Harmonies, heavenly voices, spirituality and breathtaking chants were featured last Friday night at Qubbat el Ghouri in Azhar. The ancient Palace and the Joseph’s Well theatre in the Salah Al-Din Citadel are hosting to the fifth International Samaa’ Festival for spiritual music and chanting. Entessar Abd el Fattah, founder and director of the festival aims to educate audiences about the religious heritage of different countries and cultures. During the festival 24 bands representing 20 countries will perform.
This year the slogan of the Samaa’ – literally translated to mean listening – festival is ‘Message of Peace’ and last Friday Indian, Egyptian and Turkish bands performed spiritual music for a 200 strong, mixed Egyptian and ex-pat audience.
The concert started with a performance by Indian band ‘Atta Mohamed el-Rajistany’. The band has been performing together for the past 15 years and boasts 10 musicians. In traditional style the performers, dressed in colourful hats and scarves, sat on the floor, playing their different instruments and adding their voices to the lead singer. The high pitch of the traditional Indian music did not prevent the audience from swaying gently during the three songs that ‘Atta Mohamed el-Rajistany’ preformed.
The second performance featured the Upper Egyptian ‘El Sba’eya’ group for religious chanting, whose specialty is praising Prophet Muhammad. The band started in 2008 and has 21 members and is lead by Hussein el-Baumy who hails from Esna, a village in Upper Egypt. “This is the second time we perform during the Samaa’ Festival. This festival unites people from all over the world and we would like to perform in other countries,” said el-Baumy.
‘El Sba’eya’ has international experience; they have performed concerts in Algeria and participated in a festival for Sufi chanting in Jakarta, Indonesia. Their popularity is highest in Upper Egypt though: “During our concerts in Aswan more than 3000 people attend; and we praise Prophet Muhammad a million times,” El-Baumy said. The name ‘El Saba’eya’ refers to the village that most band members come from. ‘El Saba’eya’ was warmly received by the audience on Friday night, who applauded and sang along with the chanters’ joyful voices.
The last to take the stage was the Turkish band ‘Destar’, a Sufi group accompanied by a whirling dervishes show. Before the band started playing, the organisers asked the audience to remain silent during the Turkish performance; which created an anticipatory atmosphere among the spectators. As soon as the band started to perform it became clear why this request was made.
The band started with citing a verse of the Quran, and as soon as they started playing their instruments it seemed as if they could not see the audience anymore, as if they were in a spiritual place where they heard nothing but the music.
It took a few moments before the whirling dervishes came on stage, they stood on the side of the stage wearing long black robes while listening to the music. Their performance started with them throwing their robes to the floor, as a symbol of shedding reality, and proceeding to whirl. They dervishes whirled with both hands held high but one pointed to the sky to take blessings from god, and the other pointing down to give these blessings to the world.
The Turkish cultural centre Yunus Emre was the guest of honor and many of its staff and students attended the concert.
Umut Murat, a Turkish student said “I did not expect that this kind of music would appeal to many Egyptians, but the place was full of people.I enjoyed the Egyptian band very much, they were full of life and the audience’s reaction to them was marvelous.”He explained that the whirling dervishes show resembled the tanoura dance in Egypt, but it had more spirituality to it, because it is considered a method of worship rather than a dance.
The Samaa’ Festival includes arts and calligraphy workshops and performances will continue until 8 August.