As you know Cairo, Egypt holds a special place in my family’s heart. Despite the chaos that is currently going on over there right now, we all look back on our time in Cairo fondly and lovingly. Whenever we get the chance to sort of re-live our experience there, we do.
I accompanied my mom and our good family friend (her daughter went to Cairo American College with me and is my high school best friend) to a concert at the Freer Gallery of Art to hear Naseer Shamma play various musical instruments with his ensemble.
Nasser Shamma, a highly regarded original composer, was born in southern Iraq. In 1998 he founded and later became the director of the Cairo-based Bayt Al-‘Ud, the first conservatory dedicated to the Arab lute. Shamma has served as a mentor for thousands of students in the next generation of musicians in the Arab world. Bayt Al-‘Ud now has branches in Alexandria, Algeria, and Abu Dhabi.
The Al-Oyoun Ensemble, was founded in 1999, and is a chamber group featuring some of the most highly skilled musicians in Cairo. It performs a genre of music that Shamma defines as Arab chamber music. Shamma and the ensemble keep a very busy touring schedule – performing regularly in concert halls across Europe, Asia, and the Arab world. Their current tour in the U.S. – the D.C. performance was the first city on the tour – is their first visit in more than a decade. Shamma refused to perform in the U.S. during the occupation of Iraq.
We all very much enjoyed this concert. The music was beautiful, and each and every one of the musicians was incredibly talented. The audience and the musicians interacted with each other throughout the performance – the audience clapping and whistling along to the rhythm of the songs and the musicians hamming it up when appropriate during their respective parts of the song.
On a personal note, I always love going to these type of Arab culture events – concerts, plays, art exhibitions, etc because I believe it is during these times when people are able to catch a glimpse of a “real” person from the Arab world, not how they are generally depicted on TV or seen in the news. They are talented, soulful, creative, charismatic people who just want to put their mark of beauty on the world.
This concert was an Alwan for the Arts Production and was made possible with the support of the Egyptian Embassy, the Iraqi Culture Center, the Egyptian Education and Cultural Bureau in D.C., and the Egyptian Ministry of Culture.