In wake of revolution, Egyptian composers dust off their pens | Music | DW | 21.04.2011
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In wake of revolution, Egyptian composers dust off their pens

The revolution that led to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak has had repercussions throughout Egyptian society, including the music world. But its too early to say just how, one composer told Deutsche Welle.

Mohamed Basha conducting

Basha led his orchestra at Egypt's Bibliotheca Alexandrina in 2010

Mohamed Saad Basha is a young Egyptian composer who was in Cairo when weeks of popular protests eventually brought about the fall of the Mubarak government. Deutsche Welle spoke with Basha, who said that despite the societal change, the country's classical music scene remains vibrant - and even more improvement is likely ahead.

What has the response been to the Egyptian revolution in classical music circles? Has cultural life there been affected much?

Life for classical musicians is stable, and it's basically the same as before. Concerts are being performed - I actually went to a concert last weekend. The Brahms violin and cello concertos. The soloists were Egyptians who have lived in Germany for 20 years and come to Egypt for regular concerts every year. There was a very large audience there in the big hall in the Cairo opera house.

But we have so many new plans and projects for composers. We want to have an establishment where composers can write music and present it regularly - in the opera house and in venues throughout the whole country.

Basha conducting an orchestra

Basha's string orchestra plays Western standards at Culturewheel

I believe that in post-revolution Egypt the numbers of these projects will increase greatly.

How has the revolution affect you personally - affected your music?

I founded a string chamber orchestra, the El Sakia String Orchestra, last October. We have a program of baroque, classical and Arab music. My orchestra stopped working for one month during the revolution, from January 25, but we were back on Feb 22. We play at a famous and important cultural center, the El Sawy Culturewheel. There are performances there every day, a running program, on many stages.

What is the connection between Western classical music and traditional Egyptian music?

In Egypt we have a lot of traditional music, our own rhythms, and structures... These styles - traditional Egyptian music and classical pieces - are not usually combined.

But many of our composers have made successful attempts to merge our national instruments into an orchestra and into a formal classical ensemble.

Egyptian musicians often study in conservatories, both inside and outside Egypt - a person might go to conservatory in Austria or Germany, Russia or America. We study the classical elements, and we master them. But we have in mind our tradition and our national elements of music.

You can hear it on (my 2007 composition "Entizar"). I incorporated an Arabic instrument, the oud. It has Turkish origins. I used an Arabic rhythm and Arabic environment, but with a classical orchestra.

Has the funding situation become less certain since Mubarak was ousted?

The country has three large opera houses funded by the Ministry of Culture, and there are national culture centers in every city that have funding for orchestras and bands that make music for the ballet, for the opera, for classical concerts or for Arab music. The government has always been the main source of funding, but some private organizations fund things like my own orchestra.

Some of these private funds are Egyptian, and some are joint ventures with international companies like Vodaphone. Or in Germany, the Bertelsmann Foundation, which has its own culture project with Egypt.

So do you expect that kind of private funding to increase?

Portrait, Mohamed Basha

A spate of post-revolution projects are just around the corner, Basha believes

I can't see into the future and don't know what is going to happen politically. After the revolution, so many things in politics have changed or are changing.

But I do think that conditions will improve in the near future. Not right now, because there are so many changes in policy. It has affected the economy, culture and everything. But after everything is settled, I think it will be better than before.

Was the Egyptian music scene involved in the revolution?

I can't really say that was especially the case. But since the revolution, the spirit among many musicians is very much about moving forward. We want to work more for our country. And we can give more to our country.

Of course there is always a negative-minded minority. But the majority wants to go forward.

Has there been a spike in post-revolution music projects? Celebrations of change, that sort of thing?

After the revolution, the Cairo opera house had so many ceremonies honoring the revolution. So did the Culturewheel (cultural center), for which our orchestra played.

There have been many performances of Arabic music and music by Egyptian composers. I didn't get any commissions, but other composers have had requests for new compositions. (On March 20) there was a concert at the Cairo Opera - it was maybe the first concert after the revolution - and there was a piece by the (famous Egyptian) composer Rageh Daoud called "To the Martyrs of the January 25th Revolution."

Jennifer Abramsohn interviewed Mohamed Saad Basha
Editor: Rick Fulker

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