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Wednesday, 21 April 2021

INTERVIEW: Cairo Steps' Basem Darwisch invites world musicians to work in Egypt

Emotionally boosted by the success of his first participation at the Arabic Music Festival in Cairo early this month, Basem Darwisch recovers Germany's pandemic lockdown influences, urging musicians to join in

Eslam Omar , Wednesday 11 Nov 2020
Cairo Steps
Basem Darwisch's Cairo Steps and orchestra of conductor Nayer Nagui during their performance at second nnight of the 29th Arab Music Festival
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Views: 5715

Egyptian composer and Oud player Basem Darwisch has spoken to Ahram Online amid his debut participation at the Arabic Music Festival, comparing the music industry situation in Egypt and Germany in the year of the global pandemic.


"Emotionally, it was a very important concert it's a big step forward in my artistic career, honestly." the German-based acclaimed musician told Ahram Online after his "challenging participation" in the Arabic Music Festival.


"It's a very brave action from the culture ministry to be keen on holding the festival in such challenging conditions. We hope to maintain stability. Egypt is the first country in the world to organize such a big music festival this year even in Germany, they just locked down stores and left the musicians jobless,” he added.


Accompanied by conductor Nayer Nagui's orchestra and featuring Ali El-Helbawi as a special guest in Arabiskan, Cairo Steps took the stage of the Cairo opera House's Fountain Theater, before a performance by Ali El-Haggar and Sawt Misr Orchestra led by Ahmed Effat.


"It's a great honor for me to participate in the Arab Music Festival for the first time on the same night of star Ali El-Haggar. It's a very important concert for me. This is almost the second or third concert for Cairo Steps this year as I have more than 25 concerts cancelled."


Cairo Steps
Basem Darwisch's Cairo Steps and orchestra of conductor Nayer Nagui featuring Ali El-Helbawy during their performance at second nnight of the 29th Arab Music Festival


In addition to Nagui's orchestra, an all-Egyptian Cairo Steps' arsenal merged some of the most active musicians in the country including; Darwisch (Oud), Rami Attallah (Piano), Wael El Sayed (Accordion), Mohamed Labib (Saxophone), John Sami (Nay), Ragy Kamal (Kanoun), Emad Azmy (Violin), Jan Boshra (Cello), Shereen Azmy (Violin), Shady Abdelsalam (Violin), Nehad Gamaleldin (Violin), Mahmoud Zakaria (Viola), Kareem Hossam (E-Bass), Abdelazeem Azema (Percussions) and Hany Al Swaf (Req).


"The four German members haven't participated to avoid a two-week obligatory quarantine when they return. Egyptian members who replaced the Germans in the concert were great. I really respect their quality and skills," he expressed.


Gaining international success with their modern jazz approach to spiritual music, whether Coptic or Islamic Sufi, through oriental compositions, the internationally-accredited Cairo Steps are currently in the phase of exploring orchestral colours since summer of 2019.


Cairo Steps
Basem Darwisch's Cairo Steps and orchestra of conductor Nayer Nagui during their performance at second nnight of the 29th Arab Music Festival


Cairo Steps' repertoire included some of Darwisch's compositions; Garden City, Bokra, Arabiskan, Saidi, Khaliji, Amber, Dance Du Nil, Siwa in addition to a first-time performance of InFerag, a piece he composed lately influenced by the lockdown.


"Quarantine was tough in Germany, it's already calm there and isolation made it harder," Darwisch explained to Ahram Online earlier this week before his concert that turned his morale up high adding that "it was also like a disaster for musicians like us.


“We had almost two seasons cancelled even 2021 concerts where postponed. No concerts, rehearsals or interviews of any kind. This is a very tough situation for musicians in Germany and some go out in protest too. This negatively affected me and I decided to come alone to Egypt for some action as the pandemic situation is better here,” stated Darwisch.

Basem Darwisch
Basem Darwisch's Cairo Steps and orchestra of conductor Nayer Nagui during their performance at second nnight of the 29th Arab Music Festival

During the concert, Darwich gave a short speech launching an initiative to invite artists from across the globe to come work in Egypt.


"I've sent a direct message to my musician friends in Germany, the center of music in Europe and the west. Unfortunately, the music scene is on a pause there and musicians suffer from unemployment,” said German-based musician.


“A disaster is facing artists who aim to deliver purposeful art and they are gradually turning to switch to other professions. I assume 30 or 40 per cent of musicians are on the verge of retiring music which is such a great loss for the arts and cultures of the globe,” he added.


"Hence, my sincere invitation that’s directed to my German colleagues of Cairo Steps and all good musicians in Europe. Don't quit. We're here in this country, Egypt, are spreading our arms welcoming you. We are able to make room for you, organise concerts for you, collaborate and work with you."


"The eternal cultural leadership role of Egypt would be obvious in the upcoming years. This is what I believe. It's a golden opportunity for Egypt to lead the arts scene. We need to make long terms planning for the upcoming years and to lead initiatives to host big names in the art's global scene," Darwisch added.


With exploring Egyptian cultural heritage being their main mission since their founding in 2003, Darwisch's Cairo Steps, who "merges and combines traditional Egyptian and oriental grooves with modern jazz and classics, using vocal inserts with old Arabic poems," are planning frequent appearances in the upcoming two months.


Concluded on 10 November, the Arabic Music Festival is being held in its scheduled annual season amid restricted safety measures, hosting 29 concerts on various open-air stages of the Cairo, Alexandria and Damanhour opera houses, as well as conference activities in Cairo.


Arab Music Festival and Conference


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