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Mazaher at Makan: Intimate Zar Music Performances
Cairo’s concert scene is diverse; on any given day you can find a concert showcasing the latest in contemporary Egyptian music and global sounds from hip-hop and reggae traditions. The friendly crew of managers at Makan – located at 1, Saad Zaghloul Street, across from the eponymously named tomb and museum – have gone the other way, setting their space aside to breathe life into some of Egypt’s oldest musical traditions. Makan’s goal is to preserve traditional and endangered music, along with the broader historical contexts and cultures that they come from.
With that mission in mind, Makan has hosted Mazaher, a female-led Zar group, in residence for the past couple of years. Including some of the last remaining performers of Zar, the group puts on a show every week where instead of amplifiers and guitar pedals, they throw a concert with drums, flutes, tambourines and more obscure traditional instruments like the tanboura, which is a triangular harp-like string instrument. According to Makan’s website, Mazaher 'is inspired by the three different styles of Zar music practiced in Egypt – the Egyptian or Upper Egyptian Zar, Abu Gheit Zar and the Sudanese, or African Zar.'
Many of Mazaher’s songs are at least 10 minutes-long, revolving around trance-like, repetitious choruses. The variations in the cyclical rhythms and vocals, which frequently seem improvised and contingent upon the energy in the room, ensure that each week is a different experience. Zar remains fundamentally a live performance, although you can buy Mazaher’s albums in the lobby of Makan for a reasonable price. The women of Mazaher, who do the majority of singing, engage the audience that is seated quite close to the band.
But Mazaher is much more than a band. They are an actual family, many of whom are in their fifties, sixties and seventies. Considering that Zar music has historically passed from generation to generation in Egypt’s villages, it is especially cool that this latest generation now performs for packed houses at this local music lounge.
Indeed, to even get a seat at one of Mazaher’s Wednesday concerts, you definitely have to show up on time, and if you want to be up close on the ground level (there’s a mezzanine for extra seating); plan on arriving earlier. Despite the 30LE entrance fee to Makan, many audience members keep coming back to hear another two-hour set.
During the brief intermission, the members of Mazaher are eager to speak with fans and tell their stories. It’s that kind of friendliness, along with the intimate physical environment of Makan that makes it pretty easy to forget about the hustle and bustle just outside the front door.
If you are looking for a uniquely Egyptian nightlife option, outside of the usual concert hall circuit, Makan is definitely worth a visit. The venue itself is comfortable, decorated deliberately and sparsely to look like a modern loft with the appeal of a traditional, communal-style stage.
Currently showing at Zamalek’s Gallery Misr, Magdy Naguib’s latest exhibition is perfectly named; Colour Lyrics aptly portrays the story-style of the paintings and every single one is a rainbow of positive energy , with the bright colours seeming to dance across the canvas. Each individual piece is illustrated much like a children’s book and it was of no surprise to learn that Magdy Naguib has published more than seventy children’s books in his lifetime and this is something that can be seen in what is a refreshingly optimistic exhibition.
A mixture of colourful characters stand out in each scene, with round faces painted in blue, orange, green and yellow; all of them are flat, lacking in any depth whatsoever – in fact it’s the simplicity that makes them so striking. There’s also a clear element of inspiration from African culture in the paintings, from the African masks and the colourful costumes which are present throughout as Naguib has stated, “I draw inspiration from the African soul which is also ours, being the lifeblood running smoothly in our veins – the land and the Nile.”
Naguib also asserts that there is a connection between the colourful style he uses and the simple, colourful life led by the populations of Africa, despite the instability of the continent. There are references to Egyptian culture, too, through the paintings of camels and pyramids, right down to the style of clothes the tiny characters are wearing.
Another recurring theme in the paintings is that they all seem to focus on leisurely activities with images of colourful foods; men playing instruments and women dancing fill the canvases and create a joyous scene. Even the children are seen carrying balloons, dancing, running and smiling.
The plywood canvases used are often large, yet the many figures inside are miniature in comparison, leaving a vast white space – another, more subtle, throwback to the pages within children’s books. All are painted in acrylic which has become the most popular paint due to its flexible and convenient qualities such as the short amount of time it takes to dry.
As a poet, journalist and artist, Naguib is to turn seventy years old in 2016, but has a rare gift to see life through the eyes of innocence and communicate that spirit through his work.