Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1251, (18 - 24 June 2015)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1251, (18 - 24 June 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Cultural events in Ramadan

The holy month of Ramadan has a distinctive taste this year, with a multitude of cultural events taking place across Cairo, writes Nevine El-Aref

Al-Ahram Weekly

In Egypt the holy month of Ramadan is not only a month of religious devotion but also an occasion for cultural festivals. Every year, Ramadan is marked by a host of cultural events, and this year is no exception.

Cairo nightlife takes on a different form during Ramadan, as music and theatre lovers as well as art connoisseurs and ordinary people, head towards the city’s older neighbourhoods where oriental music, Sufi chanting, tanura and folkloric dancing, art exhibitions, theatre performances, puppet theatre shows, and concerts of famous Egyptian singers and musicians are taking place.

The ministry of culture’s Cultural Development Fund (CDF) this year has set a rich agenda for Ramadan, with most of its events being free of charge except those hosting renowned artists.

“This year the CDF has included new cultural activities and events on the Ramadan agenda in an attempt to open new windows and increase and revive people’s awareness of their tangible and intangible heritage as well as acquaint them with the diversity of their culture and civilisation,” CDF head Mohamed Abuseada told the Weekly.

He said the CDF had organised the Ramadan agenda this year according to a new vision. For the first time the CDF was providing opportunities for youth cultural and art groups to participate in Ramadan activities as well as extending these outdoors to Al-Muizz l-Din Allah Street in Islamic Cairo where several theatrical performances would be held in the open courtyard of the Mamay al-Seifi Maqaad (loggia).

Among the most important performances will be the well-known puppet operetta Al-Leila Al-Kebira (The Grand Night) written by the late poet Salah Jahin with music by the late composer Sayed Mekawi in the 1960s.

The operetta describes the celebration of the moulid (festival) associated with the event through the activities that take place. In a playful, colourful and musically lively manner, it centres on displaying certain scenes from the festival including food stall vendors, jugglers, clowns, and circus performers, with catchy Egyptian folk songs and rhythms included. The operetta will be performed daily for ten days, and other plays by newly formed theatre groups will also be performed.

Starting on the fourth of Ramadan, historical beits (houses) and palaces in Islamic Cairo as well as cultural and creative centres in Zamalek, Al-Fustat, Al-Khalifa and downtown Cairo will be buzzing with people as the CDF launches its wider cultural activities.

 The first is Al-Amir (The Prince), a performance at the Al-Amir Taz Palace in the Al-Khalifa area. It relates the story of Taz, a Mameluke prince belonging to the sultan Al-Nasser Mohamed Ben Qalawoun who was also his cup-bearer and the husband of his daughter.

Taz was clever and had an extensive education. However, he tried to rebel against the sultan, who ordered him to be punished by putting out his eyes. After Taz was freed from prison, he spent the rest of his life in the Arabian Peninsula and died in Damascus in the 14th century.

The palace named after him witnessed many developments in Egypt’s history. During the reign of the khedive Mohamed Ali in the early 19th century it was used as a military barracks, and at the end of the century it was converted into a school for girls, until its restoration by the ministry of culture within the framework of the current Historic Cairo Rehabilitation Project.

Now, Abuseada said, it was not only a historic house but also a “cultural lighthouse” in the Al-Khalifa area.

The play was part of a larger project called masrah fi kul makan, he explained, meaning “theatre in every area.” The idea was to perform plays in old houses, palaces and wekalas (trade markets) in order to relate them to the history of the places and the stories behind their construction and the people who built them.

“We are also helping to raise the cultural awareness of the inhabitants towards their cultural heritage as well as highlighting the value of that heritage,” Abuseada said. One of the residents had given him the idea for the project, he added, since although he had lived near the Palace for more than 30 years he knew nothing about Taz or the construction of the building.

Al-Amir will be the first in a series of performances. The second will be held in the Bashtak Palace built by the Mameluke Amir Bashtak in the 14th century in Al-Muizz Street and the third in the nearby Al-Ghouri Complex.

Starting on the tenth of Ramadan, a performance called Layali al-Fustat will take place at the Traditional Handicrafts Centre in Al-Fustat, Abuseada said. During a ten-day period, concerts by famous Egyptian singers Ali al-Haggar and Aida al-Ayoubi will be performed as well as those of prominent modern groups such as Wast al-Balad, Basata and Karakib.

“Egyptian singers who participated in the Star Academy TV programme will take part at low ticket prices,” Abuseada said.

Under the title “Spiritual Keys”, the Al-Ghouri Complex on Al-Azhar Street will be devoted to al-inshad al-dini (religious chanting) and Sufi performances led by Al-Ghouri Complex director and head of the Sufi chanting group Intesar Abdel-Fattah.

Religious chanting has long been widespread in Egypt and performed at both religious and social occasions. It is a Sufi ritual enjoyed and appreciated by ordinary Muslims and art lovers because of the simplicity and spirituality of the lyrics and the strong and beautiful voices of the chanters.

The lyrics are based on texts that glorify God and praise the Prophet Mohammed and his family. The singers enrich the delivery of the text by their emotional expressions that show the peace and inner satisfaction that comes from being close to God. Different types of drums and tambourine (al-doff), flute (al-nay), qanoun and oriental lute (oud) are played during the chanting.

The Wikalet Al-Ghouri and the Al-Suheimy House in Al-Azhar will also see performances by the Al-Tanoura Whirling Dervishes Group, dancing wearing their colourful skirts with a musical performance by the Al-Nile Folk Instruments Group. Shadow play (khayal al-zil) and puppet (aragoz) performances are on show at the Al-Suheimy House.

Sufi poem recitation nights are to be held at the Beit al-Shear located in the Al-Set Wasila House in the Al-Azhar area. “The Egyptian poet Ahmed Abdel-Moati Hegazi will introduce all the nights,” added Abuseada.

At the Centre for Artistic Creativity in Cairo Opera House in Zamalek, director Khaled Galal will present several performances among them the Bordet al-Busiri (Al-Busiri’s Poem of the Mantle), which praises the Prophet Mohamed who cured the poet al-Busiri of paralysis by appearing to him in a dream and wrapping him in a mantle. The poem has been translated into English, French and German.

Al-Busiri was a Sanhaji Berber Sufi poet belonging to the Shadhiliyya Order. According to the mediaeval historian al-Maqrizi, al-Busiri’s origins derived from the Hammadeen area in Morocco and he was from the Banu Habnun tribe. He was born in the town of Busir in the Beni Sweif governorate in Upper Egypt where he lived and studied. He died in Alexandria during the 13th century.  

A modern play called Baad al-Leil (After the Night) performed by young amateur actors trained at the Centre for Artistic Creativity will also be performed. The play is a tragicomedy that highlights many troubling issues within Egyptian society through a series of sketches.

The Um Kalthoum Museum at the Al-Manesterly Palace on Roda Island also makes a contribution to the Ramadan nights, with two concerts being held by famous musician Hani Shenouda and marimba player Nesma Abdel-Aziz.

A gigantic exhibition of books published by the ministry of culture and of handicrafts made by disabled people will be inaugurated on the tenth of Ramadan in the open court of the Cairo Opera House. The exhibition will sell the books at a 25 per cent discount. Two exhibitions of Arabic calligraphy will also be held at the Beit al-Seheimy and the Al-Ghouri Complex.

On the eighth of Ramadan, the Al-Amir Taz Palace in the Al-Khalifa area will be converted into a mediaeval market where an exhibition of historical handicrafts will be organised as well as performances by folk art groups in collaboration with NGOs from all over Egypt.

On the fifteenth of Ramadan novelist Gamal al-Ghitani will start his cultural salon at the Al-Amir Taz Palace, relating the history of Islamic Cairo with its streets, alleys and historic structures including mosques, wekalas, houses, domes, and sabil-kuttab (Qur’anic schools and water fountains). Al-Ghitani will also embark with his guests on tours around different sections of the city.

“This is only the beginning,” Abuseada told the Weekly, adding that the salon would continue after Ramadan and be held once a month. Several oud performances played by students of renowned Iraqi musician oud player Nasser Shamma will also be held at the Al-Harawi House, he said.

Culture sailing south


A ‘cruiser for creativity’ is embarking down the Nile to spread a taste for culture in Upper Egypt

On the banks of the Nile at the back of the Aicha Fahmy Palace in Zamalek, a replica of an ancient Egyptian wooden vessel with two large white sails is due to leave dock soon, reports Nevine El-Aref.

Entitled a “cruiser for creativity,” the boat will embark on a trip up the Nile from Cairo to Aswan to spread a taste for art and culture among the inhabitants of the Upper Egyptian towns and cities.

Mohamed Abuseada, head of the ministry of culture’s Cultural Development Fund (CDF), told the Weekly that it was identifying a suitable contractor to finish the boat so that it could be completed within a month when the Aicha Fahmy Palace is scheduled to be officially inaugurated after restoration.

He said the boat would be a fully-equipped mobile cultural centre with a cinema, theatre, exhibition gallery and library. It would leave Cairo and head for Upper Egypt where there were fewer cultural activities and events. The boat would stop in every city along the Nile and hold cultural activities free of charge, he said.

The sails would function as screens to show documentary materials about the towns and cities along the Nile, as well as about archaeological sites, local landmarks, agriculture, and society. Movies would also be screened, and there would be concerts, plays, folkloric and Tanoura dancing and poetry readings, he said.

Art workshops for children were also on the boat’s programme, and a small book fair and fine art exhibition were planned, along with a mini-market for handicrafts.

“This boat will help develop a taste for culture among the people and help inform them about the customs and traditions of their own communities as well as those of neighbouring ones,” Abuseada said

He added that the boat could be used to transport artists to the Luxor Painting Symposium, so they could enjoy the atmosphere of the Nile in creating their artworks. The artists would have a unique experience that could be translated into paintings over a period of 10 to 15 days before they reached Luxor where the Symposium was taking place, he said.

Abuseada told the Weekly that the boat could also play a major role in promoting the different activities of the ministry of culture across Egypt.

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