Thursday, May 5, 2011

Together for Egypt: Cairo Opera House in New York City

Mariam Bazeed, an Egyptian living in New York who will be a prominent contributor to our Hip Deep programs on Egypt. Read on... 

Though the Egyptian revolution has moved from the spotlight as far as major US media outlets are concerned, the efforts of Egyptians have remained unceasing in ensuring the transition to democracy that Hosni Mubarak's absence has made possible. Since February, Egypt has seen continued demonstrations in Tahrir Square, as Egyptians dissatisfied with the mere departure of Hosni Mubarak have continued to call for constitutional amendments, and for true reforms in military and government rule. Since February, Egypt has seen an historic and controversial referendum, in which a record 41% of the population voted - a percentage unmatched in many decades of referendums. In short, the on-going revolution has sparked a spirit of civic engagement and empowerment that few of the young generations have ever known, and few of the older generations can remember.

This level of civic engagement and participation has not left the diaspora community of Egyptians untouched. In New York, the Arab and Egyptian listservs are buzzing with a fantastic energy - talks and panels and films and benefit concerts all clamoring for attention in these very hopeful and very critical times.

One exceptional example takes place this weekend in New York City, sponsored by the Egyptian American Medical Community (EAMS). The proceeds from this gala dinner will go to support medical relief efforts in Egypt. In attendance will be Congressman Gregory Meeks, and Wael El Ebrashy, an Egyptian journalist and TV host of "The Truth" will MC the event. Of particular interest to Afropop is the roster of performers coming from Egypt to enliven this gala dinner. Singers Eman El Bahr Darwish and Amal Maher are scheduled to perform with an ensemble of New York musicians skilled in Arabic music performance.

Sayyed Darwish
Eman El Bahr Darwish, who himself is a distinguished artist in Egypt's traditional and pop music scene, happens also to be the grandson of Sayyed Darwish, a noted modernizer of Arabic music who lived in the late 19th and early 20th century. Sayyed Darwish is known for compositions that drew upon the common experience of the people, and moved away from the forms of musical expression appreciated by the elite Khedive government of the time. In fact, one of Sayyed Darwish's songs dealing with the Egyptian revolution of 1919 is still performed all over the Arab world, and can be considered an anthem of revolutionary uprising and revival. Entitled "Ahu Dalli Sar", here is a clip of one version performed by Aly El-Haggar and another iteration as interpreted by Amal Maher, the second noted performer of the evening.

Eman El Bahr Darwish
Eman El Bahr Darwish's career, though solid enough in its own right not to need association with the great Sayyed Darwish, has nevertheless been seen through the lens of his familial connection with all that is traditional and all that is folk in Egyptian music. One of Sayyed Darwish's songs performed by Eman El Bahr Darwish has seen something of a revival on youtube and other channels in connection with the revolution:

Amal Mahe
Amal Maher is a young female vocalist who has traveled all over Europe and the Middle East performing Egyptian music of the 40s and 50s. Her focus has been on Umm Kulthum's repertory of elaborately orchestrated songs as composed by Abdel Wahhab in the 50s, at the height of their collaboration.

Umm Kulthum herself was not only a musical figure, but was seen by Egyptians as a cultural ambassador to the rest of the Arab world. She did not only sing love songs, but concerned herself with the contemporary politics of her time, and was often courted by the ruling party of the time, given her strong presence in the hearts and minds of the Egyptian public at large. At her most politically outspoken, Umm Kulthum throughout the 1960s and 70s, donated all of the proceeds from her concerts all over the Arab world to Egyptian government coffers during Gamal Abdel Nasser's war effort with Israel. Amal Maher is one of the youngest voices on the scene that has so confidently taken up this repertoire, continuing to bring it to diverse audiences all over the world. Here is a short clip of her performing the much longer song, Enta Omri, in Amsterdam:

Abdel Rahman El Abnoudi
Last but not least, the poet Abdel Rahman El Abnoudi will be in attendance. Though it was not announced in the flyer for the event, it is expected that he will read from his composition "Qasidat Al Midan", or "Poem of the Square", which was composed in the days of the Egyptian revolution, and was one of the first poems to be publicly broadcast dealing with this subject matter. Most notable about the poem is its language; it is written and read by the poet in this clip, and is in Egyptian colloquial Arabic. The use of the colloquial lends it an accessibility to Egyptians across all class and educational levels, and matches the songs of Sayyed Darwish in taking on the heavy themes of civil rights and revolution in simple, direct language.

A few stanzas of the poem was sampled in this song, which was one of those that went viral in the days of the revolution. The song is entitled, "Sout El Horreya"; "The Voice of Freedom", and to date has more than 1.4 million hits on youtube.

- Mariam Bazeed
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