By Rana Khaled
When the curtains rise and the lights start dimming, you’ll see Cairo Orchestra musicians entering the stage carrying their instruments, waiting for their conductor, the leading Egyptian Maestro, Ahmed El-Saedi. When they start playing, you’ll be taken on a long journey, where violins with their enchanting sounds draw a picture that blends darkness and brightness, confidence and caution with seduction and arrogance. With their thicker strings, richer and deeper sound, you’ll hear cellos playing both the harmony and melody of one of music’s best known symphonies, Sibelius III.
Although playing a flawless musical note is the main objective any orchestra pays the greatest attention to, it’s not the only thing that captures the minds, hearts and souls of the audience. Watching El-Saedi with his violent movements and endless excitement, was also a priceless experience. The psychical effort he exerts and the happiness, anger, comfort, violence, hatred and enthusiasm that appear on his orchestra’s facial expressions and body language while they’re moving from note to note, adds a great value for the piece they’re playing.
The concert, hosted by Cairo Opera House and played by the Cairo Symphony Orchestra last Saturday, was the first in a series of concerts dedicated for the 150th anniversary of the birth of the famous Finnish composer Jean Sibelius. The Ambassador of Finland, Tuula Yrjölä, attended the concert with a delegation from the Finnish embassy including Ramses Malaty, the development counsellor, economic and trade affairs and Dr Said Sadek, the media and cultural advisor of the embassy and many others.
The concert’s programme consisted of three parts. However, listening to the second touching piece played by Hassan Moataz, the cello soloist, was the most remarkable piece. Seeing him united with his instrument as if they belong to one body and existence was charming!
Away from conveying certain feelings and emotions and connecting fantasy with realism, music has always played a crucial role in changing and documenting the histories of nations over centuries, and Sibelius gives a really good example for that. Jean Sibelius was a Finnish composer of the late Romantic Period whose music played an important role in the formation of the Finnish national identity. His core seven symphonies are still played in most of the operas and concert halls around the world until now.
Over the years, “Finlandia” was considered Sibelius’s most popular symphony as it played a crucial role in telling Finland’s history and constructing its national identity. The reason why the symphony gained this fame goes back to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when Finland was an oppressed Grand Duchy of the Russian Empire fighting for its independence.
Sibelius composed the work in 1899, which captured the attention of hundreds of Finnish people, who considered it as a symbol of the resistance movement and a glimpse of hope towards changing reality. Sibelius’s symphony played an influential role in reviving Finnish identity and enhancing interest in Finnish folklore and poetry and it was considered the country’s unofficial second national anthem for long time.
Similarly, when it comes to Egypt, you’ll figure out how music played a crucial role in documenting the Egyptian revolutions and history through time. Sayyed Darwish is another good example for an iconic singer and composer who could create a unique musical phenomenon challenging all the hardships and difficulties.
Under British colonial rule in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, Darwish spent his childhood witnessing oppression, injustice and inequity rising in the Egyptian political environment day after day. Finding out that music can be used as a weapon for expressing the yearnings and moods of the masses, Darwish decided to compose music to record the events that took place during this period of time. He composed the current national anthem “Bilady” (adopted in 1979), written by the poet Younis Al-Qadi.
Darwish’s songs and musical works blended western instruments with classical Egyptian folklore and gained popularity among different social classes due to their topics that tackled many important patriotic subjects. In addition to discussing the national feeling against the British occupiers, oppression and social injustice people suffered from, he also criticised some negative aspects of Egyptian society and repeatedly shed light on them.
During the 23 July Revolution in 1952, Kamal El-Taweel was one of the leading composers who supported the principles of the revolution, and expressed people’s hopes of political reform through composing a large number of songs such as “Hikayet Shaab” (“Story of a People”), “Al-Mas’uliya” (“Responsibility”), “Bustan Al- Ishtirakiya” (“Orchard of Socialism”), “Sora” (“Photo”) and “Khalli Al- Silah Sahi” (“Keep the Weapon Awake”). Also, he composed “Walla Zaman Ya Slahy”, a song that was sung by Om Kalthoum, and was considered a national anthem for many years after the tripartite aggression on Egypt.
However, the rise of the 25 January Revolution introduced a new genre of rock music to the Egyptian artistic market which is the underground music bands who mixed western musical compositional styles with Arabic revolutionary and politically-inspired lyrics. Cairokee was among underground bands that played a crucial role in urging youth to go to Tahrir Square and rebel against corruption and injustice with songs like “Sout El-Horeya” (“The voice of freedom”), “Ya El Midan” (Oh you, the Square) and “Ethbat Makanak” (“Stand by your position”), “Matloub Zaim” (“A leader needed”) and many others.
Raising awareness about the role of music in creating and constructing national identity around the world and shedding lights on the pioneers whose music documented history and culture is an important message that must be conveyed to ordinary citizens. Music will remain the only international common language that can be understood by all people around the world and the God’s gift for all the human kind. As Sibelius said: “Music is, for me, like a beautiful mosaic which God has put together. He takes all the pieces in his hand, throws them into the world, and we have to recreate the picture from the pieces.”