Thursday,24 May, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1393, (10 - 16 May 2018)
Thursday,24 May, 2018
Issue 1393, (10 - 16 May 2018)

Ahram Weekly

A captivating fusion

Rania Khallaf attended the sixth Cairo Contemporary Music Days

A captivating fusion
A captivating fusion

The sixth Cairo Contemporary Music Days (14-29 April), a 12-day event organised by the European-Egyptian Contemporary Music Society, closed last week at a range of interesting venues. 

With German musicians such as Oliver Schneller, Bettina Junge playing alongside Egyptians like Amr Okba, Ahmad Essayad and Ehsan Khatibi, the concert by Ensemble Mosaik – a group founded in 1979 which has performed across Europe and taught in Germany, Sweden and Russia ­— took place at the Manasterly Palace on Monday. Fresh, experimental, challenging, the show, entitled “Is It Global”, included a piece for flute, clarinet, viola and piano, Twilight Dialogues, inspired by Rachel Corrie, the English girl who was run over by bulldozer trying to prevent the demolition of a Palestinian home in Rafah in 2003. Stressing emotions of horror and despair, which Corrie expressed in letters to her parents, the piece featured stunning performances by Karen Lorenz on the viola and Ernest Surberg on the piano. Surberg moved while he played, as if to involve his whole body; plucking as well as using her bow, Surberg turned her fiddle into an alarm, a coffin and a weapon. 

Another highlight was Kamilya Jubran, the Palestinian singer, composer and oud virtuoso at the centre of a small event at the Art Talks Gallery in humble jeans and T-shirt. She talked about growing up in a family of oud makers and the influence of traditional and classic Egyptian music, describing her work with the Jerusalem-based Sabreen band (1982-2002) and post-2002 projects she undertook while living in Europe, notably Wameedd. She performed a selected number of pieces designed to highlight the transitions of which she spoke, illuminating her eclectic mix of research topics and inspirations and her numerous collaborations not only with musicians but also poets. “I have no idea what makes my music different,” she said. “When people started to brand my music as ‘different’, I was targeting a new musical vision, a new adventure, looking for an ‘alternative’ music, which is obviously different to the commercial music prevailed in the 1980s and 1990s. I totally understand, bearing in mind the diversified nature of my audience, that my music takes time to be digested. We do not live in a romantic age. Our times are characterised by war, the shedding of innocent  blood, and my music can only reflect these tensions.”

According to Sherif El Razza, the clarinet player and founder of the Egyptian Contemporary Music Ensemble, the entity responsible for the Cairo Contemporary Music Days, “Bureaucracy has not changed since the 1960s; we need to rebuild cultural organisations according to new mechanisms. We need to look to the future and to cope with the massive changes and technologies now prevailing in the world of music.” A 1991 graduate of the Conservatoire who settled in Germany when he went to study there, becoming a member of the Ensemble Modern, El Razza went on to criticise Arab cultural institutions for emphasising “typical voices” and rejecting contemporary and new projects. “Contemporary music developed in Germany through aesthetics that have been emerging since the end of Second World War,” El Razzaz said, progressing in tandem with multimedia and the digital revolution. 

Sponsored by the Goethe Institute, the American University in Cairo and the Ministry of Culture, among other institutions, the Cairo Music Days ended with a very special event, “My voice, your voice, our voice”, an attempt to recast politicians’ statements in “a sarcastic abstract musical format”. He chose Kamilya Jubran not for her “political weight”, he says, but for her improvisational talent and ability to cooperate. “I am always keen on following the news. I wanted to explore how to express such political discourses by just tones of voices.” Following the premiere, the project move to Lebanon and involve different musicians to become part of 2019 Irtijal Festival in Beirut. The Cairo version consisted of eight pieces developed by eight musicians. In the first, the young Egyptian composer Bahaa El Ansary, who earned his degree at the Academy of Arts and went on to study in France and England, employs a theatrical approach to convey everyday clashes. El Ansary’s show opens with illegible English writing morphing into an extract of The Prophet by Khalil Gibran on a board hanging from the ceiling, while Jubran appears with her back to the audience writing on that same board. Electronic music becomes oud music when she sits down to play and sing some of the text, and so El Ansary refers to communication difficulties and examines the difference between meaningful and meaningless discourse. 

The next event – a screening of Fritz Lang’s The Tower of Silence with music by Uwe Dirksen ­— will take place in October

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