'There were many great performers': Egypt's Mustafa Said on winning inaugural Aga Khan Music Awards

Ati Metwaly , Sunday 31 Mar 2019

In the late hours of Saturday, Egyptian oud player, composer and music educator Mustafa Said was announced winner of the Aga Khan Music Performance Award, in Lisbon, Portugal

Mustafa Said
Mustafa Said during his performance in Lisbon. (Photo: AKDN / Bruno Colaço)

"The Aga Khan Music Award in Performance is presented to Mustafa Said," David Harrington, one of the jury members (and a founding member and violinist of the Kronos Quartet) read the Master Jury's decision on Saturday evening, 30 March, shortly after all the finalists took the stage to perform the best of their repertoire at the Calouste Gulbenkian Centre in Lisbon, Portugal.

The official gala honoring all the winners of all Aga Khan Music Awards categories will take place in the evening of Sunday 31 March.

Said was the only Egyptian musician among 14 finalists in the inaugural Aga Khan Music Awards (in the Performance category), from different countries and cultures of the Middle East, North Africa and Asia. 

"We were all very inspired by all the performances. We feel that we have learnt new things about life through music and those beautiful performances," Harrington said.

He added that the choice of Said was for "exceptional artistic achievement that embodies music's traditional role as a source of spiritual enlightenment, moral inspiration and social cohesion."

During his performance in Lisbon, Said presented his own compositions, taking the audience into the vast territories of music experience and truthful personal journeys.

Speaking to Ahram Online shortly after the announcement, Said stressed that "There were many great performers taking part in the Aga Khan Music Awards. I enjoyed listening to them all."

And though he mentioned that he particularily enjoyed performances of Shahou Andalibi, an Iranian nay player and composer; Nasim Siabishahrivar, an Iranian singer and Asin Khan Langa, the sarangi player from Rajasthan, India, Said swiftly added: "It is hard to point to any favorites. All finalists are trully amazing, better than me."

With his hallmark humble attitude, he went on to underscore the general feeling about the process of listening to other contestants, always stearing away from talking about himself.

"I was very happy to perform here. But I am always happy when I perform. The listeners will not enjoy music if I don't enjoy it," he added.

Said's music is in large part submerged in his interest in the traditional music of different nations. "I listen to all music, from Andalusia to Iran, and to far Asia. I admire traditional instruments and I am not a fan of anything that has an electronic element in it," he explained to Ahram Online.

As a musician and educator, Said's time is filled with concerts internationally, and work related to audio archiving which is his primary job, in Egypt and abroad. 

As a composer, Said often looks to Arabic poetry, whether old or from the newer generation. "I just read and when something grabs my attention, I start creating music to it. I work mainly on Sybelius (a music notation software) when composing," he added.

Visually impaired, Said studied oud at the Arabic Oud House in Cairo, and learned Western music at the Haldey School for the Blind and Visually Impaired.

In parallel, he earned a degree in linguistics and English literature from Ain Shams University and two MA degrees in musicology from the High Institute of Music of Antonine University in Lebanon.

The Aga Khan brochure details that Said has recorded several albums and participated in international music festivals as a soloist and a member of the Asil Ensemble for Contemporary Classical Arabic Music, which he founded in 2003.

He has published academic articles and given lectures on a range of topics in Middle Eastern art and Arabic music, and has collected more than 500 early Egyptian and Arab songs.

He served as artistic and archives manager of the Arab Music Archiving and Research Foundation in Lebanon from 2008 to 2010, and has been its director since 2010. In addition to over a decade of experience as a teacher of oud, singing, and the art of maqām, Said has taught workshops and given guest lectures at numerous academic and artistic institutions in Egypt, the Middle East, Europe, and Japan.

As a composer, he has written several musical compositions for the Asil Ensemble, as well as for theatre plays, dance performances and films.

The Aga Khan Music Awards were established by His Highness the Aga Khan in 2018 and aim to "recognise exceptional creativity, promise, and enterprise in music performance, creation, education, preservation and revitalisation in societies across the world in which Muslims have a significant presence," reveals the Aga Khan Music Awards brochure.

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