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Samaa Sufi Music Festival brings music world together

Despite being rivals in the political arena, the Indian Qawwali Group and Pakistani Rafi Peer band sang side by side, praising God at Ghouri Dome on Monday night.

The Fourth International Samaa Festival for Sufi Music and Chanting opened with the mesmerizing performance, "Homeland is Man," in which eight musical groups participated.

Inspired by the teachings of the 12th century Sufi mystic Muhyiddin Ibn Arabi, “Love is my religion and faith,” Intissar Abdel-Fattah – music conductor and director of the show – invited 11 music groups from India, Turkey, Morocco, Pakistan, the US, Spain, Algeria, Indonesia, Norway, Sudan and Egypt to perform. A Syrian band was meant to participate, but could not make it due to the current unrest in Syria.

It might seem hard to imagine different bands performing simultaneously, building off one another with some using the Oriental quarter tone and others applying scales of five tones. Yet in "Homeland is Man," the music beats harmoniously, invoking the name of God through Sufi "Dhikr" (Remembrance).

Spiritual elevation is the underlying theme that brought hundreds of audience members – overflowing outside the historic dome – to see the different groups perform.

The American gospel choir, Voices of Inspiration – a newcomer to the festival – chanted for Jesus, while the Indonesian group "Dai Nada" praised Prophet Mohamed. Neither one used musical instruments and relied on their voices to produce musical hymns and clapping as percussion.

A member of the choir said the group usually uses electronic instruments, but decided to go acoustic for the festival. This resonates with the Sufi saying that compares a man’s vocal chords to a flute and argues that it can be more expressive than words.

This year’s festival seeks to emphasize peaceful coexistence and that humans have much more in common than they think.

Before the performance began, Hossan Nassar, of the Culture Ministry’s Foreign Culture Relations sector, announced that this year’s edition is dedicated to Sheikh Ali Mahmoud (1887 – 1946), a pioneer Sufi chanter in the Arab world, as well as Priest Ibrahim Ayad, the lead chanter of the Grand Cathedral.

Abdel Fattah also announced the beginning of the festivities, quoting ancient Egyptian philosopher Hermes Trismegistus.

"I pray in a courtyard beneath the open skies, awaiting dawn on the east side and dusk on the west, until the universe opens up before me to receive my praises to God," Abdel Fattah said.

The show was based on a musical workshop setting, as every band is led by its lead singer, who is in turn guided by Abdel Fattah.

Despite the technical difficulties in terms of lighting, the show was a big success, and Abdel Fattah hopes to hold it in the future by the pyramids in Giza.

Samaa festival continues until 25 August at Ghouri Dome, 111 Azhar Street, Ghouria, Fatimid Cairo.

Tonight’s show will include performances the Indian Qawwali Group, the American "Voices of inspiration" and the Moroccan "Sidi Kadour Alami."

In parallel to the festival, the Second Arabic Calligraphy Forum exhibit is being held.

The closing ceremony, entitled "To the world … a message of peace,” will include performances by the Egyptian Samaa Band for Sufi Chanting, the Coptic Hymns Band, and the Indonesian Band for Islamic Chanting.

The shows starts daily at 9:30pm.

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