“Songs For The Nation": a concert to capture the national mood

Farah Montasser, Saturday 23 Apr 2011

Following the Egyptian Revolution, the Artistic Creativity Centre in Cairo performed their special patriotic concert, entitled “Songs for the Nation”

photo by Sherif Sonbol

Khaled Galal, head of the Artistic Creativity Centre and its acting and singing workshops, introduced the 90-strong singing choir by saying, “Eighty-five per cent of the young talented singers today had no previous singing experience; they are all trained in the centre by Egyptian musician Emad El-Rashidi.”

The choir sang beautifully, performing Egypt’s famous patriotic songs like Misr Omena (Egypt, Our Mother), El Geel El Sa’ed (The Rising New Generation), Bel Ahdan (With Open Arms), Atheema Ya Misr (Glorious Egypt), and Ya Aghla Ism (The Most Precious Name), to name some gems of their repertoire.

To the audience’s surprise, those talented singers belong to the junior class of Galal’s highly regarded acting workshops which are sponsored by the Ministry of Culture and the Cultural Development Fund. It is the acting workshops that produced one of Egypt’s leading theatrical performances, Qahwa Sada (Coffee, No Sugar) which found success and had run for over a year.  

“The studio theatre of the Artistic Creativity Centre is a learning institution on its own, preparing all students to master one or more artistic talents, whether acting, singing, or theatre décor,” Galal told Ahram Online. “Out of 3,000 candidates, we choose the top 160 each year and they are granted a full two-year scholarship from the Fund,” he stated. “This particular class excels in singing more than anything else.”

Each 160-member class is trained for a minimum of five months prior to their first annual performance. “Songs for the Nation” provided more than was expected of such a massive choir.     

Some soloists, including a few from the senior year like Rabab Nagi, Shady Abdel Salam, and Maher Mahmoud even excelled when performing songs like El Geel El Sa’ed especially when a female singer sang the verse “they deprived us of our rights for many years and we faced them forcefully in one day and got the rights of many millions in one day.” The audience cheered as this verse relived the memory of the victorious January 25 Revolution.

Among the exciting performances which took place was another more popular song, Salemouli Ala Misr (Give My Greetings to Egypt) written by famous songwriter Hussein El-Sayed who was active in the 1950s and 1960s. Sabah, a famous Arab singer of Lebanese origin, originally sang this song which features her beautiful memories of Egypt and highlights Egypt’s unique culture, famous landmarks, and the hospitality of its people, all of which the singer misses deeply and therefore sends her greetings. In this workshop, Rabab Nagi surprised the audience and was named the best performer of “Songs for the Nation” for singing the song so beautifully and adding her own interesting take, without mimicking the legendary Sabah.

Towards the end of the hour and a half concert, three members of the choir performed Ya Belady Ya Belady (My Country, My Country), originally written by songwriter and musician Baligh Hamdi but never completed, which became a hit during Egypt’s revolution. The song was sung by a soloist, accompanied by a guitar and a cello., which gave the song a special feel.The musical dialogue between both instruments was amazing. Another singer, Shady Abdel Salam, was accompanied by the cello and various guitar players as he performed Ya Masrana (Our Egypt), and this concert was concluded by the entire choir performing Egypt’s previous national anthem Islami Ya Misr (Be Safe Egypt).

The accompaniment arrangement did raise some questions: saxophone, percussions and two keyboards is an original - not to say awkward - set for Egypt’s patriotic songs and operettas first written and conducted by Mohamed Abdel Wahab, one of Egypt’s legendary musicians. To top the disappointment, Ahmed Mahrous, the conductor used a blue pen instead of a baton. 

Although this small ensemble performed flawlessly, the whole setting gave the impression of a 1980s nightclub from the famous Haram Street in Giza. Thankfully, the singers of the Junior Class quickly compensated for these elements.

Although El-Rashidi was out of the country and unable to see the product of his intensive training, the choir certainly honoured him with one of the workshop’s great performances. It is a shame though that such performers did not have more publicity prior to their shows. Not many know about their performances and you wonder why!

Entry to such concerts is free and many tickets are available based on a first-come-first-served basis. One would think that this method is applied only at restaurants yet in Cairo apparently it is applied at theatres as well. Moreover, most of those in the hall were family members and colleagues of the performers. Strange but true, given these conditions, two ushers stood in this tiny hall to seat the guests. Many seats remain empty.

Due to the show’s success the centre decided to extend the performances for another week, ending on 26 April. One better be prepared to show up at the ticketing office next to the theatre entrance 30 minutes earlier to get a seat number or otherwise entry will be prohibited. Fifteen minutes prior to the show, the ticket booth closes. How the show managed to get great reviews for its organisers in order to prolong it with all those regulations and limited entrances still remains a mystery.

 The Artistic Creativity Centre is located inside the Opera House in Gezira, Cairo. “Songs for the Nation” begins at 8pm.

Photos by Sherif Sonbol

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