Al-Ahram Weekly Online   17 - 23 July 2003
Issue No. 647
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Trumpets and harps

Summertime, and the programmes are diverse, writes Amal Choucri Catta

Swing trumpet, Raouf El- Ganainy ensemble, Open- air Theatre, Cairo Opera House, Sunday, 6 July, 9pm

Audiences are being provided with a great deal to occupy their time this summer -- there are 60 different performances scheduled for the months of July and August -- so most people are sure to find something to their liking. This year's summer offerings include the oriental and international. There will be Sudanese, African and Latin-American music, alongside jazz and popular evergreens. Already Egyptian pianist-composer Omar Khairat and his Comb-band have performed, as have Nasir Shamma, the Iraqi oud player, with his Eyon ensemble. Sobhi Bedeir and Friends have been and gone, and still we can look forward to singer Dina Salah, Yehia Khalil and his jazz band, the percussionist Nesma Abdel-Aziz , the Banat Al-Nil ensemble with harpist Manal Mohieddin, Fathy Salama's Sharkiat and Nevine Allouba.

Last week was the turn of Raouf El-Ganainy's Swing trumpet ensemble: he is no newcomer to the jazz and pop scene and boasts a group of excellent soloists. Moataz Seifiazal plays a fascinating trombone, while Emad Carioca is on the timpani, Moataz Ben Assiouti on the drums, Mohamed Abdel-Salam on the alto saxophone, Omar Ashour at the organ, Maged Nenedy on the bass-guitar and Wael Hamada on the tambourine.

Raouf El-Ganainy, a master of the trumpet, gave us an interesting medley of Euro-Oriental music. He was, as he usually is, the star of the performance, giving us as much of Harry James as of Louis Armstrong. Gliding with perfect ease into the highest registers and eloquently returning to dramatic, low tones, he reminded us that, though styles and techniques may differ, it is the music that is always the real star of his show. He is equally comfortable with the nostalgic, meditative or funny, according to his mood, or else the mood of the audience.

In this performance he did it again. He came on stage while playing the trumpet, never uttered a word, never announced the tunes he had chosen for his concert, satisfied, as always, with letting his audience win or lose at the guessing game.

In past concerts he has built programmes around the forties, with some unforgettable standards which he continues to include in his programmes to this day though lately he has been adding his own compositions, his own conceptions to the music, often turning oriental with a Latin beat, or Latin with an oriental beat, presenting Egyptian songs rearranged for his trumpet with tunes like "Johnny Guitar", or melodies reminiscent of "Papa loves Mambo".

Raouf El-Ganainy puts on a great show: descending from the stage he chooses one or two of his listeners and starts "talking" to them with the trumpet, softly, tenderly, or eloquently, as required by the music, sometimes using two notes for a smiling hello and a thunderous crescendo for a quick goodbye.

Loving it, the audience responds and the tune goes on for quite a while, which no one seems to mind. Everyone is having fun, enjoying every minute of the show. Though the younger generation wouldn't know anything about oldies like "CumbaCero", "Cerisier rose et pommier blanc" and other tunes reminiscent of Xavier Cugat they do appreciate the music and the entire performance.

There is, though, a negative side to Raouf El-Ganainy's shows. The long intervals between one number and the next, when he has his back turned to the audience while discussing the next tune with his musicians, could be avoided by announcing the music over the microphone while facing the public.

For this performance, sadly, the open-air theatre was rather empty, having attracted less than a hundred listeners. The performance, which was excellent, needed much better publicity. Quite why the Opera House cannot seem to manage this remains a complete mystery. Neither are programmes available, not even the simple stenciled sheets distributed in past years. Most of the listeners do not get to know the names of the performers: whatever flyers and posters there are to announce the shows mention only the names of the groups, never giving details as to the contents of the performance or the names of the performers.

The absence of printed details, however, could hardly prevent El-Ganainy's music from soaring beautifully into the night, nor the audience from giving him and his fabulous musicians a well- deserved ovation.

Manal Mohieddin with her group of harps, international and oriental variations, Open- air Theatre, Cairo Opera House, 9 July, 9pm

photo: Sherif Sonbol The moon smiled on the four harps gracing Cairo Opera House's open-air stage. There was a percussion-ensemble in the background and extra space for the four string instrumentalists expected for the concert's latter part.

It was Manal Mohieddin's night: there was a lovely evening breeze, a full house and an extremely attentive audience. Manal Mohieddin has performed in the most prestigious venues both locally and internationally. She has won prizes and toured continents with extraordinarily varied programmes comprising baroque, classical, romantic and modern contemporary music. More recently she has delved into pop and jazz, both oriental and occidental.

The success of her first concert with a group of her students, dedicated to classical music and recently performed at the Opera's Small Hall, persuaded Mohieddin to take another plunge, concentrating this time on international and oriental light music "which would better suit the open-air theatre and the summer mood", she said.

The night began with a Negro spiritual, "I need thee every hour", a well-known Gospel song performed by herself and a student with somewhat timid percussion in the background. This, like all the pieces she presented with her pupils, was specially arranged for harps. It was new and quite charming, though plucked individually the single strings did give a sometimes weak sound.

There was, it must be said, a lack of professional maturity, mainly in the first part of the programme dedicated to international melodies where the beat was often stronger than the tune itself, the latter often thin and barely audible.

The soloists at times seemed clearly to lack the necessary experience for a professional performance. Arrangements for the harp are not easy, nor are they readily available. Yet the soloists were exemplary in terms of both enthusiasm and the ardent zeal with which they seem to be pursuing their musical objectives.

The idea of using the harp in pop or jazz music is interesting, and Manal Mohieddin seems attracted to it. And in this performance she took the instrument on a spree from popular folklore to jazz, from Hawaiian to Mexican melodies. She even made the Austrian "hills come alive with the sound of music", turning softly into "Do-re-mi", while "starting at the very beginning" and rushing tunefully into a nostalgic "Edelweiss".

But she didn't remain in the snow for long; preferring warmer plains and sunny skies, she delved into Spanish melodies, crowning the first part of this extraordinary show with a "Malaguena", reminiscent of Lorekiana, the beautiful lady haunted by her dead lover.

The "Sound of Music" and the Spanish "Malaguena" were probably the best sequences of the programme's first part. Superbly versed in classical music, Manal Mohieddin would be well advised to adopt a bolder attitude when delving into pop, rock and similar kinds of music, mostly built on daring improvisations. She should try to avoid the lucking one single string and bring on the sound of the harp in its entirety.

The second part of the concert, dedicated to oriental music, was when the harp really came alive, helped by a sudden burst of energy on the part of the percussionists. They were visibly better versed in these tunes, using the individual instruments with a great deal more enthusiasm than was evident in the international medley.

Starting with Dalida's "Helwa ya Baladi", they went on to melodies by Sayed Darwish and other tunes, including a lovely version of Manal's solo "Nahawand" by Fathy Salama. Jined by the four string instrumentalists the entire show was given the necessary professional polish.

The concert ended with a pot-pourri by Omar Khairat, one of Egypt's leading modern composers who has produced many scores for film and TV-serials, as well as incidental music. His compositions are always melodious, hovering between the oriental and the occidental styles and creating what is sometimes described as a bridge between the two musical worlds. The same goes for Fathy Salama's music, which has won many admirers for its individual, interesting style.

The entire venture is in progress and Manal Mohieddin's efforts, directed towards integrating the harp into contemporary musical conceptions, have been sincerely appreciated by her audiences. Certainly on this night they wished her well, showering the stage with thunderous, well-deserved applause.

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