The generosity of jazz

Daily News Egypt
5 Min Read

This week at the Citadel, the first ever “Jazz Mania,” International Jazz Festival held in Cairo is offering an unparalleled experience to residents of the capital. Some of the world’s jazz greats as well as unique new acts can be enjoyed until Tuesday night absolutely free of charge.

On Sunday, the legendary French accordionist Richard Galliano delighted a full audience at the amphitheater, playing classic tango tunes, jazz standards and virtuous originals with his Quartet Tangaria.

In addition to Galliano’s group, the American-Egyptian Ali El Farouk Trio performed smooth jazz and the Ukrainian JazzexBand sang a variety of a capella jazz and classical pieces.

Against the austere backdrop of the 13th century fortress, the lively, passionate performances animated the audience of Egyptians, expats and tourists. A chill wind blew through the amphitheater, scattering some sound but none of the warmth and hospitability of the event.

“It’s such a pleasure to play here,” said a contented Galliano after the performance. “[The Citadel] is beautiful and even with the wind the sound was quite good. I was surprised there were so many people, especially for a first-time event. But the public gave a warm welcome, they reacted well…the reaction was palpable.”

Indeed, the lack of proper publicity or funding for the festival has not been to the detriment of its success with the public and performers.

The organizer, famous Egyptian jazz percussionist and producer Yehia Khalil, shared his enthusiastic vision for the event: exposing a wide range of Egyptian audiences to his favorite art form, regardless of the costs.

“When they hear the word jazz, people may think of something noisy and not relatable but I’ve been trying to cut and break this idea by presenting some nice things,” he said.

Through his radio and television programs “The World of Jazz” as well as through the work of his Foundation for the Culture of Jazz Music, Khalil aspires to popularize jazz and educate the virgin audiences of the region. This is precisely why he insisted that no fee be charged to attend Jazz Mania.

“This was my main request from the beginning,” said Khalil, “we got the embassies to bring everybody, and the opera provided us with the stage and the equipment, and any other expenses I pay out of my pocket. I didn’t want to talk about the money from the beginning.”

Khalil hopes that the event will grow in popularity and attract potential sponsors and donors in future years. “I just wanted to make it happen. Now we could talk [about money]. If I had the money I would have rented bathrooms and brought catering. You could have a lot more people here and make them more comfortable.”

Nevertheless, the costs will hopefully remain off of the wallets of the public. “Our role is to spread this culture and also to promote young talented musicians,” insisted Khalil.

Despite the fact that most in the audience seemed to be English-speaking students and expats, the tone of the event was distinctly destined to the Egyptian public. All of the announcements by Khalil were made in Arabic. All three of Sunday’s performing groups generously incorporated oriental musical themes to pay homage to their host country.

“I think we have common rhythms, even Latin rhythms. I love oriental modes and I use them frequently. Even in tango you can find something oriental…I think this is what allows us to have such good contact with the audience,” Richard Galliano said of this attempt to reach out to Arab audiences habituated to very different, distinct musical structures.

Sebastien Surel, violinist of the Quartet Tangaria added: “When music is played with passion and enthusiasm it becomes universal. That’s the advantage of having this job; we can address ourselves to all nationalities, ethnicities and personalities. And as long as we do it from the heart, we all speak pretty much the same language.”

On Monday the lineup consists of Sweet Sound Band (Egypt), Matthias Frey, Buedi Siebert, Bassem Darwish (Germany) and Jazz Band from Cuba. On Tuesday, the last night of Jazz Mania, audiences are invited to enjoy Cocoon (Egypt), Sudanile (Sudan) and Ron Dziubla (USA).



JazzexBand with festival organizer Yehia Khalil.



Richard Galliano with his Quartet Tangaria.

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