Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Club Preview: Egyptian Traditional Music Hotspot Nas Makan

Mariam Bazeed is an Egyptian who currently resides in New York City. She will be joining us on our forthcoming Egypt trip in the coming weeks. She filed this report with us on one of the many places we will be visiting in search of great Egyptian music. 

I have long been far from the everyday happenings of Cairo, as I am no longer a resident of the frantic city, and now, when I go, I am obliged to spend most of my time involved in the rites of family reunions. But as I have gotten more entrenched in the New York Arabic music scene, one name kept coming up in conversation between me and other music tourists interested in Egypt–Nas Makan. I was at first puzzled by the name, which translates into People Place, with "People" retaining its place as noun rather than as an adjective modifying the second noun. I heard that it was a wonderful place to hear Arabic music with a Nubian flavor, but others were skeptical as to what this place in Downtown Cairo offered the musical traveler.

 I took some time on my next trip to check it out, and it would seem that all of the reports I heard were factually correct–Nas Makan is a place that strives to preserve many traditional and dying Egyptian arts and to bring them back into the present Egyptian consciousness. I am excited to be visiting Nas Makan on my upcoming Egypt trip, and hope to meet many of the musicians who perform there. To give you an idea of what their mission, this is an article written about Nas Makan's regular performers in Egypt's English-language edition of Al-Ahram. Nas Makan's website is a little minimalist, but you'll see some pretty cool videos of past performances, as well as videos showing the manufacturing process involved for some traditional instruments used in Arabic music.

And because reading alone can never quite communicate the flavor of a place, here's a performance by singer Umm Sameh last September captured there. The performance features what looks like a kawala, as well as riqqs and frame drums, all traditional instruments of Arabic music–as well as other musicians playing the saxophone, electric guitar, and drum set. These instruments are foreign to the traditional but that lend this performance a jubilant energy and enthusiasm, making them a welcome, non-intrusive addition. This video's capturer refers to this performance as "Egyptian reggae" and while I'm pretty sure that's not technically correct, I'm retaining the title for awesomeness. This will have to hold you over until we can get there ourselves!

Nas Makan; egyptian reggae from Muhammed Hamdy on Vimeo.
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