U.S.-based Egyptian composer, violinist and educator Dr. Riad Abdel-Gawad creates music that acknowledges the oneness of humanity. His new album Words of Peace comes out at a very difficult time for Riad Abdel-Gawad and his family. Their home was destroyed during the catastrophic Woolsey fire in 2018. Luckily, the CDs manufactured for this release were stored in a warehouse.
Riad Abdel-Gawad traveled to Cairo to record this album. There,
he worked with 17 vocalists, chanters and instrumentalists. Words of Peace is a
world music album that contains new musical compositions with elements of western
oratorio and eastern wasla and nuba musical suite traditions.
Words of Peace proposes healing, spiritual and practical implements to our current-day existential predicament, delivering a social critique of the human species’ racism, corruption, and materialism, as well as its climate change disaster that directly affected Riad’s life.
“The CD tells the story of humanity through Adam and Eve; speaks about the wisdom from religions actions againust racism; tells the little heard story in the West about Prophet Mohamed’s striving towards peace through the activism of politics, as well as speaks about the plight of our planet and its inhabitants through contemporary Arabic ands Nibian (African) poetry,” says Riad Abdel-Gawad . “This time there are also some incredibly improvised solos from singers, chanters and instrumentalists.”
Words of Peace is a beautifully-crafted, gracefully elegant album, highlighting Riad Abdel-Gawad’s mastery as a musician and composer. He’s joined by a outstanding ensemble of top talent from Egypt’s Arabic and Nubian traditions.
The CD booklet includes a striking cover, booklet and
inside-tray art from two female contemporary Arab artists: Carelle Hosmsy and
Behia Shehab. The liner notes contain fascinating details in Arabic and
Personnel: Riad Abdel-Gawad on violin; Ahmed Asteeka on electronic keyboard; Yaser Ontar on vocals; Mohamed Atef on kawala (flute); Mohamed Foda on nay; amal Ibrahim on vocals; Moustafa Abdel-Khalek on qanun; Taha essayad on cello; Islam El Qasabgy on oud; Ashraf Issam on riqq and duff; Hussein Darweesh on bass; and Khaloud Adel (soprano), Rahma Adel (alto) and Mohamed Khaked (tenor) on chorus.
Vocalist, daf player and experimentalist Dina El Wedidi was born on October 1, 1987 in Giza, Egypt.
She performed traditional Egyptian folk music with the Warsha Theater Troupe and Habaybena band. Grounded in these roots, she produces music that is familiar and relevant for Egyptians, but at the same time incorporates other musical forms. Her participation in these projects unavoidably led her to write her own music, and in 2011, she took the essential next step in her career and formed her own band. From there, her success has soared, not only gaining her stardom in Egypt, but a fan base internationally.
Beginning in 2012, Dina joined The Nile Project. Her experience collaborating with musicians from 11 East African countries introduced her to a larger musical world, and since then she has incorporated elements of these cultures, specifically Ethiopian, into her music. She is featured on the first two Nile Project albums, Aswan (2013) and Jinja (2014).
That same year, she was chosen by Gilberto Gil and the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative as a protégé. In 2014, Dina released her debut album Turning Back (Tedawar W’Tergaa), which she described as New Arab Folk.
On Turning Back, Dina El Wedidi uses the iarghul, a rare reed instrument from Upper Egypt that El Wedidi learned to play.
Over the past years, Dina has followed a very different artistic track, symbolically and literally, drifting from the music that earned her success. Fundamentally, this meant exploring the world of music production to increase her skills outside of singing and songwriting. This route also introduced another new, and even less common instrument to Dina: trains.
Her album Slumber features the collected sounds of railways, train stations, train whistles and rails in Egypt. She processed these sounds electronically, creating a dream-like and beautiful sound landscape around her own voice, at times like a symphony, taking the listener on a journey that passes seven stations. The title “Slumber” refers to her vision of this listening experience as a dream.
The 30-minute voyage is like a short nap crossing seven stations, in which Dina tells hallucinatory stories.
“I believe I have the freedom to talk about anything in my music,” said El Wedidi. “When I want to sing about something, I do. The reality is that ‘the street’ talks about many things, and I’m inspired by the people on the street.”
Some of the greatest performers and creative innovators from Egypt and Ukraine will be traveling to the United States in September-November 2018. The music and theater artists were selected through the Center Stage cultural exchange program initiated by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and produced by the New England Foundation for the Arts (NEFA).
The performers include Dina Elwedidi (Egypt), Kurbasy (Ukraine), Mohamed Abozekry and Karkadé (Egypt), Teatr-Pralnia with CCA Dakh (Ukraine), and Youssra El Hawary (Egypt). The tours include performances, hundreds of residency activities, classroom visits, workshops, artist-to-artist exchange, and community gatherings.
Venues will include major performing arts centers such as the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC as well as universities, cultural and community centers, festivals, contemporary art venues, music clubs, and artist-run spaces. The program will bring one independent journalist from both Egypt and Ukraine to travel to the United States to report on the tours. Tour details and experiences will also be featured on the Center Stage website and through U.S. Department of State social media.
The Artists of Center Stage Season 4
Dina Elwedidi (Giza, Egypt)
A sophisticated musical innovator, Elwedidi ravels the personal threads of Egyptian heritage and contemporary identity.
U.S. tour: September 14-October 18. Tour cities include Washington DC, Richmond VA, Boston MA, New York City, Austin TX, and West Palm Beach FL.
Kurbasy (Lviv, Ukraine/U.S. debut)
Tight vocal harmonies, resonant lyrics, and phantasmagoric imagery from the Carpathian Mountains.
U.S. tour: October 21-November 18. Tour cities include Washington DC, Hartford CT, Memphis TN, Rohnert Park, CA, Albuquerque and Santa Fe NM, and Seattle WA.
Mohamed Abozekry & Karkadé (Cairo, Egypt/U.S. debut)
Virtuoso oud prodigy convenes Egypt’s popular and classical music traditions, Sufi calls, and secular poetry with a new instrumental project.
U.S. tour: September 6-30. Tour cities include Washington DC, New York City, Lewisburg and Philadelphia PA, Burlington VT, and West Claremont NH.
Teatr-Pralnia with CCA Dakh (Kyiv, Ukraine/U.S. debut)
A rambunctious and audacious supercharged puppet cabaret asks ‘TseSho?/What’s That?”
U.S. tour: September 28-November 4. Tour cities include Gainesville FL, Allentown and Pittsburgh PA, Portland OR, and Albuquerque NM.
Youssra El Hawary (Cairo, Egypt/U.S. debut)
A musical bellwether of everyday life, El Hawary’s indie sound captures the stories of Cairo and the alchemy of the Mediterranean basin.
U.S. tour: September 9-October 13. Tour cities include Richmond VA, Washington DC, Lyons NE, Raleigh NC, Kittery ME, West Claremont and Lebanon NH, Albuquerque NM, and New York City.
About Center Stage 4:
“Ensembles travel to the U.S. from around the world and enhance the cultural vibrancy of our nation, while promoting economic opportunities in American communities,” said Cathy Edwards, Executive Director of the New England Foundation for the Arts. “Arts delegations cultivate the mutual respect and appreciation that is the essence of cultural diplomacy”.
Center Stage was launched by the Department of State to bring international performing artists from select countries to the United States for professional growth and touring, supporting foreign policy, deepening our relationships with foreign publics, and strengthening the U.S. creative economy. The visiting artists learn from their U.S. tours and share their experiences in their home communities, where they serve as role models and opinion leaders. To date, 24 ensembles from seven nations have toured the United States through Center Stage, reaching tens of thousands of Americans directly and millions of international fans through media and social media.
The program also affects the lives and professions of the visiting artists. “Center Stage is a program aimed at cultural exchange, but for our band, it also tapped into something much deeper,” says Center Stage Season 2 artist Sparlay Rawail, of Pakistan’s Khumariyaan. “We learned what being working musicians is all about and how to communicate. We now have a deeper sense of our own culture through the eyes and ears of others — from the outside in. But above all, this tour opened our minds as human beings and made our art that much more sincere.”
Hossam Ramzy is one of the most important currently active percussionists / composers. This CD’s subtitle, “The Heart and Soul of Egyptian Music,” is not the sort of overstated puffery usually associated with the phrase, “heart and soul,” but a sincere expression of the man’s dedication to musical expression.
Like his past several releases, it is also a culmination of his lively, ongoing musing on music in general, and of human life itself. These 14 pieces are compact philosophical and artistic treatises as much as they are tunes.
Life is that which makes a conscious effort to maintain itself and grow. Good is that which abets Life; Evil is that which hinders it. That is Hossam Ramzy’s rhythm and commentary. The songs are microcosms, vignettes upon which he zooms in within the big picture of our shared existence. Each can be interpreted as a day, a crucial event or a demonstrative sample of the life we lead or the life we are offered.
He makes world music accessible to even novice listeners by enriching stark, primordial rhythms and melodies through use of musical sections, exemplary recordings and effects such as doubling that enrich each and every participating instrument.
Versed and expert in many genres and traditions, Mr. Ramzy relaxes on this release with a comfortable bedding in the music of his homeland, Egypt.
Because he is within his own zone of greatest comfort, the result is exquisite and in all ways right, but at the same time free of formality.
The players all sound as if, in one another’s company and support, they are each eager to push themselves to excel, by their own standards. “Habibet Alby,” the sixth cut, is a wonderful demonstration of how musicians can work as a team to build chords, riffs and passages into a song.
“Ana W’Habibi” is an entrée for percussionists, utilizing rests as well and effectively as it utilizes notes. Throughout these and the other dozen cuts on “El Berencesa,” Hossam Ramzy is in the driver’s seat, not only playing, but conducting with his instrument.
Congratulations to the artist and all those who seek this release out for their own collections.
Sheikh Yaseen el Tuhamy, from Cairo, is one of Egypt’s best-loved and most compelling Sufi singers (munshid). Sheikh Yaseen’s songs are based on the sacred poetic texts of 13th century Sufi poet, Ibn-al-Farid that encapsulate the perennial Sufi themes of love and longing for the divine.
Riad Abdel-Gawad was born May 9, 1965 in Cairo, Egypt. He composes music and performs on the violin, which, although does not fit easily into any “box” or genre, points towards likely frontiers that music has taken and will take in the 21st-century. Having composed in three very distinct styles of composition: “contemporary and avant-garde”, “polystylistic postmodern”, and “international authentic world”, his music crosses and fuses a variety of Western and Eastern genres and canons.
Having immersed himself for over a decade in a unique guru-based artistic school in Cairo, Riad Abdel-Gawad is considered among his peers to be one of the finest artists of his generation whose linage to a remarkably distinct school of Arab music and a mastery of its improvisatory practice is undisputed.
This unique Arab music school was developed by Abdo Dagher, legendary violin accompanist to Egyptian singer Um Kulthum, the “Incomparable Voice” so-named by Maria Callas. Riad Abdel-Gawad links and preserves a tradition whose roots reach to the Medieval Arabic writers’ and practitioners’ old sources. This school, is the only such teacher-disciple school to develop in recent (c. 100 years) documented Cairo history. Baghdad experienced the development of a similar unique stylistic school, (of Mouneer Basheer) c. 30-40 years ago that focused on ud “lute” performance. This Iraqi school now has a small number of renowned second-generation performing artists (e.g. Naseer Shamma, Adel Salameh).
Riad Abdel-Gawad is a graduate of Harvard University. Mr. Abdel-Gawad also spent one year of study with Frederic Rzewski at the Conservatoire Royal de Liege in Belgium.
Thus, Mr. Abdel-Gawad’s current “postmodern” and “authentic” compositional styles cross-fertilize – mutually from the “East” and the “West” – musical techniques and forms. Presently his music is currently being programmed and listened to on US, Canadian and European radio programs that spin such so-called musical genres as “new age meditative/world beat” and tarab—“enchantment”. In fact, his CD titled, “El Tarab El Aseel” literally translates as autochthonic enchantment. Autochthonic means “formed or originating in the place where found; native or indigenous”.
On this album, which debuted in April 2007 at No. 7 on the NAR Top 100 New Age/Ambient/World Beat Chart, you will hear the classical Middle Eastern ensemble, known as takht, a Persian word, which literally means: platform on which (fin de siecle 19th century) Cairene musicians performed. Mr. Abdel-Gawad’s band members, some of the best musicians today in Cairo, are masters of their respective instruments: qanun (trapezoidal zither), nay (Arab flute), ud (Arab lute) and riqq (Arab tambourine).
Riad describes that this platform or dikka (as it was also known in Arabic) was a raised stage area for musicians to entertain listeners in cafes during the era of Mohamed Ali. He said, “the tekht musicians at the turn of the 20th-century usually consisted of singer, qanun, as well as the indigenous two-stringed instrument called the kamangah.” But this instrument soon fell out of use in favor for the Western violin. Subsequently, the violin appropriated the term kamangah as its own cognomen in Arabic perhaps in deference to its predecessor.” In this particular CD, the takht features instrumentalists.
After graduating from Harvard with a Ph.D. in music composition, Riad Abdel-Gawad principally resided in Belgium, Egypt and Germany and traveled to France and Italy all the while gaining professional music experience. He even worked, iconoclastically, as a street musician in Brussels, Liege and Paris. Having championed the idea that trans-national composition and performance would be one of the frontiers of music in the twenty-first century, Riad Abdel-Gawad strived to authenticate and work towards this idea in his own musical art. From that viewpoint, as Riad elucidated to me, as a young man he sought professional musical experience that would have been difficult to know had he entered the world of academia upon graduating from Harvard.
Shuttling “nomadically”, between Europe and Egypt Riad Abdel-Gawad assisted Abdo Dagher in masterclasses, and performed with him in festivals, on CD recordings, and in tours, and appeared in television and in a documentary film and in performances in Belgium, Egypt, Italy, France, Germany, Holland, Spain, and Switzerland. Having a wonderful camaraderie with Abdo, Riad and he once took a train from Marseilles to Munich all of the while practicing their violins in a semi-enclosed train compartment “enchanting” the other passengers and the train staff. They were on there way to tour in Germany with Roman Bunka.
Riad Abdel-Gawad has also performed his own compositions as a violinist in festivals, workshops, tours in Belgium, Cameroon, Congo (Democratic Republic), Denmark, Egypt, France, Germany, Greece, Holland, Italy, Spain, and the United States. Riad Abdel-Gawad’s compositions have been broadcast worldwide on radio, as well, have been commissioned, featured, and played at international music festivals, competitions, and venues including: the Mediterranean Composition Competition in Greece, the Darmstadt International Summer Course for New Music, and the Palais des Beaux Arts for the Ars Musical Festival in Brussels.
Commissions, performances, commercial recordings and publications of Riad Abdel-Gawad’s compositions have come from: Future Classics Label, Meet the Composer, Oxford University Press, and the Princeton Composer’s Ensemble Series. Honors, awards, fellowships and grants have come from including: ASCAP, the Akademie Schloss Solitude in Germany, BMI, Harvard University, and the MacDowell Colony.
Riad Abdel-Gawad traveled to Cairo to record Words of Peace (2019). In Egypt he worked with local musicians and singers, combining western traditions with Egyptian and Nubian elements.
Profile by Mohamed A. Mostafa, journalist for El-Gumhuriyya and el-Nagm. Edited by Angel Romero.
Qanun virtuoso Hosam Shaker studied music at the age of fourteen at the Egyptian Academy of Arts in Cairo, obtaining his Master’s Degree in 1989. He led the Arabic Sextet of the Cairo Opera, performing in Japan, Korea and Europe. Formerly a member of the world music Group Sharkiat, Hosam played with Roman Bunka’s “Color me Cairo” at the 1994 Berlin Jazz Festival. He was honored as one of the finest musicians in the Middle East.
Today, Hosam runs the Egyptian Institute for Folk Instruments and Heritage in Cairo and, since the beginning of 1998, he has been performing with the Trio and Quartet Rahala.
Born in Cairo, on December 15, 1953, Hossam Ramzy’s musical career began at the age of three when he was given his first drum, an Egyptian tabla. Hossam’s passion and talent for percussion was noted by his family, and he was encouraged to study under leading Cairo music teachers. A move to Saudi Arabia, where he met people from many Bedouin tribes, gave the young Hossam a rich insight into the cultural origins of Middle Eastern music.
In the mid 1970s Hossam arrived to England, and enjoyed great success as a jazz drummer working with respected musicians such as Andy Sheppard and Geoff Williams. Hossam soon found himself turning full circle back to his first love, the Egyptian drums, and the thrilling dance rhythms of the Middle East. He then incorporated his rhythmic experience into creating a new sound since heard on hundreds of well known albums.
The distinctive sound of Hossam’s Arabic and North African string arrangements, and his exciting percussion, soon caught the imagination of Peter Gabriel. Hossam was invited to perform on Passion, and later on Us and Up.
Hossam then developed his skills in both string arrangements and production, and has played on, arranged and produced many songs for some of the world’s leading artists such as: Yesim Salkim, Celick Erici, Cheb Khaled, Tarkan, Rachid Taha, Faudel, the Gypsy Kings, etc.
In 1994 Robert Plant and Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin) invited Hossam to bring together a band of Arab musicians and work on their reunion album No Quarter – Unledded. The album was a worldwide bestseller. This led to Hossam joining Page and Plant on their historic reunion 1995/96 world tour.
A subsequent highlight was his involvement as orchestra director and lead percussionist for the historic 1-2-3 Soleil concert and album, which brought together the talents of Khaled, Taha, Faudel, and many of North Africa’s leading musicians.
Hossam has released numerous albums of Egyptian dance music for ARC Music, and in November 2001, at the label’s 25th Anniversary party, he was awarded a special Platinum disc for being their top selling artist, with over 200,000 sales to date.
His extensive discography includes: Afro-Celt Sound System, Marc Almond, Joan Armatrading, Ash, Claudio Baglioni, Big Country, Bond, Chick Corea, Pino Daniele, Anne Dudley, E.L.O., Celick Erici, Faudel, Peter Gabriel, Boy George, Gypsy Kings, Deborah Harry, Greg Hunter, Jay-Z, Kamal Ka?et, Alexandros Karozas, Cheb Khaled, Donal Lunny, Mathilda May, Loreena McKenitt, Maryam Mursal, Luciano Pavarotti, Robert Plant and Jimmy Page, Procol Harum, Rolling Stones, Rachid Taha, Tarkan, Barbara Thompson, Mari Wilson and Paul Young.
Film Soundtracks: The Hunchback of Notre Dame, The Last Temptation of Christ, The Saint, Stargate, Stealing Beauty, Wings of a Dove.
Best of Farid Al Atrash (ARC Music, 1994)
Best of Abdul Halim Hafiz (ARC Music, 1994)
Best of Oum Kalthoum (ARC Music, 1994)
Best of Mohammed Abdul Wahab (ARC Music, 1994)
Baladi Plus (ARC Music, 1994)
Sultaan (ARC Music, 1994)
Egyptian Rai (ARC Music, 1995) Source of Fire (ARC Music, 1995)
Gamaal Rawhany – Soulful Beauty (ARC Music, 1996)
Eternal Egypt (1996)
Ahlamy, with saxophonist Rafat Misso (ARC Music, 1996)
Eclectic with Big Country (Castle Music, 1996)
Best of Hossam Ramzy (1997)
Messiah Meets Progenitor (1998)
Ro-He with Essam Rashad (ARC Music, 1998) Rhythms of the Nile (ARC Music, 1998)
Immortal Egypt (1998)
Amar (2000) Sabla Tolo — Journeys into Pure Egyptian Percussion (ARC Music, 2000)
Faddah (ARC Music, 2002)
Qanun El Tarab (ARC Music, 2002)
Flamenco Arabe (ARC Music, 2003)
Hossam Ramzy Presents Egyptian Sufi Sheikh Mohamed Al Helbawy (ARC Music, 2003) Enchanted Egypt (New World, 2004) Bedouin Tribal Dance (ARC Music, 2007)
Secrets of the Eye (ARC Music, 2007)
Sabla Tolo II (ARC Music, 2007) Sabla Tolo III (ARC Music, 2008) Ruby (ARC Music, 2009) Rock the Tabla (ARC Music, 2011)
Fathy Salama is a well known Egyptian composer, arranger and musician. Fathy is the former creator of jeel music. He composed hits during the 1980s in Cairo. He is also involved in the revival of the Egyptian traditional music.
Fathy Salama was born by the Nile. When he was a child he swam there with his friends. He grew up listening to the family radio, which played the music of Um Kulthum, Abdelwahab and Farid el Attrash. Later, when he could tune the radio, he reached beyond the banks of the Nile to Jazz and to a huge variety of traditional world music.
Learning the piano from the age of six was a good beginning and was followed by gigging in Cairo clubs from the age of thirteen. Soon the kid of Shobra, made it to Europe and to New York to learn jazz with such great artists as Sun Ra and Ossman Kareem.
Salama created many hits in Cairo during the 1980s. He toured the world and won two prizes for his film soundtracks. With Sharkiat (his own group) Salama made his dreams come true of merging modern and traditional music together, thus expressing both a message from his home country and his love of music. His music reflects his experience from the Middle East and Europe. His “success” in the music world plays a secondary role. First and foremost he wants to be understood, and so he works tirelessly to bridge traditional and modern music from the Orient.
In 2000, Salama settled down in Paris and started an artistic collaboration with Youssou N’Dour.
In 2001 Salama worked with the collective of Parisian VJs Ya-K and the photographer Guillaume de Remusat. He created the first multimedia show around electronic music and traditional Egyptian rhythms.
The following year, while still researching electronic music, Salama worked on the preservation of traditional music with the creation of a new group The Rango Tanbura Group with which he gives a series of workshops for professionals and the public.
In 2004, Salama composed and arranged Egypt (Warner, 2004) by Youssou N’Dour. In 2009, he arranged three songs on the Cesaria Evora album Nha Sentimento (Lusafrica).
Camel Dance (Face Music, 1991) Ibn Battuta, with Embryo (Schneeball, 1994) Color Me Cairo, with Roman Bunka (Enja, 1995)
Camel Road (Face Music, 1996)
Don’t Climb The Pyramids (Barraka, 1998)
Maqsoom & Mashy El Hal (Les Disques Sérieux, 2003)
Sultany (Incognito Records, 2006)
El Tanbura are a collective of veteran master musicians, singers, fishermen and Sufi philosophers. For the past years they have been keepers to some of Egypt’s oldest folk traditions at their home in Port Said, at the gate to the Suez Canal. Their music is driven by the seductive call of the Simsimiyya – an ancient lyre dating back to the times of the Pharaohs.
The origins of the Simsimiyyia are lost in the mist of time and legend. Its modern history comes to life in the 1930s, when Cafe owners in Port Said often employed a player to entertain their customers in the old-time smoking dens. Adopting influences from other styles of local folk music and local Sufi beliefs, the instrument quickly gained in popularity, eventually drawing large audiences and a new repertoire known simply as Simsimiyya was created. This popular success was followed by a downturn after the war: economic difficulties and widespread commercialization led to a decline of the tradition in the late 1970s, and many of the old masters simply withdrew from performing, disillusioned and tired.
El Tanbura?s founder, Zakaria Ibrahim first heard the Simsimiyyia in Port Said as a young boy in the 1950s. The sound of the instrument stayed in his memory ever since, and in 1980, he decided to dedicate himself to seeking out the old masters and convince them to perform once again. In 1989 a small nucleus of veteran performers came together to form the El Tanbura group. They were ignored initially, but the infectious atmosphere of the performances soon convinced others to join, and the band grew to include not only folk musicians and percussionists but dancers and singers drawn from local fishermen, market traders and builders, alongside with some older master instrumentalists.
Performances today feature seductive simsimiyya melodies, Sufi inspired vocal chants, increasingly intense drumming and bouts of frenzied dancing. Band members dress in an eclectic mix of jellabas, jeans, fez and baseball caps, and enjoy involving their audiences as their rhythms and chants gains in heat and passion.
With a musical legacy nearly spanning two decades, and concerts at home and abroad consistently winning them new fans, wider success had been elusive for El Tanbura. The group showcased at World Music Expo (WOMEX) in the fall of 2007 and won the Roskilde Festival World Music Award for Zakaria’s El Mastaba Centre for Egyptian Popular Music at WOMEX 2011 in Copenhagen.