In what was undoubtedly one of Cairo’s best concerts of 2010, Lebanese Armenian maestro Guy Manoukian took the Cairo Opera House by storm, wowing the audience with his cutting edge take on Arabic classics along with his own unique compositions.
The sold out performance on December 20 was a landmark moment in composer-pianist Manoukian’s career: his first concert in Egypt and one of the award-winning musician’s largest concerts ever.
“I am honored to be performing at the Cairo Opera; this is a major career high for me. I love Egypt, it is a country so rich in history and culture, so to be asked to perform on this prestigious stage is such an honor,” Manoukian said at the concert.
Manoukian’s music career dates back to age four, when he began studying classical music. By age six he had appeared on television, and at seven was invited to perform at the Lebanese Presidential Palace. By eight, he had composed his first piece, for which he took an award. He began performing professionally in 1997 and his first concert drew a crowd of over 1,000 people. Manoukian also studied law and played professional basketball in Lebanon before devoting himself full-time to his musical career.
His ultimate career choice seems to have been the correct one: Manoukian has released four successful albums and been featured in numerous collections of regional music. He has also received numerous awards for his work, including the accolade for Best Dance Album at the 2003 Arabian Music Awards in Dubai.
In concert, Manoukian honored Egypt’s heritage during the show, with a stunning version of Dalida’s classic “Helwa ya Baladi” which was complimented by a creative audio visual presentation of images of the country in the background with moving results.
With his long-time 12-member band and 28 other musicians, Manoukian delivered edgy interpretations of songs by iconic Arab singers including Sayed Darwish and Fairouz along with many of his original composition that mixes Arabic and Armenian musical traditions with foreign elements and Manoukian’s own special touch.
Manoukian’s obvious skill as a composer and beautiful piano presentation distinguish him as both an entertainer and a true artist. This combination gave the concert a unique atmosphere, equal parts impeccably executed piano recital and pop bonanza, with the gorgeously arranged music complemented by showy lighting effects and audio visual accents.
The artist’s deft melding of different musical traditions makes for a refreshingly unique musical style, exemplary of Lebanon’s penchant for putting a contemporary cool twist on all things traditional. This is something relatively new on the Egyptian scene, and the music’s deep roots provoked a strong positive reaction from the audience.
While Manoukian’s main influences are strongly Armenian and Arab, he has proven his dynamism through exciting collaborations with international artists like Wyclef Jean, 50 Cent and Mario Reyes of the Gypsy Kings.
Manoukian continues to build on his success with the recent establishment of Manoukian Music, a company devoted to producing music and sound design for films, artists, concept albums and advertisements. He is also planning more collaborations with international artists, including, reportedly, Shakira.
Manoukian has led the way in revolutionizing the region’s music industry with his highly unique and artistic work that is unabashedly Eastern yet dynamic and open to all sorts of influences. Other artists that manage to combine deep musical talent with a distinctive style and contemporary arrangements are few and far between, and hopefully Manoukian’s success will allow more Arab artists to experiment with modern takes on classical Arabic music traditions.
The Cairo Opera House concert certainly left the audience wanting more — and more there will be as Manoukian plans a world tour, coming soon, to bring his magical musical stylings to the rest of the world.