Wednesday, July 28, 2010

alf layla wa layla

Tireless performers rocked a version of the song alf layla wa layla (1001 nights), made famous by Umm Kulthum, on the bus ride after a gig in Helwan. Featuring Lillie Gordon on violin and Giselle Garcia as Umm Kulthum.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010


On one of our nights off in Cairo we were treated to an amazing performance by El Tanbura. The program notes describe the group: "El Tanbura is a collective of master musicians, fisherman, laborers and philosophers. For twenty years they have been the custodians of some of Egypt's oldest folk melodies at their home in Port Said, Mediterranean gateway to the Suez Canal. Their music is driven by the simsimiyya, an ancient instrument which dates back to the time of the Pharaohs".

Check out the groups website:

CDs can be purchased from

Many thanks to Christina Nelson for setting up the performance and introducing the group.

Monday, July 26, 2010

Visiting Kadry Sorour

One of the highlights of our trip was a visit to the home of Scott's friend and nay teacher Kadry Sorour. We visited, picked out nays and ate a delicious dinner of homemade kushri (an Egyptian dish of lentils, rice and pasta in a tomato sauce) and amr din (a dessert made with apricots, nuts, raisins and coconut).

In this photo Qadri is demonstrating how nays are made after a piece of reed has been selected and cut.

Cairo University

On July 18 we performed in front of the Central Library of Cairo University to a huge crowd of students. This gig was so much fun and the crowd was one of the most energetic and enthusiastic that we performed for. In fact, the authorities asked us to not include our dancers in one of our last pieces as they thought the crowd might get too rowdy! This video is a section of our version of Ghawazi Dance which we played before the authorities began to get anxious.


We had the opportunity to interview many audience members after our performances and the responses were amazing and often very touching. We were very interested in responses to our selection and execution of repertoire and what Egyptian audiences thought about a bunch of Americans coming to Egypt to perform Egyptian music, among other topics.

In this video the eloquent and gracious `Ala Bekri, from Cairo, gives her thoughts about cultural exchange and the UCSB Middle East Ensemble after one of our performances at the Cairo Opera House.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Cairo Opera House

Our four performances at the Cairo Opera House were a success! We had an intense four days of rehearsals and performances and the responses from the audiences were amazing. Stay tuned for some video footage of performances and interviews with audience members.

This is a photo of some of us taking a break from rehearsal and checking out the statue of Umm Kulthum on the grounds of the Opera House.

This is the hall in the Opera House where we performed on July 14-17.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Muhammad `Ali street

Tight schedules and dodgy internet have caused us to fall a little behind with our blogging, but it is time to catch up.

Here is a photo of of an 'ud maker on Muhammad Ali street. A bunch of ensemble members spent an evening walking around this part of Cairo which is known for its concentration of musical instrument shops.

tannoura at al-azhar park

This is a clip of musicians who are a accompanying Tannoura (skirt) "Sufi" dance at al-Azhar park. This clip focuses on the munshid (singer), percussion players and the kawala (flute) player but there are young dancers whirling in colorful skirts just outside the camera frame. See Jim Grippo's video of another performance in 2005 to get an idea of the full performance: YouTube - Tannoura "Sufi" dance, Cairo 2005

Though these performances are billed as "Sufi" there is no reference to any specific tariqa (Sufi brotherhood) which is usually important to Sufis. A very intriguing example of staged sacred/folkloric Egyptian performance with great music and dance.

Friday, July 16, 2010


Members of the UCSB Middle East Ensemble participated in a workshop with young Egyptian musicians and children at the Heliopolis Public Library. We performed some songs and then enjoyed performances by the young musicians before we all played together. One of the highlights of the afternoon was this performance by the talented Aya Ayman who lives in Cairo.