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The Nile Project: Rebuilding Nile Basin Relations with Music

The Nile Project: Rebuilding Nile Basin Relations with Music
written by
Haisam Awad

As we
speak, the legacy of the January 25th Revolution continues to take twists
and turns; chaos reigns. But as we refresh our Twitter feeds and frantically pound the buttons on our TV remotes for coverage,
the situation begs this very particular question: what are you doing about it?

So you posted some second-hand information that won you several retweets and
gained you a few new followers, or maybe you threw a Molotov cocktail or two.
But, really; what are you actually doing? How have you utilised any skills or
resources that you might have to help, not only the political cause, but those
who should have gained most? That is, after all, one of the foundations of the
revolution; to help all those who rightly felt disenfranchised by the country’s
leaders and continue to do so. The intricacies of Egyptian politics will only go so far
and the same politics have seldom been practical in application.

In the Nile
Project, however, Egypt – and Africa – has an initiative that attacks problems
at their roots. As the brainchild of Egyptian ethnomusicologist, Mina Girgis,
and Ethiopian-American artist, Meklit Hadero, the Nile Project has already
proven to be one of the most practical and accessible initiatives addressing something that is often disregarded but critical; the geopolitical issues facing our beloved Nile. We tend to forget
that the Nile isn’t exclusively Egypt’s. Our friends in Burundi, Rwanda,
Uganda, Tanzania, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eretria, South Sudan and the Democratic
Republic of Congo rely on the gifts of the world’s longest river, too.

A year and
half after Girgis’ light bulb moment, the Nile Project launched its first venture,
bringing eighteen musicians from the effected Nile Basin countries for the Nile
Gathering; a strategic workshop and two-week residency that allowed the
participating artists to conceive and create music, with a view of holding a series eclectic, collaborative performances. The aim? “I don’t think
that most Egyptians realise that Egypt’s water per capita usage could be cut by
as much as half by 2025” Girgis says. “It still surprises me that I grew up in
Egypt completely unaware of the complexities of the Nile Basin.”

words, maybe, but Girgis remains optimistic. “What I hope is that this project
will create a space for conversation and allow us to look back [at the Nile Basin conflicts] and relate to
each other on a personal level, rather than a geopolitical one.”

But with
the political turmoil Egypt finds itself in, some may be dismissive of the project
and will question whether this is an issue that should be high-priority. Girgis
thinks otherwise and points to the fact that the previous regime’s iron fist
has, over the years, damaged relations with our Nile Basin neighbours. “This
project is a result of the revolution. If we stop what we’re doing to focus all
of our attention on the ups and downs of Tahrir, we’ll never rebuild the

Thanks to
our Pharaonic grandfathers, Egyptian government has historically claimed a dogmatic
birthright to the Nile. The country’s reliance on the Nile has brought out the
worst of our politicians. Several treaties have kept the peace over the years,
but they haven’t addressed the real issues; the Nile Basin citizens themselves.
“The eighteen musicians we have are relieved to be able to build relations with
the Nile Basin countries” Girgis says. “This is the first project of its kind; it’s
by Africa, for Africa.”

But the
Nile Project has, and will continue to, find obstacles along the way. In 2011,
we saw the Egyptian Football Association host the first, and hopefully last, Nile Basin Tournament, which saw seven of the
nations in question participate in a friendly kick-about. Poorly attended and
covered, the tournament, for all its good intentions, had little resonance.
Those who did find a fleeting interest in the spectacle were more concerned
with who’s playing where, why, what and how. The lack of education regarding
the Nile Basin issues meant that the message was completely lost and the event
was hollowed of its meaning.

This is where the Nile Project excels. Girgis, Hedero and a band of loyal
grafters have worked hard to ground any spectacle in the cause – one that
they’ve never lost sight of. Girgis, who has dedicated most of his adult life
to music, is confident
that this can be the glue in the region.

“This is
our role [as musicians]; this is what we can do. We’re never going to move
forward if we wait for the right president or constitution. Whether we have
Morsi, Mubarak or anyone else, the challenges remain the same.”

Though the
Nile Project is still very young, things look very promising. After a
successful first concert in Aswan, Girgis and co. are hoping for more of the same
from the Cairo concert, and plans are already in place to ride the waves of
momentum to other Nile Basin communities.

The Nile
Project concert will be held on Thursday January 31st at Al Azhar
Park. For more information on the event, click here.

Photo credit: Karina Al Piaro – Fondation Monde Perdu.