Egyptian folk music came close to disappearing a few years ago when fewer and fewer venues scheduled concerts and the number of young musicians learning to play the traditional instruments fell. Hoping to prevent the music from vanishing all together, Zakaria Ibrahim established El Mastaba which became the centre for numerous bands who perform Egyptian folk music.
Ibrahim founded his band El Tanbura 25 years ago in Port Said. They play a variety of traditional songs using local instruments like El Sememya, an old style of lyre.
El Mastaba was established in 2000 with the aim of documenting traditional Egyptian folk music. Said Ibrahim explained: “The centre has more than 300 hours of audio and video archival musical performances of our bands. We support folklore bands like Rango and El Nuba in many ways, either through marketing their work or by producing albums of their songs.”
Ibrahim defines folk music as any traditional kind of music that is transmitted orally from one generation to another. “It is not just a traditional kind of music, it is also a style that gets renewed by each generation who introduce new instruments or new shows, to keep up with what is happening in their generation and to reach a greater audience,” he said.
Young people in Egypt are more concerned about politics since the revolution, resulting in a greater interest in Egyptian identity and in folk music. “Folk music focuses more on political and social issues; for example El Tanbura has performed many songs describing both historical and contemporary issues like the nationalisation of the Suez Canal and the Israeli invasion of Gaza in 2008,” Ibrahim said. El Tanbura preformed their Egyptian folksongs in Tahrir Square during the revolution which Ibrahim said inspired protesters.
Since the revolution the interest in national treasures like folk music has grown, as witnessed in the latest advertisement for one of Egypt’s mobile phone carriers. Two of El Mastaba’s bands performed in the ad; El Tanbura from Port Said and the Bedouin Jerry-can Band of Arish, which performs traditional music using the Bedouin semsemya and other instruments. (…)