Man is the homeland, and the homeland is man.” With this humanistic slogan, Entesar Abd El Fatth, director of El-Ghouri Center for Musical Heritage opens the fourth Samaa International Festival for Sufi Music and Chanting in Cairo on Monday.
A variety of anasheed (Islamic religious and praise songs) from around the world are featured in a seamless song which embraced the gospel form in its fold.
Twelve nations participate in the fest, aiming to “merge all cultures with their diversity in one human moment.” Abd El Fatth calls this a “human dialogue.”
The moment begins with the call to prayer and the shehada (witness) rising from different sides of the stage representing various countries. No sooner have the Islamic prayers subsided than a novel element rejoins the chorus.
“Amazing Grace” blends in gracefully in a meeting of cultures and religions. It is a first time an American band and gospel music are featured at the Sufi fest.
The flawless fusion of disparate cultures and sounds lends uniqueness to the festival that had people queuing up an hour before at the venue of Qobbet El-Ghouri.
“I am Egyptian, Christian, Indonesian…,” says Abd El Fatth emphasizing the all-encompassing spirit of the event set in the historic setting of Islamic Cairo. “We don’t speak the same language,” said Abd El Fatth, who spoke to Daily News Egypt through an interpreter, adding “yet we still understand each other.”
Pakistani musicians may not have understood the process. Their finale on the first night appeared to be unceremoniously cut short by Abd El Fatth. Percussionists and brothers Sain Tanveer Hussain and Sain Khalil Hussain provided the resounding boom of drums that marked only a small segment of the performance.
“We have come trained from our home, and don’t understand why we are taught to play here,” the artists told DNE. Tanveer Hussain, who has previously held up to 50 drums playing them simultaneously, hopes to showcase his talents in upcoming performances.
Meanwhile, when their embassy offered Chand Khan from Pakistan the chance to perform, he welcomed the occasion to participate in the spirit of the season. “We thought it is Ramadan Kareem, so why not.”
New York-based gospel band Voices of Inspiration (VOI) meanwhile felt “overwhelmed” by this welcoming spirit. We were “overwhelmed by the sound of other instrumentalists and amazed at their warmth,” according vocalist Alana Alexander.
Camaraderie among participants was palpable to the gospel group “the minute they started singing and [in] the way that they were embraced,” said Kevin Patrick, co-founder of Share the Mic foundation that brought VOI to Egypt.
The experience imbued the band with a sense of trust, which Patrick finds a natural by-product of musical interactions. “Music knows no boundaries.”
Using music to promote causes and charities, Share the Mic has also formerly brought together American artist Ayme Loren for collaboration with local outfit Cariokee.
“The artists have such an amazing experience which has the ability to shift the understanding people have of the Middle East and of Muslim culture,” said Patrick. Musicians in particular have “a way of connecting people back home with [this experience].”
With further collaborations in the pipeline, Share the Mic is seeking “sustainability” in its relationship with the region, said Patrick. “We’re making a bridge that doesn’t break.”
It’s not only in his instrument that VOI drummer found resonance with the region. “Sufi music is also very emotional and passionate,” said John McDowell who plays African drums, adding both gospel forms and nasheeds were songs that praised God.
A sense of improvisation and spirituality that John remarked in both forms are also features that mark the diversity and unity showcased at this year’s Samaa fest.
Voices of Inspiration are performing on Wednesday, August 17. Performances begin at 9 pm and continue at Qobbet El-Ghouri until August 25.