Nubian songs translated to colloquial Egyptian for the first time

Amira Noshokaty , Saturday 2 Jul 2022

Thursday marked the launch of Nuba Nour Troupe’s latest album titled Dessy Brama, which was held at El-Damma Theatre at the premises of El-Mastaba Centre for Egyptian Folk Music, which was founded and directed by artist Zakaria Ibrahim with the aim of reviving Egypt’s rich and unique performing arts heritage.

Traditional Nubian Songs
photo by amira noshokaty


Men dressed in white traditional turbans and galabias, holding their duffs (traditional drums) and chanting, while women — dressed in shimmering colourful dresses and golden Nubian jewellery — dance to the sound of oud that leads the duffs into a rich and festive musical heritage.

“What’s unique about the Nuba Nour Troupe is the fact they have been focusing on chanting traditional heritage Nubian songs only,” said Zakaria Ibrahim in the opening of the launching ceremony.

Stretching from the south of Aswan’s Fourth Cataract and up to Egypt’s border with Sudan lies Nubia — a name derived from the ancient Egyptian word ‘Nbu’, meaning gold, in reference to the abundant gold mines dotting the area.

Despite its richness and pre-historic civilisation, the ‘Land of Gold’ was flooded by Lake Nasser, with the High Dam’s water reservoir in the 1960s. Some 44 Nubian villages were submerged, along with 12 million palm trees.

“The launch marked a new approach in safeguarding the two main oral languages in Nubia — the Faldiki and the Matoki,” explained Nuba Nour’s producer and director Mamdouh El-Qadi to Ahram Online, adding that for the first time, Nuba Nour’s songs are being translated into Egyptian slang, and the subtitles will be visible on the music videos of the six songs of the album they have just released.

The six songs that are now available on various media platforms, including YouTube, and feature Egyptian vernacular subtitles, tackle love.

Ya Nas (Oh people) is about a lover awaiting any response from his beloved. While Adila reflects fragments of the serine traditional Nubian daily life, with all the waterwheels and palm trees. Sandalia (The girl who smells like sandal wood) tells of story of how the singer promises to provide for all his lover’s needs from Khan El-Khalili Bazaar and that he will buy her gold from El-Mosqui.

While Dessy Barma (The brunette who smells like the flowers of acacia trees) describes a woman’s long hair and how the golden crescent is at her forehead while wearing the traditional golden necklace that goes all the way down her stomach.

“We have come to realise that the new generations of Nubians do not practice the oral Nubian language as much as the older generations did due to the fact that a lot of Nubians now live in Cairo. Even those who live in Nubia go to mainstream schools hence that are more affiliated with classic Arabic,” explained El Qadi.

“And so, we thought that the best and fastest way to practice it is through songs, which we translated to slang so they can understand it.”

The album is the result of collaborative efforts between El-Mastaba Centre for Egyptian Folk Music and the Koshr Initiative for preserving and digitising Nubian Heritage.

Nuba Nour Troupe is one of the oldest Nubian music troupes that was originally founded in the 1950 under the name Adwaa El-Nouba (Nubia Lights) by artist Said Gamal, noted El-Qadi.

The troupe was quite popular and gained international acclaim, however, after the death of its founder, it was limited to Nubian private parties and occasions until Osama El-Bakry, the lead artist of the troupe, collaborated with El-Mastaba Centre for Egyptian Folk Music in 2010 and renamed the troupe to Nuba Nour.

The troupe then picked up where it left off and began performing in concerts again, singing and dancing to authentic heritage Nubian music, he concluded.

To watch the translated Nubian songs of the Dessy Barma Album, click here.

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