Muhammad Bashir: An Upper Egyptian Embraced in Cairo
By: Sayed Mahmoud
Published Friday, August 10, 2012
Cairo - Tonight, Muhammad Bashir will appear on stage at Saqiyat al-Sawi Theater in Zamalek, Cairo. He will be introducing new songs interspersed with his already impressive repertoire of well-known Upper Egyptian traditional songs.
Bashir first became well known when his song Bitmayyel (You Lean) was featured in the film Inta Umari (You Are My Love, 2004) by director Khaled Youssef.
Bashir wants to develop a style which restores status to popular heritage by liberating it from its old templates, making it contemporary and concentrating on popular “lessons” and short stories with a moral at the end. This lends his songs a soft wisdom that comes intertwined with details of daily life.
Bashir, 43, relies primarily on the vocal heritage of the Jaafira tribes, to whom he belongs. They came from Arabia to settle in the town of Idfu, southern Egypt. He also chooses songs that reflect his experiences from the repertoire of the great eulogists of Upper Egypt.
Muhammad Bashir says that when he sings, he is conscious of the “inspiring” experiences of people like Cheb Khaled, the eulogists of the Hilali epic, and the famous religious chanter, Sheikh Nasr al-Din Tobar.
He says he is very excited by the idea of the “music of nations.” Bashir got to know the “treasures of our heritage” in his childhood, but he only realized their importance when he was studying Arabic Literature at Cairo University. There, the professors encouraged him to contemplate the styles of traditional performances and recognize the variety in them.
Bashir believes that what he offers is very unique, because “the singing tradition in Upper Egypt is generally reduced to the works of the great singer, Muhammad Mounir, who relied primarily on the Nubian tradition. Other important works have been neglected and marginalized because the people performing them have not been able to leave Upper Egypt and come to Cairo.”
Muhammad Bashir does not feel that his exposure to a “large audience” has come too late. He explains: “Fifteen years ago, opportunities to become famous in Cairo were very slim. The state monopolized all performance venues and production. However, the last five years have seen some important initiatives offering many opportunities for performances of different styles of songs. Independent groups flourished, offering material that varied from what was generally prevalent which portrayed contemporary Egyptian art, such as the al-Sawi and al-Gineina theaters.
In tonight’s concert, Bashir will celebrate freedom with his audience, sharing songs about the revolution. Bashir does not hide his fear that the margin of freedom for artists might shrink under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood. But he is still optimistic about the future “which will be for freedom of expression.” He laughs as he insists that the heritage he employs in his work is “full of images that circumvent the censor and resist all forms of tyranny, be it religious or political.”
Muhammad Bashir concert: 9.30pm August 10, Saqiyat Al-Sawi Theater, Zamalek, Cairo. For information: 002227368881; www.culturewheel.com.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.