Tuesday,18 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1256, (30 July - 5 August 2015)
Tuesday,18 September, 2018
Issue 1256, (30 July - 5 August 2015)

Ahram Weekly

A Mediterranean’s summer dream

Ati Metwaly raises the curtain on the Bibliotheca Alexandrina’s summer programme

Al-Ahram Weekly

The summer festival is a well established tradition in Egypt as much as the international cultural scene. Summer is the cultural-exchange season, an opportunity for finding out about artists from beyond the country’s and the culture’s frontiers. Summer is also holiday and relaxation time, a chance to make use of artistic offerings. The younger generation enjoys a complete break from studies while the older one seeks an interesting ending to the day. There is no better season to explore an outdoor artistic programme, looking forward to the soft breeze cooling the day’s heat.

One programme is provided by the 13th Bibliotheca Alexandrina (BA) Summer Festival (30 July-4 September), whose last round – 2014 – followed a few years of political instability, challenging cultural activities at the Bibliotheca. It was a powerful comeback, with a full and exciting programme that attracted over 20,000 according to the Bibliotheca and brought much needed attention to the Mediterranean pearl that is Alexandria. This year the festival takes its game even further, however.

Announced in mid-June, the programme immediately solicited all manner of positive reactions on social media. “Now we know where we will spend the summer” set the tone. An excited prospective audience began to discuss the must-see concerts by Angham, Shereen Yehia, Medhat Saleh, Black Theama, Egyptian Project, Cairokee and Mohamed Mohsen. The buzz reached the capital with many Cairenes turning their eyes on Alexandria: “We have to rent an apartment and move to Alexandria for one month,” one Facebook user commented.

Though social media always proves to be a successful marketing tool of cultural institutions – it is also one of the ways to listen to and engage in conversations with the audience – the BA Summer Festival is not limited to Internet-savvy art lovers. This year’s rich programme caters to all musical tastes, from well-known Egyptian independent bands and musicians to folk gems, and from classical and Arabic music to theatre, exhibitions, film screenings, stand-up comedy and a Family Day tailored to the youngest attendees.

According to the BA Arts Centre, two weeks prior to the opening, five thousand tickets have already been sold while the centre’s director, conductor Hisham Gabr, estimates that the audience to reach 40 thousand this year. With almost 40 different events gathering together the best of Egypt’s music scene and a number of regional highlights, topped with a sturdy logistical backbone, his estimate might not be far off.

The festival opens on Thursday 30 July with one of the most popular Egyptian singers, Angham. The first week will also see Shereen Yehia (2 Aug) and the independent musicians Black Theama (31 July), City Band (3 Aug), Al-Masrieen (4 Aug), Mohamed Mohsen (5 Aug) and Zajal (6 Aug). Within that same week, on 1 Aug, the Bibliotheca Alexandrina Chamber Orchestra with violin soloist and conductor Khaled El-Showiekh will also perform well known classical pieces. While the concerts take place mostly on the open air stage, the Bibliotheca’s indoor halls will also offer artistic activities: theatre fans will be able to attend The Seven Days, a play directed by Islam Awad on 6 August, while the film programme will open on 7 August with a selection of short fiction films produced in 2012 and released by the Krakow Film Foundation.

But there is no need to enumerate the event-packed five weeks, except to say that no programme would be complete without Omar Khairat, Ali El-Hagar, Massar Egbari, Dina El-Wedidi, Nour Ashour with his saxophone, Yehia Khalil, Fathy Salama and many others. Artists from the Arab world include a Jordanian rock band well-known to Egyptian audiences performing on 14 August, the Palestinian Kamilya Jubran (8 Aug), the Tunisian Ghalia Benali (2 Sept) and the Lebanese Ghada Shbeir (4 Sept).

A singer and songwriter, Jubran hails from an artistic family with her brother Khaled being “one of the most skilled oud makers in the Middle East and a remarkably gifted singer,” as Youssef Rakha described him on those pages in 2002. “It was as if, in the house where Khaled [and Kamilya] Jubran grew up, Arab music was being invented from scratch.” Though the “inimitable Kamilya Jubran” is well known in the Arab region, she does not visit Egypt as frequently as one would hope. Unlike Jubran, Benali has a history of very close ties with Egypt and performs frequently on many Cairo stages to large crowds. She has collaborated with Fathy Salama.

With a different genre , the closing of the festival (4 Sept) promises to be both as impressive as the opening and very different from it: Ghada Shbeir. Not only has Shbeir gained renown as a singer, she also remains very active in academic circles, teaching Arabic singing techniques at the Lebanese University and sacred Syriac chants at the National Conservatory of Lebanon. The biography on Shbeir’s website describes her as the “specialist and professional performer of traditional Middle Eastern folk and Arabo-Andalusian songs, Syriac and Ancient Maronite chants”. With her unique talent, Shbeir’s repertoire has always been well received by audiences in the Arab World, Europe and Canada, and brought her numerous recognitions in Lebanon and internationally.

“Wonderful poems sung to music by renowned composers. Shbeir has a generous and obviously natural voice, aware of the slightest emotion.

She is equally comfortable in the register of the religious chants and in the Arabo-Andalusian mode.  Her skill also lies in her simplicity and how she addresses the audience as if it were a close friend; she explains the beauty of a text, asks the audience to pay attention to this or that passage or tells an anecdote illustrating the birth of the piece.” So writes Maya Ghandour Hert, writing about Shbeir in the Lebanese L’Orient-Le Jour, 2007.

There could be no better way to close the festival, letting the audience go back to their regular lives with the memories of wonderful music, remarkable musicians – and the Bibliotheca’s open air.

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