Electro-Egyptian folk music fusion project mesmerises audiences

Egyptian Project
Egyptian Project mixes electro beats, trip-hop and traditional Egyptian music creating a unique sound in live concerts — Published in Ahram Online.
Egyptian Project brings together French and Egyptian musicians to experiment mixing electronic beats and trip-hop sounds with traditional folkloric instruments.Egyptian Project is set to take their show to the French Culture Institute in Egypt’s coastal city Alexandria Thursday, 14 February, followed by a tour in France and Morocco later this year.

The collaborative project is made up of Jérôme Ettinger on the arghul (a traditional windpipe instrument) and mixing beats along with Sayed Imam (vocals), Salama Metwaly (rababa – traditional bowed instrument), Ihab Radwan (oud – pear-shaped string instrument) and Anthony Bondu (drums).

Their debut album ‘Ya Amar’ set for release this spring shows Egyptian traditional music can be fused with modern beats to get crowds moving.

The musicians hosted two live shows in Cairo over the previous week, with one at the French Culture Institute in Mounira that was repeated the next dat due to popular demand and one at the Cairo Jazz Club.

Their Cairo Jazz Club concert started off on a slower note, before the entire performance picked up in both pace and beat, with the song ‘Adam.’ The song’s lyrics urged all humanity to unite and stop fighting.

“The song talks about all of us being the sons and daughters of Adam and eve, so we are all brothers and sisters whether we are Muslims, Christians, Jews or Hindus,” Sayed Imam explains. “So why do we hurt each other? Why do we kill each other? Why don’t humans care about each another? No matter the different races, religions or languages, we are all human in the end. This song calls for mercy, peace and love.”

The song was first performed in their concert in Switzerland, and people reacted really well to it even though they did not understand the lyrics, but according to Imam they felt its message.

The performance continued well into the night, with several songs leaving the audience moving to the mix of electro beats and balady (native/local) dance. The music allowed the audience, to move to the beats that moved them, be it the balady ones or the dubstep.

Referring to the song ‘Ya Amar’ which the album is named after, Imam shares with Ahram Online the origins for its lyrics, “I had been in France working with Jérôme for 25 days. This was the longest I had been away from my family and my son,” he says. “I was lying in bed, and you know in France they have windows on the ceiling. I could see the moon in the sky, so I wrote the words as they came from within me: ‘Oh moon send my love to my family and my country and all my loved ones.’ This came out because I really felt this way, I can only write about real things I felt, I can never write on request.”

Ettinger’s love for Arabic music started long ago when he used to travel often to Egypt to learn the arghul under Mostafa Abdelaziz, the iconic performer. “I love Egyptian musical instruments like the arghul, the qawala, the rababa,” he said. “Their melodies are really unique.”

In France, Ettinger was fond of fusion music where with another group of French musicians they would mix dubstep with African instruments. As his fondness of Arabic music grew, seven years ago, he met Imam who was already quite established in his folkloric singing career. They started getting closer as friends. This relationship quickly turned into a musical collaboration with the rest of the crew and started working on ‘Ya Amar’ three years ago.

According to Ettinger and Imam, the album’s production took a lot of work, travel and sacrifices, with each half of the band on the different continent. However, it seems the work paid off, as ‘Ya Amar’ truly has a new sound. Egyptian Project is joining a whole musical movement that mixes these genres, even as deep as the fusion that brings musicians together from across continents, such as Tunisian Dhafer Youssef and Lebanese Ibrahim Maalouf, among others.

“We want to share the human feeling through music for peace and love,” Ettinger says, as they prepare to start their performance.

Listen to their music here.

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