Please don’t stop the music

June 01, 2011 Writer Name: Maha ElNabawi

Bibliotheca Alexandrina hosted the city’s third annual music festival under difficult conditions.

The World Music Festival held on the grounds of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina on 6 May, was a break from reality, a suspension from all obligations and a much-needed pause from the never-ending why. It was supposed to exhibit seven different local and foreign bands over a span of four days – but at a moment’s notice, it was cut short.


On the third night of the festival, hundreds of people marched towards the iconic library against the burning of a church in Egypt’s capital. Only three of the seven bands that were chosen to debut were able to perform. The four-day concert took place without the musical styling from El-Kaffafa (Upper Egypt), Black Theama (Nubian), Massar Egbari (Egypt) and the Maltese group titled, Nafra Ensemble.


Without a hint of politics, the Alexandrina World Music Festival kicked off with a performance by Egypt’s music phenomenon - Wust El Balad, a soft-rock band that incorporates guitar, violin, bass, the oud and drums – a random array of traditional and modern instruments.
The band received a strong fan-base since forming, but after a pop-up performance in Tahrir Square on the last day of the revolution, their popularity soared. They have since solidified themselves as the musical voice of the Egyptian masses.

The eight-man band performed for nearly an hour and a half at the festival, spreading their catchy messages of freedom and harmony, including the revolution hit ‘Sout El Horreya’, as well as songs from their newly released album, ‘Robabikia’ (Remnants).

The release of the 13-song album originally entitled, ‘Fok Idia’ (Untie My Hands) was delayed prior to the January 25 due to objections from the Egyptian Censorship Committee for the obvious political underpinnings in some of the lyrics, but the recent departure of the Mubarak regime enabled the band with more artistic freedom and the long-awaited release of Robabikia.


The Alexandrina World Music Festival was introduced in 2009 and has continued to identify and feature an eclectic mix of live performances from various musical genres around the world, including Europe, Asia and the Mediterranean.

In a nutshell, the festival borrowed from the genre of ‘world music’, a term that was coined in the 1960s by Robert E. Brown, a late Wesleyan University professor and ethnomusicologist.

For those who attended, the festival was a reminder of just how much music plays a role in communicating the story of life to the people.
Amira El Khatib, a patron of the Alexandrina festival, says, “I came last year and I was happy to be exposed to different cultures in music. It’s nice to see what other types of music you like, and hear what is similar to your own country’s music.”


The second night of the festival continued with performances by the Chinese and German pair, Duo Seidenstrasse, followed by world-renowned Egyptian Oud player, Georges Kazazian and saxophonist, Shady Ahmed.

Duo Seidenstrasse placed the audience in a poetic trance with a multi-faceted tender of sounds made by a traditional Chinese curved-board zither. This, juxtaposed with a range of classical occidental percussions, was truly a delightful intercultural experience.

While deeply influenced by Egyptian musical traditions, Georges Kazazian certainly has a style of his own when playing the Oud. His precise sound mixed with Shady’s soprano saxophone, gave the performance an oriental blues vibe; transporting the audience into a Kazazian harmonious cross-cultural vision.

The evening ended with both bands performing together in an improvised jam session combining a wonderful array of global sounds. The two bands only became musically acquainted earlier in the day with a brief two-hour practice session.

Shady says, “One of the most attractive things about music is when there is something mysterious about it; when you cannot say if it is purely jazz or purely oriental, but you feel all these genres.”

That was certainly the case in this cross cultural fusion of saxophone blues, traditional Arabic Oud, and the powerful tension-filled contrasts of the Chinese zither and occidental percussions.


While the demonstration remained peaceful, the military held cautious with their hasty decision to silence the sounds.  

Amr Mohamed, a Bibliotecha security guard on duty said, “We saw the demonstrations start earlier in the afternoon and looked to move the concert to the small theater, because nearly 1,000 people had already purchased tickets. But then the Armed Forces called and said we had to cancel the remainder of the event due to security.”

There were nearly 250 demonstrators congregating on the library stairs, demanding prosecution of all those involved in the recent sectarian tension.  

When asked why the protestors chose the Bibliotecha’s stairs, Yasmina Heid said, “Protestors have occasionally gathered at the library since the 25 January Revolution, probably because it is the largest cultural center in Alexandria and known for promoting freedom of thought and opinion.”

While the remaining official performances were cancelled, the night was still young for music, as singing could still be heard from the pockets of ticket holders lingering on the library’s public grounds.  A group of young men sat in front of the stage area, singing their own rendition of Wust El Balad’s ‘Sout El Horreya’, using empty garbage pails as their drums. When asked their thoughts on the early termination of the festival, they collectively smiled and expressed that politics are the priority now, but that music will always be in the air.


Carrying their different musical backgrounds and styles, the range of performances at the festival proved that music is, in fact, a universal language, and can help bridge the gap of communication between cultures.

The festival is tentatively scheduled to return next year, proving the Bibliotecha’s commitment to the development and exposure of world music.

 “Music sparks the flames of thought and imagination, joining together human souls and creature spirits to smoothly and mystically flow through a language of magic and logic” – Yasmina Heidar, PHD, Deputy Director of Bibliotecha Alexandrina Arts Center.