Karima Nayt: Algerian singer and dancer recalls the start of her career in Egypt

Ati Metwaly, Sunday 21 Aug 2011

Karima Nayt is no stranger to Egypt’s music and dance scene. Before the expected release of her 2011 CD with Fathy Salama and the Sharkiat band, Nayt tells Ahram Online about her life in her luggage

Karima Nayt

Since the 2005 opening of El Genaina Theatre at Al Azhar Park, it has been a tradition for the cultural organisation, Al Mawred Al Thakafy, to hold the international concert series, the Hayy Festival, during the month of Ramadan. This is the second year the Hayy Festival focuses on female singers.

El Genaina Theatre filled with an audience of many generations; starting with young listeners – concert regulars – to families arriving in numbers, to children occasionally running between the stage and the audience. On Friday 19 August the Hayy Festival managed to make the audience smile once again, this time with the performance of Algerian singer, Karima Nayt, and Egyptian Fathy Salama, a Grammy-awarded musician and composer. His ensemble, Sharkiat (Orientals) backed the talented vocalist, Nayt, with Salama on keyboards, and with oriental percussion, bass, nay and accordion.

The audience remembers Nayt from her years of performing with Salama. Sharkiat play what the group calls “an Arabic-scented jazz” which is a fusion of jazz with oriental sounds, topped with world traditional music influences. On the Sharkiat’s web site we read: “Fathy Salama has never hesitated to make the connection between the African oriental, Turkish and black rhythms. With Sharkiat, he worked out an explosive formula, which makes the beautiful part in the interbreeding between folklores of the soil and jazz, funk - even pop. In the arrival one receives a jubilant music...”

But this isn't just “another pop fusion band.” Sharkiat is rather a meeting of different musical cultures, with experienced musicians, whose results prove to be very rewarding for the musicians themselves as well as by the audience. Throughout the evening, Nayt performed a number of original compositions, as well as some songs from Algerian music heritage rearranged by Salama. Though sound levelling affected Nayt’s vocal lines which were often covered by loud instruments, the whole concert provided a unique experience for Al Azhar Park visitors.

The world influence inspired the singer into a Flamenco-inspired step, then later to take off her stunning high heels to let the audience experience a few seconds of modern dance as well as a bit of traditional folkloric.

With an education in dance and some exposure already gained in the Algerian dance scene, Karima Nayt came to Egypt in late 1998 and joined Walid Aouni’s modern dance company, who works through the Cairo Opera House. As an actress, Nayt won the best actress prize in the 16th edition of the Cairo International Festival for Experimental Theatre (2004) for her role in On the Table Listening to Wagner, a dance theatre play directed by Mohamed Shafiq.

Nayt’s singing career has been flourishing since 1999, when she met Fathy Salama, “I joined Sharkiat in 1999 and our first concert was held at Beit al-Harawi, a house from Egypt’s Mamelouk’s period situated in Islamic Cairo and currently serving as a location for musical and folkloric performances. “In Beit El-Harawi I sang two songs from Algerian musical heritage. It was a wonderful experience and led to a closer cooperation with Salama,” Karima told Ahram Online. Throughout the following years and together with Shakiat, Nayt performed on many stages in Egypt and abroad, and participated in many music festivals.

According to Nayt, it was through Sharkiat that her career as a singer developed, opening many doors for her. “I started writing my own songs. Together with the Sharkiat band, we would sit in a session and I’d come up with lyrics and a vocal line. Even if it was just a matter of one measure, Fathy would work on the whole song composition and arrangement.”

Karima underlines the group's friendly, creative and supportive atmosphere. “My work with Salama was never exclusive, he never discouraged me from pursuing other musical opportunities as he understands that for an artist to develop it is important to explore the scene and gain new experiences.”

Within this frame, in 2004, Nayt signed a four-year contract with Salama to produce an album together. The album titled Wahdany (Lonesome) was supposed to be released by 2008, but due to production difficulties the CD is only now being digitally mastered. Nayt says the album will eventually see the daylight before end of 2011. Wahdany will include 13 songs, in Arabic and French, mostly composed by Salama with lyrics by Nayt, as well as songs from Algerian heritage rearranged by Salama.

In parallel to her commitment to the album with Sharkiat and Salama, Nayt is working on another album titled Quoi d’Autre (What else). Signed under the AJABU label in Sweden, the album has already been recorded and mixed in Stockholm. The songs on the Quoi d’Autre CD are co-written with Fredrik Gille; Nayt sings accompanied by five musicians of different nationalities. “Quoi d’Autre is almost ready. We’ll make sure, however, that the album release will not collide with Sharkiat’s Wahdany,” Nayt commented

Nayt’s lyrics are in Algerian dialect, classical Arabic, French and occasionally she writes in English. “My lyrics reflect many social issues in the world that surround me,” Nayt remains very responsive to socio-political arena and reflects on people in it. She recalls the many people experiencing difficult circumstances in their countries, many of whom escaped, searching for a better life elsewhere. Social aspects in Algeria, Palestine, Iraq, media, boys crossing borders in their small boats, girls escaping from homes due to social pressures, women issues are among many topics raised by Nayt in her lyrics.

“All the while, my views represent thoughts generated by an Arab Muslim woman, which I am.” As such, Nayt’s stories are experiences of a singer, an active observer and a member of the society to which she belongs.

As a musician, Nayt recognizes the hardship that artists face these days. “Whenever you work on an album the musician is required to bare all the costs of the production and then has to sell the CD, too. It is a pity that producers such as Mazzika and many others bet mainly on mainstream preferences.”

Nayt describes how such producers often give the impression of welcoming new talents while, in fact, not much materializes. “Many producers want to put a musician in certain frames, which will sell well in the market, forgetting completely about their artistic individuality and aspirations.”

Nayt mentions the need for a revolution in arts and in music field, specifically. She notices that over the past few years, in particular, the Arabic music market has been dominated by what she calls “fast food” musical products. “It is all based on brainwashing with catchy melodies that do not carry many values. Many supporters need to be opened to musicians who, until now, hide in the underground scene.”

The musical fast-food issue is raised by Nayt in one of her songs titled Sans Dignite (Without Dignity). Through her song she addresses fashionable music videos based on computer-generated sounds and musicians becoming soulless bodies. “Nudity prevails in most of those music productions. Many artists choose to flash their bodies, forgetting about art,” Nayt expresses her frustration towards the large amounts of cheap taste that dominates, especially Arab pop. “The artist has a responsibility towards the society, towards the audience, whether it is big or small. Singers have a big influence, especially on young generations and they should be aware of the product they offer because it will shape the way many young girls and boys think,” Nayt expounds. “In fact, any artist belongs to people and carries a great responsibility towards a whole generation.”

But Nayt does not just observe the world to transcribe what she sees into songs. Recently she got involved in social causes. One of them is an artistic workshop that will be held in Russia in September. “It is a benevolent project motored by Swedish-organised group working with street children. Artists join efforts by organising creative activities for those children. We’ll hold similar project in Palestine in April 2012,” Nayt explains how children benefit from music and other art activities, how their art work is being sent to Sweden, sold and proceeds transferred back to support the children and expand their artistic projects.

Since 2008 Nayt has been travelling a lot, pursuing musical projects in France, Switzerland, Sweden, etc. She returns to Egypt occasionally with a variety of performances and often rejoins Sharkiat during her short stays. “Every performance with Sharkiat is a wonderful experience. There is great warmth within the group,” Nayt commented. “There are always lots of emotions and energy onstage. I feel loved by every member of Sharkiat. They treat me like their little sister. They are very proud and protective of me.”  

Nayt commented that her home is “in her bag.” She travels to Algeria a lot, where she was raised and where her parents live. She also spends lots of time in Sweden and visits Egypt. In winter 2012 she will pursue a musical project in cooperation with Paris opera, hence time France will become her temporary home. “I am like a vagabond, but in a very a positive sense,” Nayt smiles. “I gain lots of experience as I move around many projects and cultures. Egypt, however has a special place in my heart, as the years that I spent living here shaped me as an artist and opened many wonderful doors.”

In her travels she does not forget her Arab roots. As she looks at the Arab Spring she is optimistic. "It will take time and perseverance," she comments. "I believe that people of Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Syria and other countries struggling with the removal of old regimes will eventually succeed, however, the unity of people within each country is crucial to reach solid results."

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