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Citadel fusion: Cairo’s Jazz Mania Festival

Cairo’s Jazz Mania Festival, organized by the Foreign Cultural Relations in cooperation with the Cairo Opera House and the jazz star Yehya Khalil, kicked off on Saturday at the Cairo Citadel promising four days of excellent jazz with bands from all over the world performing from Saturday 16 until Tuesday 19.

Despite its delayed start time, a full hour and a half after the scheduled time, the concert impressed the public, as did the suggestive atmosphere of the Salah El Din Citadel. Ukraine’s JazzEx Band started things off with a repertory of both English and modern Ukrainian songs sung a cappella. The band presented a very unusual style of jazz. As Elena Orlova, one of the sopranos, explained, “Vocal genre a cappella can be only approximately called jazz because it’s based on voices rather than instruments. We perform songs belonging to different genres, such as classical or Latin or rock funk music, like the Ukrainian songs, in our own original arrangement.”

The band was created almost 20 years ago, in 2005 stabilizing itself with six sopranos incuding Tatiana Shylova and Elena Orlova, alto Marina Kerusenko, tenor Sergey Yurchenko, baritone Pavel Moskalenko, and bass Dmitriy Efimenko. JazzEx usually performs abroad rather than in Ukraine, “Because jazz in our country is not very popular,” Orlova explained. “It’s our first time in Egypt. I was personally dreaming to come here, and the whole group is really enjoying the country and the festival.” The Ukrainian band will perform for the second and final time on Sunday, the second day of the festival.

Egypt’s Pyramids Jazz Band excellently reflected the classical style of jazz, usually played in small clubs with contrabass and piano as well as drums and saxophone. The group, which was first established 20 years ago, has never played outside Egypt. Its performance was very high quality, particularly from the singer, Nesma Mahgoub. As Bassem Mofeed, the band’s pianist put it, “Jazz in Egypt is flourishing, especially among young people.”

The director of the festival and famous Egyptian jazz musician, Yehya Khalil, expressed the same optimism about the status of jazz music in Egypt. “Even if it took a long time to organize an international jazz festival in Cairo, I’m glad because this genre is consistently spreading here in Egypt especially among young people,” Khalil said.

The event was closed by the singer Michelle Rounds and her group, who came from Australia to participate in the festival. The famous jazz artist, who is currently living in Cairo, really enjoyed the festival. “It was absolutely fabulous; everything was perfect, the scheduling, the organization, and you can tell this by the appreciation and the number of people who participated.”

Hossam Nassar, adviser to the Minister of Culture, told Al-Masry Al-Youm, “It’s in our mandate to exchange and export our culture, and import different cultures of the world. The whole idea is to please the Egyptian public and, at the same time, make foreigners understand more about contemporary Egypt, because we’re not only heritage. Promoting a dialogue, which transcends religion and language is the essential message of the festival.”

The festival is running at the Cairo Citadel until Tuesday 19 (from 7PM until 11PM. Entrance is free).

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