For nearly eleven years, the Cairo Celebration Choir (CCC) has led listeners down seldom-travelled paths of choral music in a variety of musical traditions. Their repertoire, from religious music to modern secular accapella fare is varied, constantly fresh and exciting. Their performances are always impressive and perhaps to the average Egyptian listener unaccustomed to this form of music, somewhat revelatory.
CCC owes its existence to the hard work of Nayer Nagui, an Egyptian pianist, composer and conductor who has been striving since 2000 to constantly push the choir consisting of amateur singers into the limelight.
The choir actually began as an idea in 1999 when Nagui, who has been involved in ecclesiastical choirs for most of his life, decided to showcase this music to a wider audience. He brought together a group of 70 amateur singers to sing with the soloists of the Cairo Opera Company, and accompany the Cairo Opera Orchestra on its first Christmas concert, performing a list of the most well-known Christmas songs, which he had arranged.
Since then, the choir has grown in number and comprises more than 120 members from different walks of life and musical backgrounds, and has undergone a transformation from a Christmas choir into one performing a much wider repertoire. Nagui told Ahram Online how much he “likes to see different people working and creating something together.” And indubitably the eclectic mix of singers from more than seven nations, with many joining the choir through churches, cultural centres, music academies and music societies around Cairo, greatly enriches the listening experience.
Over the past decade, CCC have given a large number of concerts on a variety of stages in Cairo and Alexandria. They often perform at the Sekem Academy, cultural centres, Cairo Opera House Main Hall, Gomhoria Theatre and the Open Air Theatre, as well as at the lobby of the Opera House.
The lobby has served as an original location for a number of concerts which always attract wide audiences. Amongst the most memorable are Rossini's Petite Messe (2007) and Schubert’s Stabat Mater (2009). An important highlight for the choir was the Gabriel Fauré Requiem, performed at the Basilique church and the Gomhoria Theatre in Cairo in 2006.
In October 2010, CCC played an important role in the Choral-Percussion Celebration, a concert conducted by Michel Piquemal and Nagui, which brought Egyptian and French artists together, with Ensemble Symblema percussions from France. The choir’s appearances are not limited to Egypt only, and in collaboration with Coro de Tres Culturas, the choir have performed in Morocco at the Mohamed VII Theatre, the Marrakech Royal Theatre and Dar Souiri.
The first Aghani bel Arabi (Songs in Arabic) concert in 2008 met with a remarkable reception by the audience. The exciting line-up of Arabic songs features compositions by Sayed Darwish, as well as Gamal Abdel Reheim and Awatef Abdel Kerim.
“People can come and see what can be done with our [Egyptian] music. It is not just divided into pop or our oriental heritage, there's so much more to it than that.” Nagui commented. “We have academic composers and international standard music, but sadly they are not supported by our cultural institutions. For example, Gamal Abdel Reheim often had to debut his work in Berlin because our own opera house was not interested in producing his work. It really saddens me that so few people know of the work of these composers, unless they happen to be specialists. Aghani bel Arabi is a homage to their work,” he maintains.
Nagui is to be lauded for his efforts to bring to light the hidden treasures of the Egyptian music scene and for the arduous task of arranging these works, especially those of Sayed Darwish.
“Rearranging Darwish's music was very special to me because he actually wanted to learn about harmony, through being exposed to classical Western music through his foreign friends and he had even booked a place on a ship to Italy in order to go and study it, but sadly he died before he could go. I am sure had he gone, Egyptian music today would be very different. In a way I feel like I'm fulfilling his dream,” Nagui concluded.
Cairo Celebration Choir, conductor Nayer Nagui
Soloists: Marwa Nagui (traditional singer), Dina Iskander (soprano) and Jolie Faizy (mezzo soprano)
with Greig Martin (piano), Ramadan Mansour (tabla) and Nashaat Yehia (req)
Two concerts of Aghani bel Arabi will take place on Saturday, 16 April at 2 pm and at 8 pm at Cairo Opera House, Open Air Theatre