Cairo Opera artists perform in street on World Music Day

Ati Metwaly, Saturday 22 Jun 2013

On 21 June, joining world celebrations of music, many artists from the Cairo Opera House performed on the street in front of the culture ministry where ongoing protests against the minister's policies enters a 3rd week

Ines Abdel-Dayem on flute and Nesma Abdel-Aziz on marimba perform to the enthusiastic audience in front of the occupied Ministry of Culture. Concert was part of the celebrations of the World Music Day, 21 June 2013 (Phto: Ati Metwaly)

A crowd of several hundred gathered on the street in front of the Culture Ministry headquarters on 21 June in Zamalek, where several renowned artists from the Cairo Opera House performed in celebration of Fête de la Musique (World Music Day).

Launched in France in early 1980s, Fête de la Musique has rapidly spanned over the globe. Every year on 21 June music celebrations dominate many concert halls and open air spaces. On 20 June, the French Institute organised a formal celebration at the Salah Eddin Citadel.

Cairo Opera House artists, however chose to perform in front of the culture ministry, where protests and a sit-in continues since 5 June - the day that artists stormed the building to prevent Culture Minister Alaa Abdel-Aziz from entering.

Artists were angered by several actions the minister made since Brotherhood-fielded President Morsi appointed him on 7 May.

By the third week in the office, Abdel-Aziz had fired several crucial figures from Egypt's top cultural institutions, including Ines Abdel-Dayem, chairperson of the Cairo Opera House.

Another shock for the arts community came when Salafist (Islamist) Nour Party member Gamal Hamid called to scrap Egypt's ballet budget, describing the dance as the "art of nudity."

The street in front of the ministry was alive in the evening of 21 June with performances from many renowned Egyptian musicians and hundreds of people from all generations in the audience: from youth cheering to older generations and people on wheelchairs, who were given first row seats.

Notably, a few of the audience members were elegantly decked out, as if in respect and excitement over the fact that they were going to watch some renowned Cairo Opera artists. Even a few artists who spent nights at the ministry since 5 June and who are known for their casual clothing style were dressed in smart-casual.

Renowned Egyptian harpist Manal Mohie El-Din, member of the Cairo Opera Orchestra, performed many known tunes for the Egyptian audience. Mohie El-Din is among the artists constantly following up on the current developments in the arts, strongly voicing her views against what she considers 'Brotherhoodisation' attempts of the cultural scene.

Harpist Manal Mohie El-Din (Photo: Ati Metwaly)

As the evening gathered momentum, marimba player Nesma Abdel-Aziz (note, despite her family name she is not related to the culture minister Alaa Abdel-Aziz) energised the audience, inspiring them to clap and sing enthusiastically.

She was soon joined by Ines Abdel-Dayem, the recently-sacked chairperson of the Cairo Opera House and renowned Egyptian flutist.

Abdel-Dayem was welcomed with cheers from the audience expressing their support and appreciation towards her. Nesma Abdel-Aziz and Abdel-Dayem performed a few numbers together and Abdel-Dayem performed some calm solos, with the audience listening attentively. Musician Hany Mehanna left the audience to join the two ladies in one of the pieces, on keyboard.

When Abdel-Dayem and Abdel-Aziz stepped down from the stage, the crowd began chanting against the culture minister and against the Muslim Brotherhood, underlining that artists will not allow the government to harm Egyptian arts and culture. Among the chants were: "Muslim Brotherhood: where are you? The artists and art are here!"

Soon after, Hani Hassan, principal dancer from the Cairo Opera Ballet Company, along with colleagues from the same troupe invited the audience to yet another performance of fragments from the Zorba ballet on the street in front of the stage.

Ballet dancers have been returning to the ministry to perform during the past two weeks, always to a warm audience reception. On 21 June, the dancers asked the audience to join them and within minutes crowd held hands and followed their steps.

Audience joins dancers from the Cairo Opera Ballet Company (Photo: Ati Metwaly)

Cairo Opera House artists continued to perform into the evening, stirring supporters' spirits. After the ballet, Maged Sorour played many compositions on the kanoun (stringed instrument). He was soon joined by the singers from the National Arab Music Ensemble and several well-known and beloved Arabic music performers: Amjad El Attafi, Marwa Nagi, Khaled Abdel-Ghaffar, among others.  

Later into the evening hours, the audience continued to enjoy the performances by professionals from the Cairo Opera House.

For the Egyptian culture scene, 21 June was not only a celebration of the international Fête de la Musique, but also an important statement by the artists, which was strongly supported by the audience. Over the past weeks, the culture minister's polices have been troublesome for many related to the culture field.

The audience appreciation and attention the Cairo Opera House artists received as they performed in front of the ministry proved that art, including music and ballet, matters to the audiences as much as to the artists.

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