culture / Egypte
Fathy Salama or orientalised jazz
Dina Darwish - 11/11/2010
In 2001, Fathy Salam presented “Kochari” as the first multimedia performance. It was composed in collaboration with Ya-k collective that excels in interactive installations, with giant screenings and multi back-ups used on stage and creating a unique combination of sound and images.
The fusion of diverse artistic elements is at the core of Fathy Salama’s philosophy of music. In the beginning of his career, Fathy Salama composed for young singers like Amr Diab before forming the group Charquiat in 1989. According to this philosophy, Arab music and oriental rhythms do not have to only simply be the “background” for electronic music. His research for secular music forms in Upper Egypt and above all in Sudan, two endless resources of original and unusual rhythms, was motivated by an absolute will to struggle against the indifference from which Arab music suffers.
“I combine different things. I make electronic music but with oriental instruments! Not to talk about images and other visual elements. It is difficult to describe ! Actually, it’s like a magic potion!” This is how Fathy Salama summarizes a doctrine that he’s been putting into practice for the past twenty years, with Charqiat and with Joudour. With both groups, he has been concerned about presenting his music with several Egyptian and foreign artists like the Norwegian saxophonist Trygve Seim and the Algerian singer Karima Naït, who has such a striking presence on stage.
Thus, the musical fusion of different genres is the major concern of Fathy Salama who’s mission is to build bridges between oriental music modern Western musical trends. Sailing on the sea of Arabic maqams (1) and of other less familiar ones, he looks for connections between jazz and popular music in this vast world. His music reflects his passion for travelling and his love for adventure. From deep Africa to the Mediterranean Shores and beyond, all the way to America, he pursues the same objective: that of an independent and explosive form of music. Nurtured by old Moroccan gnawi (2) as well as by Egyptian zar (3), Turkish or Iranian maqams , and by the magic of the off-beats and syncopes that is so characteristic of jazz, Salama’s notes are always rich and wild.
In his quest for unique musical elixirs, Fathy Salama did not hesitate to travel across West Africa studying the connections that these different kinds of music have between one another. His more than twenty-five years of efforts have been awarded with total success. He has obtained the “Music Oscar” the Grammy award for the best contemporary world music album as a result of a vote to which no less than twenty thousand critics and experts have participated.
“There is no 100% pure music”
According to Zine Nassar, critic and lecturer at the faculty of Arts, the debut of music fusion in Egypt date back to the Post Second World War period. Several Italian artists settled in Cairo; they opened schools and trained a new generation of Egyptian musicians that are subject to their influence. This is how a fusion movement of oriental maqams and Western musical forms took place. Among its representants we find Ali Ismaël and Abdelhamid Noweir. Fathy Salama does not believe in the possibility of dating the beginning of this movement of musical fusion as according to him, it exists since the most remote times. “There is no pure music. wars, conquests and migrations have made music, even the ancient one, something hybrid. For example, jazz emerged from a fusion between European music and the music of Black African people who took their history, their civilisation and their culture with them to America; the song of African workers have blended in a different harmonic structure. Arabic music itself is the product of music belonging to different civilisations. After the Boukhara conquests, the Muslim State was extended up to the Altantic coast; it englobed countries as different as Iran, Turkey, Pakistan and Morocco. The different types of oriental music have influenced each other during one thousand four hundred years! For that matter, many names of Arabic maqams such as the ispahan for example, come from Iran and have a meaning in Persian. Fifty percent of Arab music is the result of a long and patient hybridisation! Isn’t Man himself the product of a long history of crossings?”
Since his early childhood and despite his passion for piano, Fathy Salama loved to listen to Oum Koulthoum, Farid El Atrache and Mohamed Abdelwahab. He very soon became a master of this instrument that he started to learn since the age of six. He was part of several groups as soon as he was 13 years old. The 1960’s have probably influenced his music education: at that time, a lot of Russians lived in Cairo and he considers Russians to be the kings of classical music. Nonetheless, the ambitions of the child of Choubra, a colourful area in Cairo that goes beyond the country’s frontiers. This is what made him decide to travel to Europe and to the United States in order to become familiar with the great jazz figures like Barry Harris. He composed a lot in Egypt in the 1980’s. He has also travelled across the world with Charqiat and Joudour, diffusing his two-faceted musical message, traditional and modern. Thanks to his journeys and concerts all around the globe, he forged this faculty of being interested in all kinds of music coming from his country and from all the world varying from “microbus songs”, operas and other classic compositions: “I am a good listener: Greek music, Indian, Chinese or old Japanese music! I never block my ears; I listen to everything whether I like the music or not.”
Musical fusion is far away from being appreciated by everyone
Despite Fathy Salama’s recognition and the prestigious awards that he has obtained, his music divides the Egyptian listeners and experts. According to amr Sami, a young blogger and musician, Charqiat’s founder is a genius due to his capacity of improvisation and the composition of rich and original melodic lyrics. “During a concert, what is really pleasant is the fact that the music is lively, i.e. having space for improvisation, for dialogue between the musicians on stage etc. This is exactly what Fathy Salama does. His music is at the junction of oriental music, Egyptian popular music and jazz, a genre with widespread and deep roots. All these kinds of music, all similarly superior and original, have a dose of freedom, of “primitiveness” if can express myself this way. We feel it in the solos of Charqiat’s musicians: they carry the mark of spontaneity but are still along the principal melodic line. They have always a surprise in store! Another thing that I like is Fathy Salama’s capacity to discover spaces of intersection between completely different kinds of music. It is these spaces that constitute the essence of his art!”
Lamia Al Sadati, music critique is not that enthusiast. She perceives Fathy Salama’s music as a “dissonant” and “somewhat artificial” fusion of different genres: “Jazz is a purely Western genre. It is difficult to master oriental instruments to make then produce these sonorities. The kanoun is strictly and oriental instrument. How would it be possible to use it to play a Western song in a melodic way? I am not against the use of oriental and Western instruments in the same orchestra! But not all musical genres can be combined together in a harmonious way in the same composition.”
It is evident that Fathy Salama does not share Lamia Al Sadati’s opinion. According to him, a real composer knows the potentialities of each instrument and knows how to master it. The other depends on the musicians’ virtuosity and their capacity to achieve the highest possible level of quality in their creativity.
1) Arabic maqām is the system of melodic modes used in traditional Arabic music, which is mainly melodic. The word maqam in Arabic means place, location or rank. The Arabic maqam is a melody type. Maqam is "a technique of improvisation" that defines the pitches, patterns, and development of a piece of music and which is "unique to Arabian art music. »
2) Gnawi is the music of Gnawas, descendants of African slaves.
3) Zar is the name of a performance, of a kind of music and a ritual aiming to heal ill-being caused by bad spirits.
Fathy Salama’s Discography
1991: “Camel Dance”
1994: “Color Me Cairo”
1996: “Camel Road”
1998: “Don't Climb the Pyramids”
2003: “Maqsoom” and “Mashy El Hal”
2004: “Egypt” of Youssou N'Dour (compositions and arrangements).
2006: “Sultany” (a compilation of “Camel Dance” and “Camel Road”)
2009: ”Nha Sentimento” of Cesaria Evora (the arrangements of three songs).
Par Dina Darwish
Translated into English by Elizabeth Grech
Translated into English by Elizabeth Grech