Friday,16 November, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1395, (24 - 30 May 2018)
Friday,16 November, 2018
Issue 1395, (24 - 30 May 2018)

Ahram Weekly

The soft power of music

Al-Ahram Weekly

On Monday 14 May, the Gomhoreya Theatre in Cairo gave its stage to the Grand Musical Spectacle, an event that included a large music segment in addition to honouring the Egyptian actress and Al-Ahram Weekly columnist Lobna Abdel-Aziz.

The event was organised by artist, businesswoman and scholar Mona Zaki’s initiative Soft Power Productions. As the company’s name indicates, its activities revolve around using arts and culture as a tool for change to complement the “hard power” of economics and politics. While hard power like the military and the police protect the country’s borders and security, soft power promotes a healthy social and ideological atmosphere and reinforcing tolerance across cultures.

Zaki and her family are no strangers to the art world. A former soprano herself, she is married to the renowned Egyptian artist Farid Fadel. The couple have two daughters, Dalia Farid and Lily Farid, both singers, who are cofounders and core members of the Soft Power Productions team. Zaki’s company promotes culture through numerous events, concerts and theatre productions, but it also serves as a platform supporting young talent with Dalia and Lily at the helm. 

Soft Power Productions’ short history includes events on such Cairo stages as the American University in Cairo, El Sawy Culturewheel and the Marquee theatre. Dalia and Lily have also joined forces with Egyptian artists on such occasions as Christmas.

The Grand Musical Spectacle, which took place on 14 May, featured the Abydos Symphony Orchestra, an ensemble founded by the Soft Power Productions and conducted by Mohamed Saad Basha and five young singers: Dalia Farid, Lily Farid, Adel Badawy, Mohamed Hassan and Tarek Nassar.

As Zaki explained in her opening address, the Abydos Orchestra’s name pays tribute to one of the oldest cities of the ancient Upper Egypt, celebrating the country’s history. According to the Soft Power Productions’ website, “the orchestra combines classical music with Oriental flavors making it unique in its genre. In addition Abydos musicians are dedicated not only to playing the most loved classics by the great composers but also new pieces by young emerging composers from all over the world thus giving a voice to today’s creative musical geniuses.”

This was the case in the Grand Musical Spectacle, an evening that braided well-known international songs with the Oriental repertoire from Egypt and the Arab world. The singers walked the audience through the compositions such as Moon River (Henry Mancini), Writings on the Wall (Jimmy Napes and Sam Smith), I Who Have Nothing (Carlo Donida), Ne Me Quittes Pas (Jacques Brel), La Vie En Rose (Edith Piaf), Copacabana (Berry Manilow), Sahar El Layali (Fayrouz), Habaytak Bel Saif (Rahbany Brothers), Haga Ghareeba (Mounir Morad and Hussein El Sayed), Dalia Farid’s own composition Khatawat El Raqssa (Steps of the Dance), and others.

There was a lot of joy and warmth at El Gomhoreya theatre that night, with all five singers doing impressive work with the material at hand, duly accompanied by the professional orchestra. Even if a few glitches appeared here and there, the event’s main aim was to showcase the young and budding talents whose names have started being carved in the country’s artistic almanacs. At the same time, it was an opportunity for Soft Power Productions to make a mark on Egypt’s cultural scene.

It is worth noting that, while the company sheds light on young talents, Zaki does not forget the artists whose creative paths have influenced the development of the field. This was the case with one of the previous musical performances when the Soft Power Productions honoured Amal Fikry, vice president of the Al Nour Wal Amal Association and the main dynamo behind Al Nour Wal Amal Chamber Orchestra’s growth and activities.

This time, in the second half of the evening, Soft Power Productions honoured Lobna Abdel-Aziz, the actress and journalist. During the ceremony, Mona Zaki described Abdel-Aziz as “a great example of the soft power of art to reach people, through both her acting and writing. Lobna Abdel-Aziz is a very influential artist in Egypt. Even after retiring from her acting career, she continues to give to the audience through her articles.” 

Born in 1935, Abdel-Aziz graduated from the journalism department at the American University in Cairo, before embarking on a career as an actress in films and radio programmes. Her notable films include Al-Wessada Al-Khalia (1957), Gharam Al-Assiad (1961) and Edrab Al-Shahatin (1967). Abdel-Aziz gave up acting in the late 1960s when she married and moved to Texas, USA. She returned to Egypt in the early 2000s and appeared in The Yacoubian Bulding (2007).

Abdel-Aziz has a decades-long career publishing on these pages, discussing prominent Egyptian and international figures.

Present that evening were, among many others, US Ambassador Robert Stephen Beecroft and his wife, Romanian Ambassador Mihai Ştefan Stuparu, Armenian Ambassador Armen Melkonian, Slovenian Ambassador Tatjana Miškova, vice president of Al Nour Wal Amal Association Amal Fikry as well as Editor-in-Chief of Al-Ahram Weekly and Ahram Online Ezzat Ibrahim and composer Ashraf Fouad.

Zaki thanked the supporters and sponsors of Soft Power Productions, including CIB Chairperson Ahmed Eissa and Edita Food Industries Chairperson Samir Berzi, among others.

“At Soft Power Productions, we try to show how arts and culture have the strength to spread important values across the country and the world,” she said.

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