“What I´ve learnt from my Egyptian musicians – lessons received from the best dance judges in the world.”
-Is it true you worked with Souhair Zaki, ya ustaz (mister) Mohamed? – I asked my accordionist, the best I´ve ever met, a man who could make you cry, laugh and cry again, within 3 seconds of striking a note. Any note.
It didn´t matter which note – it was the finger that stroke the note, not the note, that made the difference. The intention, the passion, the honesty, the talent and the life experience contained in that finger defined the quality of the sound it produced. It was fancier, yet simpler, than any note produced by one of the so called “music specialists” or “technical experts”, the musicians who refused to work with dancers – whom they considered bellow them -, resuming their work to the recording studios and live concerts with singers.
That finger, alone, proved – without words – that content, not appearances, rules Egyptian music and dance.
He came from a family of illiterate accordionists who worked at street weddings and learnt from each other – observing, listening, swallowing the mood of each unrepeatable moment. They were, still are, treated like the scum of Egyptian society. For the ones who know better, they are wizards, the makers of Beauty and the sustainers of dreams in a society where dreaming can be lethal.
They chain smoked – a cheap “Cleopatra” cigar hanging from the lips or squeezed between the middle and the ring finger -, got drunk on the dust from the improvised stages they stepped on, ate humbleness for breakfast and gave birth, time after time, to the Soul of Egypt.
-Give me that note, ya Hamido! – He would ask the violinist, during rehearsal, with the tone he´d use to ask for a napkin at the dinner table: casual, natural, unpretentious -, that is if he sat at the dinner table. Musicians usually don´t, except during Ramadan and other festivities that bind them to domestic routines. Tables are for Government employees, husbands who wear ties and wouldn´t admit cheating on their wives. Yes, wives – you read it well.
These are creatures of the night, sleeping by day and working by the night, modern day satyrs who eat whenever and wherever they can. If they can. The need to survive – and support their family -, an innate passion for music, cigars, violent ammounts of tea and other “enthusiastic”substances keep them going. No time, or permission, for suppers with the missus and the children.
For him, as for the rest of my musicians, there was no separation between art and life. One was the extension, and reflection, of the other.
From the first time I set my ears on these men, there was no doubt I was in the presence of the illegitimate sons of Hathor, people who aren´t mentioned in the annals of History because they´re too busy making History. Invisible, essential, love revolution History.
-Yes, madame. I worked with Madame Souhair.
-How was it to perform with her? She must have been fantastic. Tell me all about it.”
By Joana Saahirah
Excerpt from my next article on “Zaghareet” magazine (November/December issue).
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