Egyptian flautist Kholoud Sharara walks in the footsteps of her family

Rania Hassanein, Thursday 5 May 2022

Nicknamed the "butterfly" of the stage, flautist Kholoud Sharara comes from a big family of Egyptian musicians with Attia Sharara, her grandfather, setting the first stone of Sharara Sextet.

Kholoud Sharara
Kholoud Sharara

Kholoud, now in her 30s, is a member of the family's ensemble. 

Sharara Sextet was founded in 1981 by her grandfather, violinist Attia Sharara (1922-2014). The ensemble comprised mainly his sons. 

Today, the sextet features several string instruments: double bass, cello, violin played by Kholoud’s father, Ashraf Sharara, her uncle Hassan, and cousins Ahmed Hassan and Mohamed Mohie Sharara.

They are often joined by other musicians performing on the qanoun, darbouka and req, among other percussion instruments.

The ensemble plays mainly pieces composed by the grandfather who liked to merge classical and oriental melodies. Over time, the sextet has built its very own original repertoire, including known works such as Layali Al-Mansoura (Mansoura Nights), Layali El-Qahera (Cairo Nights), and Layali El-Eskendereya (Alexandria Nights). 

For Kholoud, stage is her second home, coming from a family deeply anchored in Egypt’s music scene. Her father is a former dean of the National Children's Centre at the Egyptian Academy of Arts, and her mother, Iman Ismail, is a pianist and a former dean of the Higher Institute of Music (Cairo Conservatory); her two older brothers are Mohamed, a violinist, conductor, and composer, who received his doctorate in Germany and plays with the Swedish Symphony Orchestra in Norrköping; and Omar, a cellist. Omar was a member of the Cairo Symphony Orchestra before he moved to Qatar where he plays with the national orchestra.  

Kholoud’s family spent many years in Kuwait. Upon their return to Egypt, she joined the Cairo Conservatory at the age of nine.

“I started by playing the piano thanks to my mother, but my family chose the flute for me, judging that the future of the pianist is very complicated. I was 11 when I started to study the flute and I loved it," Kholoud says.

It wasn’t long before she joined her family’s sextet performing at the Cairo Opera House. “I got my flute only two weeks before this concert. My grandfather adjusted the composition to my very limited capabilities back then. I was accompanied on the violin by my cousin Mohamed Mohie,” she recalls.

In the same year, she performed solo with the Cairo Symphony Orchestra at the Citadel Festival as part of a special concert for children of musicians. Her mother accompanied her on the piano.

"These two events gave me the green light to embark on my professional career."

Most of the Sharara family members pursued their doctorate degrees from Russia or Germany. Shortly after being appointed assistant lecturer at the Cairo Conservatory, Kholoud decided to continue her studies at the Sibelius Academy in Finland, preparing for her master's degree in 2013.

“Winter was harsh, I was alone in a Scandinavian country. But it was a fruitful experience, I improved my English, made new friends, and gained more self-confidence,” she adds.

In 2014, Kholoud received a scholarship to study in Paris at the Ecole Normale de Musique de Paris where she stayed for one year.

“It was an excellent experience, although even harder, because I did not know the language of the country. I believe that any musician should travel to Paris to enrich their knowledge,” she says.

Upon her return from Paris, Kholoud joined the orchestra of the Bibliotheca Alexandria, becoming the mail flautist. She began teaching at the Alexandria Conservatory. In addition, she is a substitute flautist with the Cairo Symphony Orchestra and main flautist with the Sharara Sextet.

Kholoud got married in 2018. She is the mother of a 2.5-year-old daughter and is busy with her doctorate, concerts, classes in Alexandria, as well as her performances in Cairo and abroad.

She says her parents influenced her a lot. She has also been strongly affected by her grandfather, whose book with a repertoire for violin she learned by heart. She also performed his compositions on the flute. Among the pieces that she is often asked to perform is the one titled Raqset El-Farasha (The Butterfly Dance), earning her the nickname "butterfly."

Kholoud fondly recalls how her grandfather used to guide her until the very last days of his life. “The day of his death, he was with us, surrounded by the whole family. He died peacefully, happy to have completed his mission. His message was clear: it is your turn to continue the path and take over.”

During the 2000s, the public became less interested in the concerts of the sextet, preferring other more modern music. The family troupe then decided to modify its repertoire, adding the compositions of other musicians, but also revisiting folk works. 

They also invited singers from the Institute of Arab Music to perform with them and occasionally introduced a few electric instruments.

However, the biggest worry of Kholoud, the group's marketing manager, is funding. "We don't have much resources and we don't have time to advance at this level," she admits.

The members of the sextet are all occupied with their studies, their academic positions, performances in Egypt and elsewhere, but they also meet on stage under the direction of maestro Hassan Sharara. The sextet stages five to six concerts every year.

“Our goal is to invest in our children, to have a third generation, and to continue building our family’s tradition,” Kholoud adds.

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