‘Trans-cultural’, the new music in Egypt

‘Trans-cultural’, the new music in Egypt“We met in Cape Town (South Africa) during a music festival. We are an Egyptian group of independent music called ‘Risala’ and they are called ‘Napalma’, a South African group of crossover music with a Mozambican singer and Brazilian percussionists. We started to have fun at the backstage and finally we decided to improvise together on stage. The crowd went crazy and this is how Transproject was formed. Napalma came to Cairo a couple of times and we recorded an album with Vodafone. ‘Trans-project’ stands for ‘Trans-cultural’, ‘Trans-national’.”

Egyptian music is freeing itself from its borders. It’s exploring jazz, blues, rock, and electronic music. It’s communicating with all continents, mixing with other souls and trying to find itself in fusion. New cultural centres, music festivals and artistic events depict the Egyptian capital of the past few years. New “innovative” groups have succeeded to impose themselves on the Arab music scene in an energetic way
Nour, Risala’s saxophonist tells us about “independent” contemporary Egyptian music.

How did your career start?
I was a basketball player and I had to abandon my dream due to an accident. My father was a musician and taught me how to play the saxophone to save me from depression. Music has saved me and soon became a passion. It was evident that I was fated to play this instrument. In the beginning my parents were pleased with my reaction but they then started to worry. They are very religious and don’t want me to dedicate myself to music which they consider as a “sin” ( haram ). In Alexandria there was no place where to play and this is why I moved to Cairo in 2004. I shortly started to play with Risala , an Egyptian group of “alternative” music but which is still sensitive to traditional music. Our first album entitled “Qasar Isela” (expulsion) was released in 2006.
In the album we dealt with different themes relating to commercial Arabic music: our society, its flaws, its hypocrisies, the political system that runs it and the repercussions that all this has on the life of common people and young Egyptians. The aim is to “succeed” in communicating our reflections to people. This is why we prefer a traditional/commercial melody.

‘Trans-cultural’, the new music in Egypt Together with other Egyptian musicians he has created a new group performing in the city’s central cultural centres: the Dor el Awal (First Floor). This time, the music you propose is far from being “traditional/commercial”. Instead, you propose an experimental and lively melody, result of a fusion of different styles. Not a single word comes out…
When we began to play for fun, we were at the first floor of an old palace in Cairo at a friends’ place. We were enthusiastic about the improvisation and therefore decided to start working together. Dor el Awal’s music is a mixture of the diverse musical experiences that stem from our origins. I bring jazz with a touch of traditional Arabic music within the group. Fadi is from Cairo with a long experience in Kuwait where the musical scene is quite modern. Ahmed Omar is Eritrean and mixes Egyptian rhythm to that of the African horn. Mizo is a Nubian percussionist and brings us the rhythm of his land. Bob is passionate about traditional Egyptian and also Spanish music. Mohammad Sami, violinist of the Bleack Theama is a well-know oriental music expert. Meshal is a teacher of Kuwaiti music, lover and connoisseur of Indian music.

What does Dor el Awal represent to you?

A moment of relief. Since our objective is not to sell cd’s, we don’t have to mediate with the market’s demands. Our aim is to reach the people with “our” music, the music which fascinates us and the one we enjoy most which is the fruit of our need to experiment new roads, new paths.

Do the people like it?

In the beginning they are perplexed as we mix very different genres together but then they are fascinated by our music and recognize the innovative element. Our non-commercial product turns out to be more “popular”. Big record companies promote rubbish as they are convinced that only rubbish can sell and enrich. They are wrong and we are proving it.

You play in places attracting the highest social classes. Why don’t you play music for all Egyptians?
We would love to play in the streets for the people and the youngsters of the poorest districts who are abandoned to themselves. However, law prohibits this unless it is the government who’s organising the concert. We have played close to Khan el Khalili in a festival that was organised by the authorities: it was a success, absolutely moving. People came to congratulate us and a lot of youngsters asked us to come back there every day…

Why do you search for the “new” through the intercultural fusion?
Our music wants to show that cultures should relate and interact in order to grow and learn from one another. The Brazilian percussionist of Napalma has taught his rhythm to our Egyptian percussionist and vice-versa. They will both continue to use their rhythm but at the same time alternating or mixing with the other’s rhythm. A new rhythm is born from their artistic “marriage”.


Michaela De Marco
Translated by Elizabeth Grech
(17/11/2009)

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