Egypt's international drum festival kicks off in Cairo: 'African music is unrivalled'

This year's event includes 30 folkloric musical groups hailing from 12 nations

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This week, Cairo is hosting 30 folklore music groups that hail from 12 nations for the eighth iteration of the International Festival for Drums and Traditional Arts, which runs until Friday at several prominent cultural venues in the Egyptian capital.

The festival, which is an important staple of Cairo's events roster, was almost cancelled this year because of Covid-19 travel restrictions that prevented many of the guest performers from being able to attend. Egypt's Ministry of Culture is the organiser behind it.

The opening ceremony took place on Saturday night at the Citadel of Saladin in Old Cairo, and was attended by hundreds of music-lovers whose cheers could be heard outside the stone walls of the historic fortress.

For each iteration of the festival, a nation or two are chosen as the guest of honour, and this year Colombia and South Sudan were picked because of the prominence of percussion elements in their respective folkloric traditions.

"Our guest of honour every year are normally African nations because, when it comes to percussion, African music is unrivalled in its implementation of many different kinds of drums," festival director Siham Yousef tells The National.

The South American nation of Colombia also has a rich history of using percussive instruments in its traditional music, particularly among African-Colombian communities.

Aside from Egypt, which is well-represented this year, groups from Palestine, Syria, Colombia, the Philippines, Indonesia, Sudan, South Sudan, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Yemen and the Democratic Republic of the Congo are also participating.

epa09266285 Artists from all the participating troupes perform during the opening ceremony of the 8th International Festival for Drums and Traditional Arts in the Cairo Citadel, Cairo, Egypt, 12 June 2021. The 8th International Festival for Drums and Traditional Arts festival runs from 12 to 18 June and hosts bands and groups from 30 countries performing at eight different cultural and historical hubs in Egypt's capital.  EPA/KHALED ELFIQI

While the festival’s focus is certainly on percussion, attendees have been delighted to hear a wide variety of other traditional instruments, such as the ney, the mizmar and the oud.

The theme of this year's event is Drums Dialogue for Peace, which festival founder Intesar Abdel Fattah explains was a deliberate juxtaposition with the traditional use of drums in war.

"It's funny, because drums were traditionally used to give soldiers a rhythm to march into battle to," says Abdel Fattah. "But in reality, drums are truly a beautifully peaceful addition to any music ensemble. This is what we wanted to focus on this year."

The Egyptian groups performing this year are markedly diverse, each hailing from a different corner of the country, bringing with them a unique folkloric tradition. From love songs to patriotic numbers, the variety of the performances is undeniable.

Groups from Palestine and Syria are also majorly featured this year in light of the solidarity many Egyptians feel with both nations.

Aside from the Saladin Citadel, there are performances taking place at the historic Beit El Sennari in Sayyida Zeinab, which was built in 1794 as the main residence of Ibrahim Katkhuda El Sennari, a Sudanese occultist. El Ghuri Dome and Amir Taz Palace will also be hosting performances for the duration of the festival.

“For the first time, we have chosen some of Cairo’s hidden cultural gems to host the groups this year,” says Yousef.

Entry is free of charge at any of the seven venues involved in the festival.