Community Times Online
This was the online Community Times website until Live Colors Egypt who publishes Community Times decided to have a new website built for this indispensable guide for anyone living in Egypt. Providing a broad range of powerful advertising environment for positioning and branding of products and services for a wide range of readers, the Community Times targets readers’ special interests with its exceptional editorial depth and breadth. When I lived in Egypt during 2010-2012, I would read every day the online version of the Community Times. You could find the hard copy version at major bookstores and supermarkets as well as at hotels and even embassies, but I preferred and still prefer the online version.
When I traveling through Europe I occasionally still give it a quick peruse, although I must admit I am now in the midst of planning a ski vacation to Kitzbühel, one of Austria's most charming resorts. I did a bit of research both online and asking friends as to which type of ski jacket I should purchase for myself and the rest of my family. North Face jackets was the name most frequently mentioned. Since I was going to be in Austria for a conference and taking everyone with me for an extended vacation, I thought I would introduce everyone to snow and skiing. The kids were so excited watching the winter Olympics, I thought this would be the perfect opportunity. The Northface ski jackets, plus mittens, boots and pants have been ordered, the resort and car reservation made. What a surprise it will be.
Most Egyptians may be strangers to skiing, but if the United Arab Emirates’ Ski Dubai has an indoor ski resort that opened in 2005 with 9,000 square meters of indoor ski area inside Dubai’s Mall of the Emirates, why not Egypt? But I am not waiting arond. Thus the ski trip to Austria. But I digress.
To stay up to date with what's happening in Egypt go to the new Community Times website at: http://communitytimes.me/?.
Recently I discovered that the old domain of the Community Times was available, so I bought it with the goal of recreating a greatly edited version of just one day's news from its January 2011 archived pages. I did not want someone else to purchase the domain and re-purpose the site for something that had nothing in common with the original communitytimesonline.com/ website.
PLEASE NOTE THAT THIS PAGE CONTAINS SELECTIVE ARCHIVED CONTENT FROM THE ORIGINAL SITE.
Since the site will not be exactly as you remember it, please be indulgent.
Now let's take a nostalgic stroll back to the beginning of 2011 and one day of the news in mostly abreviated form from the online version of the Community Times.
January 6, 2011
Home | Art | Reviews | News | Events | Features | Style | Travel | Fieldwork | Education | Lifetyle | Real People | Entrepreneur | Green Community | Mind & Soul | Music& Dance
January 6, 2011 Topics Slide Show included Meet WIlly, Your Best New Friend | El Mastaba? | Preserving Zoological Heritage? | Peace Message Hope for a United Future? | Siem Reap, Cambodia.
" amuse lifestyle concept store "
" Educating the public through social advertising "
" Smart Cards Changing Egypt "
" Success Formula for a Cleaner City: Source... "
" Mysore-style Ashtanga yoga at Amy’s Studio "
" Revives Egyptian Identity Through New Fashion Line "
" Teen Star Manassero Eyes Date With Mcilroy In... "
" Semiramis Intercontinental Celebrates ‘Responsible... "
" When Raouf Assef found Roro "
" It’s a long way to the top for B-Boys in Egypt "
" Egypt Celebrates Global Hand Washing Day with 80... "
" “HAWI” "
Dolls are an integral part of the growing up years of a girl child. Alternately confidante, a child on whom the young girl tries her mothering skills, the doll remains her most prized possession. Come teens and adulthood, the dolls are discarded or given away. “When you throw away a doll, you throw away a part of yourself, you throw away your innocence,” rues the artist, Lise Allam, recalling the time that she had to give away her doll along with the rest of the toys on her return from the University. She has lived with a guilty conscience ever since.
Her recent exhibition titled “Doll”...
The 2010 Egyptian Open hosted two of the sport’s brightest young stars when Italian teenage prodigy Matteo Manassero joined world number seven Rory McIlroy at the JW Marriott, Mirage City Golf Club from Wednesday 20–23 October.
The 17-year-old Italian – considered by many to be ‘the new Seve’ – was in a strong line-up in the penultimate tournament on the 2010 European Challenge Tour calendar when the Middle East’s oldest golf event takes on Challenge Tour status.
Last month, Manassero edged closer to his first professional title with second place at the Rolex Trophy in Switzerland, while...
Ballet of the National Theatre has been active for eighty years. It performed its first full length ballet on 22 January, 1923. Many foreign choreographers worked as guests there such as Leonid Lavrovski, Rostislav Zaharov, Nina Anisimova, Abdurahman Kumisnikov, Mario Pestoni, Olga Jordan, and others.
Until 1991, the ballet of the National Theatre had the practice of touring throughout Yugoslavia and participating at various festivals. Now, they have an exceptionally great number of tours abroad, thus successfully representing Yugoslav ballet art. The policy of the Ballet of the National Theatre……
El Mastaba Bringing...
Since 1988, El Tanbura group has been captivating the residents of Port Said with their music on Wednesdays; and they have been doing this non-stop...
A Look Into the Lives of ...
On his bedroom armchair, Mounir usually spends his day between coffee and cigarettes, listening to a music mélange on the radio and flipping through...
The potters’ Village New...
The wasteland in El Fustat area, located on the main road that links Masr El Kadima (Old Cairo), with Maadi, is amazingly turning into a tourist...
The declaration of Egyptian...
Scientific research in Egypt continues to face challenges like budget constraints, the sidelining of researchers and a wide gap between theory and...
Preserving Zoological Heritage
Amid suggestions to move the Giza Zoo to the 6th October City, many argue that the Classical Royal Zoological Garden is irreplaceable. It is a rare...
Deconstructing the Stigma of...
In honor of World AIDS Day this December 1st, the UNAIDS office in Egypt is coordinating an awareness campaign loaded with community activities,...
Supporting People Living With...
The threat of a growing HIV epidemic in Egypt is momentous. One key barrier to a comprehensive national response is mounting stigma and discrimination...
A Dying Market
The center of Souk El Gomaa (The Friday Market), the biggest market for used items of all kinds in town, was completely gutted when a fire broke out...
InshAllah in Modern Times
in·shal·lah [in sh ?l?] or...
My job gives me the privilege to travel around the world, meet different people and witness various events and conferences. Yet, never have I attended...
Need of the Hour : Moving...
You just got a new phone and now you have a couple of spare mobiles at home. These days, there is hardly anyone who would appreciate a hand-me-down...
An interview with former...
It is believed that most types of land mines last forever, or are at least still active after 60 years of installing them. Land mines do not recognize...
amuse, Cairo’s premier lifestyle concept store opened its doors with the a great collection of contemporary wear, fashion accessories, home accessories, and gift ware. Viviane Abdel Messih, Dina El Batal and Gailan Fahim bring you the true essence of contemporary lifestyle. Through 500 square meters, the ex-acting studio turned lifestyle concept store was completely transformed to feature fashion ready to wear & accessories, home accessories, books, and gift ware.
Fashion Ready to Wear & Accessories
amuse brings brands such as Hotel Particulier, Queen of E.vil,
Siem Reap, Cambodia
We were off to the Far East for the first time ever on our honeymoon, not knowing what to expect beyond the word-of-mouth adventures we had heard of from others...
The island of Cyprus is very generous when it comes to what it offers visitors from all over the world. Whether you’re looking for a romantic getaway, a...
A WEEKEND AT EDIRNE
The fine border town of Edirne greets visitors with interesting mosques, a bazaar, bridges, historical houses and the magnificent Selimiye Mosque.
24 Hours in Lebanon
People say that Beirut is the Paris of the Middle East, but as we drove through the outskirts of the city, the busy road lit by billboards that presented...
Synovate has donated LE10,000 to the Magdy Yaacoub Foundation in Aswan.
The donation is the prize money Synovate team has recently won, achieving first place during the 3-week “Employer’s 3rd Corporate Football Tournament” against 38 companies.
Two years ago, Synovate has launched CARES, its Corporate Citizenship Program, which is run by Synovate ‘s employees and is responsible to directing charity efforts locally and internationally towards helping needy children across the world.
Every parent wants to engage their children in some extra-curricular activities but is wary of trying to engage them in something that may not be of their interest. Cairo Art Village (CAV) in El Fustat Cairo is the place that may have the answer. With workshops and classes in pottery, brass, wirework, puppet making and even poetry appreciation, the village is hoping to fill the gap in recreation options. There is something for all age groups, offering a chance to try your hand at different crafts.
Recently, the CAV has started using its rooftop as a space to provide a...
Egyptian daredevils have always looked at extreme sports such as, skiing and snowboarding in admiration and deep inside, a little envy for not being geographically compatible to slide down smooth slopes of crystal white snow. In the past few years however, things started looking up for adrenaline seekers in Egypt: Sandboarding, a sport rumored to have been invented by ancient Egyptians who surfed down golden dunes of sand on planks of hardened pottery and wood, has been reborn in the Sahara Desert.
Contrary to what many believe, the sport..
Still feels as exciting as the first time,” wrote Omar Samra, from his mountain camp on Kilimanjaro just before the final ascent. Samra, the first Egyptian to climb Mount Everest was climbing Mount Kilimanjaro - Africa’s tallest mountain and the world’s fourth highest - for the fourth time. But now, he was leading a group of 25 climbers from Egypt on a seven-day expedition to raise money for the “Right to Live Association”. A day after their return from Tanzania on September 20, parched and sun-burnt they sat with Community Times to share their moments of trial and triumph, and the cause that led...
In cooperation with the Faculty of Agriculture and Egyptian Buffalo Producers Association (EBPA), Primavera has launched a number of dairy products, all made from buffalo milk. The company selected one official milk supplier based on their high professional standards and reliability, namely Ganet El Reda Farm, located on Ismailia road, and together they plan to take the dairy industry by storm.
Primevera is an Italian-Egyptian collaboration of four partners that specialize in producing cheese, milk, yogurt and very soon, gelato and dairy desserts- all using buffalo milk. The...
Semiramis InterContinental Cairo celebrated “Responsible Business Day”, which highlights the work that InterContinental hotels and resorts around the world are doing to sustain and enhance their local destination.
In partnership with the National Geographic Center for Sustainable Destinations, InterContinental Hotels & Resorts properties regularly take part in activities that ensure their location remains an appealing place to visit for future generations.
At the Semiramis InterContinental Cairo the focus has been on distributing environmental tips to in-house...
Mind & Soul:
Egypt celebrated the Global Hand Washing Day on Friday 15 October at El Sawy Culture Wheel. The celebration was the outcome of a fruitful partnership between the public sector represented by the General Health Insurance Authority, the civil society associations represented by the Egyptian Council of Doctors, and the private sector represented by Lifebuoy, as the main sponsor of the celebration, and with the participation of El Sawy Culture Wheel, Mo’men restaurants and Pizza King.
The Global Hand Washing Day is a real international battle meant to deepen the concept of hygiene through an…..
“If you had asked me years ago what I wanted to be when I grow up, I would have never said a DJ,”says Raouf Assef about where his whirlwind of a life took him. “Now, I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Thirty-one-year-old Assef, known as DJ Roro, is a long established disc jockey in Cairo, especially among the wedding events circle. Born in Beirut to Lebanese parents, Assef lived his whole life in Egypt and doesn’t actually have a Lebanese passport, just the accent! However, this is not the only contradiction in Assef’s life; he studied mechanical engineering in Italian, but loves...
Below are the complete versions of two featured articles available online on January 6, 2011.
January 12, 2011?
Since 1988, El Tanbura group has been captivating the residents of Port Said with their music on Wednesdays; and they have been doing this non-stop ever since
It’s no mean feat. The motley group consisting of 17 odd members, dressed in a mix of gallabiyas and jeans with their heads adorned by fez, hats and Nike caps, have the audience eating out of their hands. They are not a rock band, but a home-grown band of people who hold jobs as plumbers, carpenters and traders during the day. But when they come together and croon the region’s songs of love, pain and exile to the seductive sounds of the tanbura and the simsimiyya, they can host the most boisterous party in the region.
Each one of them takes turn to lead the group in a song; they are alternately wicked, then patriotic and then again devotional. Their sounds have evolved through generations of collective music-making, and hence strike an immediate chord with the audience, who sing along and even dance with abandon to El Tanbura’s music. The bonhomie and camaraderie of the group members envelops the audiences, too.
At the moment, some group members also perform at the Tanbura Hall in Cairo every Friday. With two performances every week and with a minimal financial compensation, does not ennui set in for them at some point of time?
The group has an emphatic no for an answer. “The simsimiyya has bewitched us,” they chorus in unison. They are referring to the popular belief that the simsimiyya - a small five stringed lyre - is like the ‘siren’ that takes them away from their jobs and livelihoods, and thus they die poor.
“These are the musicians who need to play, for whom music is spiritual,” says Zakaria Ibrahim - singer, dancer and instrumentalist in the Tanbura group, who started it all.
Zakaria, a resident of Port Said, had to leave his hometown during the war of 1967 and he came to Cairo to study agriculture. When he returned in 1980, he realized that in the intervening years, the tradition of playing the simsimiyya and singing duma songs - a mix of Sufi, fishing and patriotic songs with roots from the war in 1956 - had disappeared.
A culture that grew around coffee shops and men gathering after work had vanished and in its place was an increasing commercial focus with smaller groups playing for money. The old masters in Port Said, disillusioned with the state of music, had turned away from their passion.
But Zakaria was determined to not let the music die out; after all, “This music touched my soul,” reminisces Zakaria. “Especially, after exile from my city, my friends, my first love - music was the healing factor and I knew how important it was to me and the others around me,” explains Zakaria of his drive to revive the traditional music.
He decided to look for the old masters and convince them to take to music again but this proved to be an uphill task because, “I did not know who or even what I was looking for. I only knew that I was looking for people for whom music was spiritual.”
After eight years of relentless efforts and dealing with scepticism and scorn, Zakaria managed to convince enough people to put together a band and christened it “El Tanbura.” They took to the floor in 1988 in Port Said on a Wednesday and recently have had more than 500 aficionados attend their performance.
Ahmed Megahed, 73, has been playing the simsimiyya with the group since its inception and says that it is “impossible” to ever stop doing it. For him, it is the “live” audience reaction and interaction with them that he likes the most about his work.
Zakaria’s quest did not end there. “In the beginning, I had this small dream and then it just kept getting bigger and bigger.” He decided to revive the music in Ismailia and Suez, too. They had similar instruments, but they sang about different things.
He used the successful model of Port Said, finding the old masters, convincing them to play again and putting up weekly performances for the local audience. Thus, in 1994, was born the Hinna group that plays in Suez every Monday and the Sohbagiya group that plays in Ismailia every Tuesday.
“If you fix a day and time, people will come,” says Zakaria, asserting that these weekly performances have led to the revival of the traditional music in the canal cities.
Bind Them All
In the meantime, Zakaria had also started mentoring and providing support to a few other ethnic groups.
The Rango ensemble had been formed - after discovering the only musician in Egypt who could play the Rango and securing one of the last few Rango instruments from the families of the old masters. The Bedouin Jerrycan Band, from the Sinai region, blended the sounds of the simsimiyya with desert flutes and reed pipes and used jerrycan salvaged from the battlegrounds of the six-day war of 1967 for additional percussion and were gaining in popularity.
The challenge now was to make sure that all these efforts could be sustained. So, Zakaria set up “El Mastaba Center for Egyptian Folk Music” in the year 2000 to bring all the bands under one umbrella and institutionalize the revival, archiving and development of traditional music.
El Mastaba office in downtown Cairo has a number of instruments with outlandish names and a wall shelf full of recordings that Zakaria has culled from the memory of the old masters and the older generation. The simsimiyya has been around since the Pharaonic times, much before there was any sort of electronic medium to record and archive the huge repertoire related to it.
What distinguishes El Mastaba is that it has been working to revive the traditional music from the different parts of Egypt as a ‘live’ music scene. Their weekly concerts ensure that the music and its instruments are accessible and can be enjoyed by the Egyptian people. This is where they have come up against the Ministry of Culture and have a disconnect with the government that tends to take over the folkloric culture and then present it in sort of ‘dead’ heritage.
The Learning Curve
The traditional simsimiyya has a very primitive design; it is fashioned out of the legs of a chair from the local coffee house, an enamel bowl or a wooden base covered with animal skin and five strings made from the telephone cables. The contemporary simsimiyya has been modernized with electric pick-up and multi-strings; it is now suited to play the different maqams of Arabic music. In this way, the African lyre has been adapted to play the scales of the Middle Eastern sound.
Reviving and archiving the music is one aspect, but developing and innovating is equally important. “Improvisation is necessary, otherwise the music will soon become redundant and it is also necessary to keep the musicians engaged,” says Zakaria.
To complement the metallic sound of the simsimiyya, Zakaria introduced the Tanbura – a lyre originally played at the Sudanese Zar and similar in design to the simsimiyya. “The challenge was how to take this instrument that was considered holy and used in ritual performance for healing in a dark room and put it on the stage.”
Soon, the metallic sound of the simsimiyya was joined by the softer sounds emanating from the nylon strings of the Tanbura, creating the Tanbura group’s unique and magical sound.
The group then worked on creating a quartet like the English version, consisting of two violins, the viola and the cello. Two simsimiyyas bigger than their customary size - the cello tanbura and the bass tanbura - were added to the range, making up the quartet along with the tanbura and the simsimiyya.
The group’s quest for innovation did not end here. Gandouh, a harp-like instrument, which had hitherto been hanging on the wall of the house of a Zar player was also appropriated by the group and a quartet of the gandouh also found its way in the Tanbura group.
Explaining these changes, Zakaria says, “Before, each instrument was played by itself. What we have done is to create a double quartet - one of simsimiyya and the other of gandouh - and we now have eight different players playing eight different instruments at the same time.”
Being a part of such new experiences means that these musicians are able to appreciate and imbibe the music of other countries. In the past, the Tanbura group has collaborated with the foreign artists like the Hindi Zahra from France, together they gave a beautifully-evocative performance at the Citadel in June earlier this year during the Fete de la Musique.
Plans are afoot to get foreign artist to come and collaborate with El Mastaba musicians to infuse their music with modern rhythms.
Decline and Revival
Increasing globalization and exposure to the western media has led to a downturn in the fortunes of traditional music in many countries. The western world has successfully disseminated its culture and the customary music is wilting under the onslaught of newer instruments and music. The younger generation wants to learn the violin and the guitar rather than the tanbura and the simsimiyya.
In such a scenario, the groups of El Mastaba have taken their folkloric brand of music to Europe and the other countries in the Arab world. They have conquered many hearts and also picked up a few prestigious musical awards. Recently, Hassan El Ashry or ‘Mohsen’ from the Tanbura was selected as one of the 15 most promising musicians by the reputed Songlines magazine.
The economics of capitalism may require that the accent be on a star or an individual; but El Mastaba groups have scrupulously promoted their music. “The participation of many people makes the traditional music more powerful and appealing to the audiences,” avers Zakaria.
Ironically, their growing popularity abroad has also served as a catalyst for renewed interest and appreciation for this kind of music in Egypt.
Zakaria readily concedes that he has played upon the fondness and the draw for all things ‘western’ to promote the traditional music of Egypt among the Egyptians and with successful results. There is sort of a reverse psychology working here – if it is good enough for Europe, it must be good enough for us. “There is an increasing audience in Egypt for this kind of music, yet not enough to pay the rent and the musicians.”
Zakaria is working hard at creating a profile for the Tanbura and the other bands in the international market together with his partner in the UK.
The Tanbura performed at the World Music Expo (Womex) in the year 2006. This opened the doors for the Bedouin Jerrycan Band from Sinai and Rango, which went on to perform at Womex in other venues.
Interestingly, Zakaraia describes the process as playing with three cards and says “The El Tanbura group, Rango and the Bedouin Jerrycan Band are like three cards in the hand of El Mastaba and the trick is to find the ‘girl’. My heart tells me that the El Tanbura group is the ace but the reality is that the Rango music is the star.” He is referring to the top rank that African music occupies in the hierarchy of music in the international market today.
For the moment, the African music of Rango is the girl and Zakaria hopes that where the girl goes, the boys (El Tanbura and the Bedouin Jerrycan Band) will follow.
The Show Must Go On
It has been 22 years since Zakaria started his journey to fulfil his very personal dream of reviving the traditional music in his home town of Port Said. But slowly and gradually it has turned into a mission to revive and keep alive the traditional music from all parts of the country. As El Mastaba celebrates its 10th anniversary this month, in Zakaria’s own words, “We are not yet financially stable.”
Despite the international success, they have been largely ignored by the Ministry of Culture. Zakaria, too, is wary of associating with the government and says, “I do need help, but I do not want my independence to be compromised. We do sometimes perform in venues at the invitation of the government but there is no marriage.”
Any initiative from the government is necessarily marred by compulsions that such intervention brings. Another viable alternative could be to get the corporate houses involved. They have huge sums of money to expand on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). CSR should not only mean building hospitals and schools, it could also mean revival of culture; it is culture that defines a society and is extremely essential for fostering a community.
After all, the show must go on!
Peace Message Hope for a United Future
Jan 14, 2011
By Lena Alsayegh /Photos by Ahmed Essam
Entering the courtyard of El Ghouri Dome to experience Peace Message for the first time, there is no hint on the caravanserai’s medieval stone walls of the marvel that is to come. Even knowing their reputation and hearing their praises won’t prepare you, as when the choir takes the stage and blends effortlessly into harmony, you’d swear that divine intervention must be involved in something so astounding. Muslim, Christian, Indonesian, Egyptian, American, Sufi, Coptic – all come together to create the perfect unity that is Peace Message, an interfaith, international choir that performs, free of charge, at El Ghouri Dome on the last Sunday of every month
Peace Message is the creation of Dr. Intesar Abdel-Fattah, the musical genius behind all three of El Ghouri Dome’s Sunday concerts (the others being Sama’a Sufi and Nubian Drums). Dr. Abdel-Fattah actually started as an acclaimed and award-winning theatre director, but his productions gradually moved from one art form to the other. He was interested in the dialogue between world cultures, but felt that this dialogue was broken, and so he wanted to create his own dialogue based in art. He had his first experience with this when he invited a French theatre group to Egypt for a collaboration. They couldn’t understand one another, but they still managed to forge a cultural link, and when they were asked to perform at the Cairo Opera House, Dr. Abdel-Fattah instead opted to take the group to a governorate, choosing Mansouria, which received them enthusiastically and loved the production. This was his first attempt at a cultural dialogue between forms, and it was an enormous success.
Dr. Abdel-Fattah took this as a personal message, that any work of his was to have his signature of humanity working together, a fusion of peoples and instruments, and variety. Under the umbrella of artistic cultural dialogue, Dr. Abdel-Fattah now has three groups he conducts with his signature touch on a regular basis. The first, Nubian Drums, began in 1990 as a way to preserve Nubian culture, and was formed by selecting people who knew the instruments and dialect. But Dr. Abdel-Fattah recognized that there are many different cultures to understand in Egypt, and so he chose different instruments from all over the governorates to create a panorama of sound. The group became representative of the essence of Egypt, and he took them on a tour of 25 countries, mostly in Africa, with the clause that they must be able to meet a band from the host culture to ‘fuse’ with. He called this tour the ‘dialogue of drums for peace.’ They toured the Ivory Coast, Rwanda, The Congo, Ethiopia, South Africa, Angola, Ghana, Algeria, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia, India, Greece, France, and Cuba to name a few.
The concert in Korea was particularly memorable, as Dr. Abdel-Fattah describes 3,000 attendees, and two types of flutes – nay & Korean. They fused notes, and he found that there were even a few words in Nubian that represent words in Korean. They didn’t know each others’ languages but he still felt that they had accomplished something special, and enjoyed it thoroughly.
Dr. Abdel-Fattah’s second project was the Sama’a Sufi choir, founded in 2007, which focuses on religious chanting. He began with two singers from America, and searched all throughout the governorates of Egypt for additional talent. This initial idea then morphed to include Indonesian students who were studying at Al Azhar, and this was the first stage of what was to become Peace Message – Sama’a Sufi plus the Indonesians, and a Coptic choir chanting and singing cathedral hymns, as well as an American Christian acappella choir, which at one point in the concert gloriously sings Hallelujah. Dr. Abdel-Fattah hopes to add a Catholic American choir, Byzantine hymns, and chanting from Greece in the near future (a sampling of which was heard in November through a visiting orthodox priest, just one of many collaborations). When asked about the unusual nature of the group, he simply says that they already live side by side, and “it’s a natural equation of living in Egypt.”
To attempt to describe the harmony of sounds and themes, from transcendent calls to prayer and praise, to multi-layered chants of ‘Allah’, to sweet Indonesian melodies and solemn church hymns, is futile, and it can only be said that it is a truly revitalizing experience that must be witnessed to be understood and appreciated.
This past Ramadan saw an even more impressive ensemble, as Dr. Abdel-Fattah took the idea further with the Sama’a Sufi festival, which played host to 11 bands from all over the world including India, Spain, Turkey, Syria, Morocco, Iraq, and Sudan, playing their own music in unison, and finding one language in music. He says that he couldn’t tell that they differed at all, but felt rather that they were one, despite them all singing in different languages and accents. They sang harmoniously the same music, in a message of humanity and peace. This was the goal, and this is what he hopes they achieved. “God, knowledge and the message of peace don’t differ,” he says, “We all belong to humanity.”
Dr. Abdel-Fattah’s aim is that each band he collaborates with comes with its own songs, language, and culture, and then he merges them into one absolute, beautiful chant to form a performance. But they are not really songs, because songs are written, rather they are ‘turath’ (heritage). He mediates, he doesn’t add anything, though sometimes he improvises new things live on stage. Sometimes intervention is needed to modify the chanting to be in harmony with other sounds. When the Japanese delegation came to Cairo, he set a piece for them in Japanese so that they could sing in their own context and texture, with Buddhist themes, and interlaced with elements of fusion. He also took the Sufi and Coptic choirs to China, and created a song in Mandarin. Now, he says, when he is at work he feels that he is Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Japanese, Egyptian, English, French – “every human that is pure and right, terrorism and violence is denounced, and we can all unite again.” He found that even more traditionally conservative groups, like the dervishes, were joining together, dancing, and sharing in the same music. This is really what it’s all about.
Peace Message is now officially recognized by UNESCO and carries their logo as a cultural icon for peace. It is a landmark accomplishment that only further supports their goal of spreading the message that there is ultimate value in embracing one another regardless of color, race, language, or accent, and that we are all ultimately the same heart and soul – this is their peace message. Dr. Abdel-Fattah hopes to eventually gather musicians from 20 countries to sing at the Pyramids, and take this message to landmarks around the world – the Vatican, Notre Dame, London – so that the message will spread. He likes to see it as a ‘UN of art.’
Local residents find it phenomenal and enjoy the festivities, stomping, clapping, and celebrating along. Journalists, writers, and filmmakers are touched and supportive; now that they are getting recognition, Peace Message is receiving requests to perform. When the former minister of France came with the delegation, he requested them as a cultural treasure. An international conference of judges held in Cairo requested Peace Message as the main event in a hall of 3,600 filled to the windows with people happily clapping along. Peace Message also played in one of Vienna’s largest churches to 1000 enthusiastic attendees after being seen at the Egypt pavilion in an international security conference. Many UN envoys and ambassadors also request Peace Message. They are getting worldwide renown and notoriety. Some attendees are so touched, they send beautifully moving thank you letters.
But Dr. Abdel-Fattah has not forgotten his theatre roots and is eager to tell of the projects he’s worked on, as well as what projects are to come. With similar themes of unity and community, he begins to describe one of his most successful projects, run in the 80s and early 90s, a ‘cultural carriage of the people’, which used everything from vegetable stands to koshary karts to create a big theatre on wheels, on which performances of acting, dancing, singing, clowning, and marionettes were made. It was first tried in Rome to a glowing reception, and he hopes to recreate it in historic Cairo with a goal of reaching 25,000 people from different countries. Popular culture for the masses he says. An example that anything is possible, and a spark to spread the message all over the world.
His upcoming final project is based on the Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead, which was regarded as the curse of Egypt by other cultures, but he sees it as holding all the wisdom of the pharaohs. However “Book of the Dead” is a misnomer, rather it is about ‘going out into the light’ where there is potentially more wisdom to be found. Coming out from the darkness and into the light. This final play is to clarify the wisdom of such a rich culture, and he has created a trilogy by the same name. The first play in the trilogy was performed in 2006 at Amir Taz Palace, where the play was not held on the stage, but rather the audience had to move between sets. This was done to present a contemporary theatre concept to Egypt. The second play was performed in 2009 at El Ghouri Dome and was called the ”Rainbow of Mawaweel”, and featured hieroglyphic symbols and a Turkish dervish with a long hat representing ascension from the earth to the sky. All three sections of the venue were used with different people in each, and again the audience moved between them. The message was one of a fusion of religions and a quest to find ultimate truth, which cannot be found.
He is currently working on the third and final play of the trilogy, “Death Masks of Fayoum”. The famous death masks and ‘guards of eternal life’ are thought to be Greek and Roman in origin, a cultural fusion from many years ago that is still alive in Egypt today. So, the trilogy represents 1) wisdom in Ancient Egyptian culture that is still very valuable today, 2) co-existing religions and 3) co-existing cultures. The aim is to show that Egypt is still very much a nation of fused cultures and gives hope that different cultures and religions can co-exist in the world. It presents Egypt as a model to strive for. Dr. Abdel-Fattah hopes to present all three plays as an ongoing attraction in Luxor Temple, to begin a dialogue, and somehow fix the discrepancy of views and relations between Arabs and foreigners.
Dr. Abdel-Fattah’s dream is to have such culture centers all over the world, with their own similar groups and performances. He hopes that all who see the performances will likewise go out into the world, further spreading the message of peace and being a better person. He sees culture and art as a solution for strained relations, and ended our conversation with one more anecdote of his experience in Africa. At a conference joining 120 representatives, Nubian Drums and Peace Message performed African songs commonly known in English. Soon, everyone was joined in a circle, dancing and chanting together, and he even saw people who had political conflicts dance together. So, he felt that he had accomplished unity through art, through a fusion that couldn’t be accomplished through other agencies.
This is his goal. As a woman with a Germanic accent declared her love for the doctor as he passed her on his way to the stage, and she then turned to her neighbor and said ‘he’s wonderful!’, the neighbor responding in kind, so does he want his message of love and peace to spread the world over. What better place to begin than Cairo? And it really is a fantastic show.
Peace Massage performs at El Ghouri Dome just under the Al Azhar footbridge in Islamic Cairo on the last Sunday of every month at 8pm. Nubian Drums performs in the same venue at the same time on the first and third Sunday, and Sama’a Sufi likewise performs on the second Sunday of every month. Performances are free, courtesy of the Ministry of Culture. Arrive early to reserve a seat.