Mahmoud Fadl,
The Drummers of the Nile
in Town: CairoSonic

(Piranha, 2003)

In 1967, Mahmoud Fadl moved to the Egyptian capital Cairo in order to make his name in the music scene there. Initially he played in the troupes that were hired to perform at weddings and other festive occasions -- Egyptians know how to throw a party. Later he traveled the world as one of North Africa's most celebrated drummers, but he always returned to the continent's largest city, a crossroads where the Mediterranean, Arab and African worlds meet.

Actually, Mahmoud's own roots lie further south, in Nubia -- an ancient land located in what is now known as northern Sudan and southern Egypt. In antiquity this region was a frontier between the Egypt of the Pharaohs and that other great African civilization: Ethiopia. As such it straddled the dark interior of this vast continent and the lands of the Nile that were in contact with the great empires of the Fertile Crescent and Mediterranean.

Mahmoud's music merges the dual influences of his ancestral Nubia and adopted domicile. It also betrays the distinct character of the peasant music of the "Sa'id" or Upper Egypt, which borders on his homeland.

For his The Drummers of the Nile in Town project, Mahmoud went back to Cairo's Muhammad Ali Street. Located near the congested Ataba Square in the city center, this used to be the assembly point of the city's music scene -- a rather amorphous network of band players who were hired on the spot to provide entertainment at their patrons' functions. Although he did not manage to find many of his former partners, he re-established contact with Mohamed "Kallo" Sobhi, and also bumped into Magdi Berbish, the son of one of his old colleagues. This core was reinforced with members of the Khalil family, a clan of mizmar (clarinet) players from Upper Egypt. By chance, Mahmoud also met six remaining musicians of the Hasaballah Brass Band, whose glory years go back more than half a century to the time of Faruq, the decadent last king of Egypt who was deposed in Nasser's coup of 1952.

The Drummers of the Nile in Town is therefore the fruit of the joint efforts of more than a dozen instrumentalists. The album contains 23 tracks featuring an array of percussion instruments, mizmar, riq (a kind of tambourine), accordion, trumpet and saxophone. Most of the tunes played are originals by Mahmoud Fadl, Kallo or Magdi Berbish. On the track called "Nakrazan" -- a traditional piece rearranged by Mahmoud -- the master gives way to 13-year-old Magdi Khalil Ibrahim for playing the drum solo. The collection is closed with "Bellah Aament" -- called a "Kush remix" (Kush was the name of a former Nubian Kingdom).

Drummers of the Nile in Town is vintage Mahmoud Fadl, an infectious collection of festive Arab-African music that has entertained Egyptians, and others around the world, for decades.

- Rambles
written by Carool Kersten
published 9 April 2005

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