Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1339, (6 - 12 April 2017)
Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Issue 1339, (6 - 12 April 2017)

Ahram Weekly

Jazz conversations

Cairo and Alexandria hosted the latest jazz event

Jazz conversations
Jazz conversations

Between 7 March and 1 April, Cairo and Alexandria witnessed the Jazz Tales Festival. With activities free of charge, the festival was organised by the Bibliotheca Alexandrina’s Arts Centre in cooperation with the AUC and the American Consulate in Alexandria.

The event, included a large line-up of bands from the USA and Egypt, and brought a variety of jazz practices to the audience in Cairo and Alexandria. A total of 12 concerts were held at the AUC Ewart Memorial Hall and the Bibliotheca Alexandrina’s Great Hall, in addition to four workshops, each taking place over two seven-hour days at the AUC’s New Cairo campus.

The festival’s opening and closing concerts involved unprecedented energy, which served as  a memorable frame for a festival filled with musical gems. In the first concert, the Rad Trads band from the USA won instant enthusiasm from the audience gathered at the Ewart Hall on 10 March with their Dixieland jazz. The six musicians, all professional jazz musicians who founded the band in 2012, played several tracks, continuously heating up the listeners. When they stepped down to the audience, the hall exploded with additional fervour. Their performance the following day at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina was no less successful. The same evenings also included Boghdady’s Big Band, one of Egypt’s well known jazz ensembles, who performed their adrenaline-packed repertoire of many arrangements of well-known jazz covers to the already dancing audience.

Equally energetic was the closing of the festival, when the Akram El-Sharkawy Group from Egypt and the Huntertones Band from the USA performed in Cairo on 31 March and in Alexandria on 1 April, both capturing the hearts of the audience with their interesting line-up and choice of music. For almost two decades, the well-established Egyptian musician Akram El-Sharkawy, a pianist and keyboard player, has been known for his fusions of jazz and Oriental tunes. With his band, he continues to generate enthusiasm with a line-up that includes saxophone, violin and clarinet, among other instruments, demonstrating to listeners the astounding flexibility of jazz. In their turn, the energy filled six-member Brooklyn-based Huntertones performed original music as well as covers, juggling inspirations from funk, soul, beat boxing, hip hop, rock, among others. The Huntertones brought yet another attraction performing on sousaphone, which though is one of the standard instruments of marching bands, is rarely seen on Egypt’s music scene, and therefore prompted special applause for the solo performance. A particularly warm reception greeted the Louis Armstrong cover, recalling how well integrated jazz has been in Egyptian culture since the start of the 20th century, with musicians such as Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Dizzy Gillespie including Egypt in their tours of the 1960s. And when, in their last composition, the Huntertones stepped down to the audience, the long row of dancing listeners followed them throughout the Ewart auditorium’s aisles, cheering.

The three-week Jazz Tales Festival included many remarkable colours of jazz performance besides, featuring the Todd Marcus Quartet, the Braden/Michels Project from the USA alongside the Egyptian Wave Jazz Band, Cairo Big Band Society, Sherif Watson and the Triple Trouble Band as well as the Shady El-Qaseer group. The festival provided an amalgam of styles — classical jazz, bebop, Dixieland, Big Band, jazz blues, swing and Oriental fusion — and inspiring conversations where musicians could exchange experiences.

The workshops revealed various aspects of the musicians’ practices, backgrounds and inspirations. One such session was given by the Todd Marcus Quartet, named after its founder and bass clarinetist. In the workshop held on 14 and 15 March, the band discussed the specifics of jazz and its musical flexibility that embraces countless influences and as such makes it interesting as well as accessible to musicians representing different countries and cultures. 

Todd Marcus also elaborated on his own background. Having an Egyptian father and American mother, Marcus was born and raised in the USA and had very little contact with Egypt. However as he grew up his interest in Egyptian culture and music deepened. “My dad introduced me to Abdel-Halim Hafez. The song that made a special impact on me was Oully Haga [Tell Me Something]. It is mind-blowing. I loved the long musical conversation developed in this composition, something that I also try to do in my music. I translate my emotions into music, hence weaving Egypt’s music into jazz allowed me to reconnect with this part of my heritage,” Marcus said during the workshop, adding that his presence between two cultures and his ability to explore a different musical identity that Egyptian culture represents is an important factor in his creative development. He pointed to jazz as a fascinating medium that can initiate, embrace and translate multilayered cultural conversations.

Such intercultural conversations took place on several occasions. One example was during the aforementioned double-bill with the Akram El-Sharkawy group and the Huntertones Band. The bands performed two pieces together, weaving the American band’s vocabulary with El-Sharkawy’s Oriental accents. As El-Sharkawy revealed during the concert, both bands could easily find a common language during their jamming and workshop session and enjoyed playing together, something that was obvious during the concert.

Apart from the benefits that the Jazz Tales Festival brought to the musicians themselves, it also provided the audience in Cairo and Alexandria with many interesting experiences. While the Egyptian audience are well acquainted with the local jazz musicians, having them perform in an event that aims to showcase their different practices within the same musical territory gives the listeners the opportunity to take a new perspective on Egypt’s music scene. At the same time, the audience had an opportunity to review contemporary jazz practices brought to them with the musicians from the USA. The festival served as a platform for many voices, initiating dialogues, interaction and insights. It definitely brought a lot of fun to the audience, who will now approach the scene with a fresh perspective.

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