Ratiba El-Hefny, photo from the festival's poster (left), Gihan Morsi (right)
The 22nd Arab Music Festival kicked off on 6 November and will continue until 17 November, providing a wide array of singers and musicians from the Arab World. This year's festival president is Egyptian opera singer and director Gihan Morsi, replacing Ratiba El-Hefny who passed away on 16 September.
Ahram Online (AO): You have been appointed the festival's president shortly after the passing of its founder and former president Ratiba El-Hefny. What is the programme of the 22nd edition of this event?
Gihan Morsi (GM): I decided to take the challenge after this year's Arab Music Festival, which was scheduled to take place in August, was cancelled for security reasons.
The 22nd Arab Music Festival will take place in Cairo between 6 and 14 November, after which it will relocate to Damanhour from 16 to 17 November and then finally to Alexandria between 18 and 21 November.
No doubt the festival's organising fell within precarious political conditions. We sent official invitations to all Arab countries and received a lot of replies. Many singers were accepted, yet others were rejected for a variety of reasons. For example, the famous Emirati singer Hussain Al-Jasmi was very enthusiastic but was unable to make it due to scheduling.
Syrian singers make a considerate share of this year's festival. Syrian singer Assala performed at the opening ceremony on 6 November. Safwan Bahlawane, also from Syria, – whose last appearance within the festival was back in 2002 – will perform on 11 November. The festival will also host Lebanese violinist Jihad Akl and Jordanian singer Ayman Tayseer
Several Egyptian performers will pay special honor to Ratiba El-Hefny. Angham will perform on 13 November, followed by Medhat Saleh, May Farouq Ali El-Haggar, Ghada Ragab, Riham Abdel-Hakim, Souma, and Khaled Selim. Hany Shaker will close the festival's Cairo finale on 14 November.
AO: Why did you choose to tribute Ratiba El-Hefny as a main theme for this year's festival?
Indeed, this edition is dedicated to the festival's founder Ratiba El-Hefny, as she was an expert in the field, always aiming to underscore the festival's pan-Arab identity. I started cooperating with El-Hefny a long time ago. We worked together in the opera La Traviata (since El-Hefny was also a renowned soprano)... After she attended La Bohème, which I directed in 2000, she assigned me to the mise-en-scene of several scenes performed during the festival's opening ceremonies, both in Cairo and in other cities. In the meanwhile, I continued my career as opera singer. We directed numerous scenes or tableaux lyriques commemorating renowned musicians, singers and composers such as Zakariyya Ahmad, Leila Mourad, Abdel Halim Hafez, and Riad El-Sonbaty, among others.
AO: Tell us more about symposia held during the festival, in the small hall of the Cairo Opera House.
GM: It is not easy to find passionate researchers of Arabic music or a jury of specialists able to select quality papers on the subject. This requires a huge effort, and we didn't have much time to organise everything. But there are some themes that we favoured, such as "Music and singing versus extremism," "Patriotic Song: between the old and modern, and its impact on society," "Popular songs: past and present" and "Music education and teaching children." These topics will be discussed during the seminars held at the Institute of Arabic Music and at in the Opera's small theatre.
For more details about the programme of the 22nd Arab Music Festival, please refer to the Cairo Opera House (tel. 02 27390132)