Cairo s Makan has been the venue for consistently excellent performances in 2008, and its end of the year shows were no exception to this standard.
Tuesday saw a performance by Nass Makan (People of Makan), a jamming session bringing together Egyptian and Sudanese musicians who appear regularly at the music venue.
The Nass Makan shows began in October 2007 and, as Makan musical director Ahmed El-Maghraby explains on Makan s website (www.egyptmusic.org), were born out of a desire to preserve musical tradition by renewing it.
Since the beginning of my work in the field of traditional music some years ago, I always ask myself the following question: What happens after? What happens after we present it the way it is, without additions or alterations? What happens after we present the same music for many times? El-Maghraby says on the website.
The answer I found is based on the words of Sheikh Amin Elkhouly: The first step in a renewal is to contain and totally assimilate the old.
With Nass Makan I tried to find this road to renewal by analyzing our music, by building on techniques, shapes and sounds of traditional music in a way that will produce a new creative experience.
Renewal on Tuesday night came in the form of an electric mix of traditional Egyptian folkloric melodies, Sudanese rhythms and funk.
The show opened with the two-piped Arghoul, an instrument whose player uses circular breathing to produce an unbroken droning sound.
Drums, Egyptian flute and a brass section were gradually added, creating layers of sound looped together by Adel El-Ser s driving bass.
The perfect blending of African rhythms with funk-driven beats revealed the heavy debt that American funk and soul owes to African music. This was particularly apparent in the bluesy melodies produced by Hassan Mersal on the Tambura, a type of large harp with a guttural sound.
Sudanese vocalists Sayyed Rekaby and Umm Sameh gave riveting performances, singing in a mixture of Arabic and Nubian.
Umm Sameh is an exponent of Zar, described on the Makan website as a healing ritual, one of the few, ancient healing ceremonies performed mainly by women for women. Communication with unseen spirits is generated and driven by the insistent and varied drum rhythms of the musicians and the energetic movements of the participants.
For participants, it is most often a cathartic experience, a form of communication with different spirits in an intense rhythmic interaction leading to an altered state of consciousness or possibly a trance.
The effect was equally hypnotic for the audience: Zar performances employ drums which gradually and almost imperceptibly become louder, faster and more insistent until they explode into a climatic barrage of sound which the musicians themselves meanwhile spun and swayed their way through.
While Nass Makan shows are a regular feature on the Makan schedule, the line-up changes each time – ensuring a varied, fresh and always exhilarating performance. A must see.