This blog post is the second in a series of posts from =mc’s Senior Associate Consultant Laurence Brady, who is currently undertaking an exciting piece of fundraising work in the Middle East and North Africa. During his time on the project, Laurence will be writing regular blog posts in a series called ‘The MENA Blogs’.
For five consecutive days at the end of January 2011 when Tahrir Square became the focal point for the Egyptian Revolution to remove President Mubarak, a group of musicians played traditional Egyptian music for the crowds. Not just any group, but musicians of the El Mastaba Center for Egyptian Folk Music.
In a top floor, smoke-filled room above the buzzing Cairo district of Abdeen, El Mastaba’s founder, Zacharia Ibrahim, explains to me why he has spent most of his life fighting to preserve Egypt’s musical heritage and give it new life and relevance. Traditional music has always expressed the needs and dreams of the Egyptian people, he says. It came as no surprise to him that the crowds applauded and cheered El Mastaba in those revolutionary moments.
There is even more recent evidence of the durability of both Zacharia’s commitment and the appeal of Egyptian traditional sound. In December 2013 Zacharia organised a 25th anniversary concert of a folk music group that he formed in his native Port Said called El Tanbura. The concert at the Cairo Opera House, promoted mainly through social media, was a sell-out.
Zacharia and El Mastaba are members of the eleven-strong Tamasi network of Arts organisations for whom The Management Centre is working. In spite of the challenges of securing sustainable funding, Zacharia is optimistic about the future. As he says, traditional music has a role to play in the daily life of ordinary Egyptians because it is the story of their lives.
In another part of Tahrir Square during the Revolution, Ossama Helmy had a different creative message for the crowds. Ossama told anyone that would listen about a Japanese legend about the bird with the long neck and legs, the crane: anyone who folds a thousand paper cranes will have their wish granted by a crane.
Ossama is the founder of the Arab Origami Center. It is not a member of Tamasi, but another example of how creative and innovative Arts in Egypt are catching the imagination and the attention of major funders. With funding from the Anna Lindh Foundation, Ossama succeeded in creating the first Arab Origami Festival in 2011. He sees origami as an educational and therapeutic tool that he has used to help children, drug addicts, and people who are deaf or blind.
‘Birds Of The Revolution’ is one of his most successful origami exhibitions to date, shown in France and Egypt. In Tahrir Square, he made not a thousand cranes, but one: two metres by two metres, with hundreds, maybe even a thousand folds. Two days later, he says, Mubarak was gone.