Egypt's arts and culture: The best of summer 2014

Ahram Online, Wednesday 3 Sep 2014

Ahram Online reviews the artistic and cultural highlights of July and August 2014 in Egypt

Best of Summer
The Best of Summer 2014

Hayy Festival, Arab female singers in Cairo

In its ninth year, stretched over three weekends in Ramadan, the Hayy Festival brought five nights of talented female musicians from the Arab world and North Africa to Cairo in Ramadan. The musicians hail from Sudan, Jordan, Palestine, Algeria and Morocco and most nights featured opening acts by up and coming Egyptian female musicians.

Hayy kicked off with Alsara and the Nubatones, who presented East African retro pop and have previously been part of the Nile Project. The evening saw a great turn out with audiences leaving their seats to dance to the Sudanese beats. The following week, Lara Elayyan (Jordan) took the stage with a performance centred on reviving traditional Palestinian and Jordanian music. Also focused on traditional and folk music is Palestinian Dalia Abu Amneh, who performed the next day.

The last weekend of the festival featured Algerian Gnawa musician and poet Hansa El-Besharia, and Moroccan contemporary sonic poet and singer Aziza Braheim.

The annual festival celebrated Ramadan with artistic events that reflect the multi-layered nature of Egyptian cultural heritage, featuring acts from Cairo, the Nile Delta, Upper Egypt and Suez, among others. Hayy also became an opportunity for regional and international artists to perform a variety of genres — including jazz, rock and classical music — for a local audience, effectively expanding the scope of the Egyptian audience's cultural experience.


Segn El-Nesa, an artistic achievement

Over the past two decades or so, Ramadan has become increasingly associated with a plethora of television series. However, few works stand out every year as enjoying high artistic quality, depth of research and brilliant performances by their actors.

During this Ramadan, Segn Al-Nesa (Women's Prison) was definitely one such work. Directed by Kamla Abu Zekry, with a screenplay by Mariam Nawaem (the same duo who transformed Sonallah Ibrahim's 1992 novel Zaat into one of last Ramadan's most critically acclaimed productions), Segn Al-Nesa is based on a theatre play by the late feminist writer Fatheya El-Assal.

Segn Al-Nesa touches on many social issues, particularly those faced by women: from the pressures of work, to sexual harassment in public spaces and the struggles women often face within their marriages. The cast and crew managed to weave these and many more ills into a powerful story, glorious imagery and impeccable performances. While many might feel the series' events were too slow, with some patience everyone can manage to enjoy the sneak-peak inside the Qanater Prison.

“Prison is not just a high fence and a locked door. Prison can be in a piece of clothing you don't want to wear, people you don't want to see, a job you hate. Prison is feeling broken and oppressed.”

These words spoken by Segn Al-Nesa protagonist Ghalia (played by Nelly Karim) perhaps best summarise the core of current Egyptian society and the issues facing it, which is exacrly what the series portrays throughout its developments.

Check our review of Segn Al-Nesa here.

Segn El Nesa
Segn El-Nesa

Jews of Egypt II becoming the best selling film at Zawya

Cairo's art house cinema Zawya returned after a summer break with Jews of Egypt: End of a Journey, the sequel to the highly acclaimed documentary by young director Amir Ramses. The film opened on 20 August at the Odeon Cinema in Downtown Cairo.

Jews of Egypt: End of a Journey was the first documentary to screen in Zawya's regular schedule since its inception. Not only that, the film managed to hit the highest box office returns in Zawya since it opened.

The film was also the opening film of this year's edition of the Ismailiya International Film Festival for Documentaries and Shorts.

In the first documentary, filmmaker Ramses explores the lives of the Egyptian Jewish community in the first half of the 20th century. The work focuses on the key events that shaped their lives, namely the declaration of the State of Israel in 1948, Egypt's 1952 Revolution that ended the British occupation, and the Tripartite Aggression of 1956, which forced the community into exile. The documentary also reminds viewers of the influence of Egyptian Jews in various sectors during the first half of the 20th century, including the music, cinema and retail industries.

Since its inception, Zawya has screened films from Egypt's independent film movement as well as international selections that have garnered critical acclaim elsewhere but have never appeared in Egyptian cinemas.

Jews of Egypt Sequel

Highlights of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Summer Festival

Organised by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Arts Centre, the 12th edition of the Summer Festival brought a large lineup of renowned Egyptian musicians and bands to the Mediterranean city from 6 August to 2 September.

This year's festival witnessed large audiences of all generations flocking to the Bibliotheca to attend a variety of performances. According to the library's management, the festival saw unprecedented ticket sales, with audience filling completely the venue's large plaza during open air concerts.

Cairokee band, which performed on 17 August, sold 2,700 tickets, while Massar Egbari (20 August) almost approached the same number. Mohamed Mohsen attracted over 2,200 attendees to his concert. Large numbers of fans of all generations were also noticed during many other concerts staged at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Plaza, its Open Air Theatre — Dina El-Wedidi (16 August) or four bands performing during the evening dubbed 'Have Fan' (23 August) — or in its Great Hall, as was the case with the opening nights hosting Omar Khairat (6 and 7 August).

Concerts that usually see lower turnouts also reached an impressive number of attendees during the festival. The Bibliotheca Alexandrina Chamber Orchestra (30 August) saw the highest number of attendees in years when young and old listeners as well as whole families came to enjoy film and Hollywood music filling the large section of the library plaza.

Within the festival, film screenings of Egyptian women filmmakers took place in the Bibliotheca's auditorium.

Les Petits Chats, a 1960s cover band that recently reunited for a number of concerts, closed the festival with a performance that included lead singers Sadek Gallini, Sobhi Bidair and Wagdi Francis along with guitarist Pino Phares from the original band. They were joined by Nayer Nagui and Rami Soussou on piano and keyboards.



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