By Maha ElNabawi
Over the past months, Egypt-US relations have been put on the line as a result of the arbitrary raid on pro-democracy NGOs, including mostly American-funded organizations. The clampdown has left a cloud of ambiguity over official bilateral relations.
But meanwhile, in an effort to expand cross-cultural understanding between both nations while also empowering Egyptian female musicians, the US Embassy in Cairo and the cultural outreach organization, Share the Mic, recently launched a nationwide talent search titled Sing Egyptian Women.
According to Michael Hankey, the embassy’s assistant cultural affairs officer in Cairo, the competition is meant to “open a space for talented Egyptian women to express themselves in public, inspiring women across the country to do the same.
“Beginning in December , hundreds of women in Cairo, Alexandria, the Nile Delta and Upper Egypt participated in workshops encouraging women to use their voice in public. Dozens applied online to a Facebook competition that asked Egyptians to vote for the most inspiring singers.”
The project is the brainchild of Share the Mic co-founder, Kevin Patrick, and operates in collaboration with the US Embassy, Nile Promotions, and a team of dedicated volunteers.
Patrick, a longtime cross-cultural philanthropist of sorts, conceived the idea during one of his most recent trips to Egypt when he noticed a major void in the market for female Egyptian singers.
“I’ve been in the music industry for nearly 20 years now and have been in and out of Egypt for several years,” Patrick told Daily News Egypt. “The project started when I saw a lack of female artists here [in Egypt]. I wanted to listen to great female Egyptian music but I wasn’t sure where to find them. Even when looking at the Sawy Culture Wheel’s calendar, it was still heavily male dominated, so I thought to do a talent search through all of Egypt to try and find that one female artist.”
According to Hankey, by late January 2012, the top 41 participants in the competition sought votes from across Egypt to launch them into the next round. To assist them, participants joined a team of American and Egyptian musicians, music industry experts and social media trainers throughout February in workshops to develop and deliver their material. The workshop also included training on how to create high-quality videos in order to effectively broadcast their message to a larger audience.
“Fans from across Egypt and the world will vote throughout March for their favorite singer,” Hankey said. “Each week, the top half of the contestants will advance to the next round until a winner is chosen. The top eight will be announced at 8 pm on March 12, the top four one week later (March 19), the top two one week later (March 26) and the winner on April 5.
“All 16 women in the nationwide competition will join a top American female singer for an expert-level workshop and concert in Cairo on April 5. The top vote-getter, to be announced at this marquee concert, will win a trip to New York City to record in an American music studio.”
This past Saturday, the top 16 finalists performed their songs at Sawy Culture Wheel before a full house of local industry professionals and music aficionados.
The evening kicked off with a stellar rock number by Egyptian-American rising star, Yasmin Tayeby performing her original song, “Stranger.” The acts that followed included a modicum of hit covers, in English and Arabic, as well as several original songs performed by the more musically mature participants.
Notable cover performances included 14-year old Sandra Hanna singing Adele’s “Someone like You.” Hanna’s tornado of a voice left the audience awestruck by her potential and courageous stage presence.
Singing Sayed Darwish’s, “Aho da elly sar,” Dina El Wadidi entranced the audience with her unique acoustic rendition and ability to hit Darwish’s notoriously difficult vocal range.
While many of the covers exhibited plenty of talent, the most impressive acts certainly came in the form of original songs. Leading the pack was singer/songwriter Mariam Ali and her acoustic-folk performance of new number, “From Dust to Stars.” Ali is utterly captivating on stage, her emotive lyrics and blues-styled voice are a sound entirely her own. Yet, at the same time, there is something so deeply soulful about her voice that the audience is left with a moving sense of comfort.
“One of the largest benefits of this competition is that it lets musicians know there are other people like you trying to do this,” Ali told DNE. “Music is a collaborative art, so the networking helps significantly. I had no idea this many other female artists existed in Egypt.
“It shows people that there will be an audience for your work, even if you play something that’s niche or genre specific. These types of programs allow you to see that you can have strong following of 2,000 people and sustain your band.”
With “You Will Be Fine,” another original tune, Nadeen Fawzy transfixed the audience with her motivational messages, pop-folk vocals and catchy guitar riffs. Prior to her performance, Fawzy told the audience proudly, “Yes I wear a veil, but I am a musician, my veil does not prevent me from doing anything I dream of doing. On the contrary, it is my support.”
The concert wrapped up when the group joining forces on stage to sing Egypt’s beloved national anthem, “Bilady;” audience members made up of Egyptians and Americans alike immediately joined along.
“Cultural relations are an important part of American bilateral relations with Egypt,” said Hankey. “Egypt’s rich history of cultural leadership offers many opportunities for the US Embassy to engage through music, dance, art, film and books.”
“I think the US is always going to continue working culturally here in Egypt, regardless of the strained political relationship these days,” Kevin Patrick said.
“The US State Department, the government, and the US in general are very passionate about the arts. And education in the arts is actually a way to engage with cultures and intercultural exchange. The value to that is certainly building a better relationship between both our countries.”
To view the entries in the Sing Egyptian Women competition visit: http://www.facebook.com/USEmbassyCairo and click on the Sing Egyptian Women tab to cast your vote.
Mariam Ali is utterly captivating on stage, her emotive lyrics and blues-styled voice are a sound entirely her own.
Nadeen Fawzy received warm reception from the audience for her motivational messages.