularly at Doum Cultural Foundation


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