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A Melodious Marriage: Western Tunes Meet Oriental Vibes in Cairo Jazz Festival

By: Sadig El-Tigani

The ninth iteration of the Cairo Jazz Festival, one of the largest annual musical events in the country, kicked off with powerful performances from The Cairo Big Band Society, Mathias Heise Quadrillion and Eftekasat on September 26.

The festival, founded in 2009 by musician and producer Amro Salah, ran for two days and included performances by bands hailing from Egypt, Denmark, Japan, Netherlands, Hungary and Portugal.

According to Salah, the festival is a celebration of different cultures and people, all to the groove of jazz.

The festival is a musical experiment of how people from different backgrounds adapt jazz music by adding their own ethnic and regional sounds to its traditional bearings.

“Jazz was born as a fusion of human cultures, art and experiences that have always absorbed other cultures and have created other ideas, projects and styles,” Amro Galal, pianist and arranger of The Cairo Big Band Society, told The Caravan.

The festival kicked off with a performance by The Cairo Big Band Society, which was founded by Galal, and is mostly known for reviving old style jazz.

A notable peculiarity about the band is that unlike other jazz performances, they refrain from improvising.

Rather, it “sticks to a strict sheet that it follows without adaptation,” said Amro Yehia, the band’s leading vocalist.

The band’s ensemble is mainly comprised of brass instruments, but also incorporates bass, strings, keyboard, vocals, and piano. In their performance, the band covered popular jazz tunes from Louis Armstrong, Nina Simone and Quincy Jones.

Hany El Dakkak and Mahmoud Siam, members of the socially conscious band Massar Egbari, joined them on stage to perform a quick song from their new album.

Next up was the Danish band Mathias Heise Quadrillion, with its first performance at the festival. Founded in 2012, the band is a fusion of funk, rock and jazz — usually shorthanded to FuRoJazz.

They gave an electrifying performance that included songs from their newly released album “Decadence.”

Mathias said that jazz is a genre that “really challenges [one] as a musician. It’s a genre where you’re very free and very impulsive.”

“We’re not afraid to play any genre. I would like to take some Arabic music and integrate some Spanish music, pop music and rock music.”

The final performance of the night was by Eftekasat. Established in 2001, the band is known for incorporating Egyptian Oriental music with jazz and their first performance in the Festival dates back to 2002.

Eftekasat is mostly known for being the inhouse band for the show “Saturday Night Live Arabia.”

The band, which consists of Hany Bedair on percussions, Mohamad Aly on vocals and violin, Samer George on bass and Sherif Alaa on the guitar, established themselves as one the most prominent and virtuosic jazz groups in the country.

Aly joined the band while doing solo work and playing with other bands.

“Amro Salah called me one day and told me that we wants me to play the violin with the band in three days. I had to memorize seven songs and improvise. He liked it and I’ve been playing with the band ever since,” he said.

The band’s performance was notable for songs that began with a jazz tune before slowly weaving in captivating Oriental melodies.

Their performance also stood out in that each member was afforded a solo part on-stage, allowing them to shine individually before the song escalated towards the climax, at which point they began playing together.

The audience cheered, clapped and screamed for the band, proving that the best was saved for last.

A point of focus for this festival was the thin line between Arabic and Western jazz, where these two different influences and locales met and flourished.

“The melodies are always Western jazz. The shape of the baseline or the shape of the groove of the drums in music is usually jazz, but we put a little twist in it so that we could play Arabic instruments with it,” said Aly.

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