Chance had it that all the stars in the first Hayy program in 2006 were female. But the success of the first program set the trend for coming years, according to Charles Akl, co-coordinator at the Al-Mawred Al Thaqafy that now organizes the yearly Ramadan program.
“One of the main aims” of the festival, said Akl, “is to develop Arab independent music.” The Hayy program this year too will host female indie artists from around the world. Topping the list this Ramadan is the renowned British-born artiste Susheela Raman who will perform on the program’s finale night on Aug. 26.
What they all have in common is “this mixed culture and musical themes,” said Akl, expressing that many of the musicians, like Raman, fuse jazz with their own local music.
In 2001, Raman became the first world music artist to be nominated for the coveted Mercury Prize given to the best album in UK/Ireland. She is known for her compositions that blends Indian music, in which she trained as a child and returned to in 1995, with more global sounds of funk, rock and roll, and particularly jazz and blues.
Another highlight of this year’s fest will be the Palestinian prodigy, Nai Barghouti, performing on Aug. 25. Born in 1996, Barghouti is a flutist with five compositions to her name already. The youngest addition to the line-up this year (or indeed any year at Hayy), the 14-year-old has won many accolades at the Marcel Khalife National Competition several times. The resident of Ramallah whose talents run the gamut of classical Arabic music to jazz is also an accomplished singer.
The stars of other Ramadan nights are no less accomplished. Maryam Saleh from Egypt too has been an early-bloomer, performing as a singer and actress since the age of seven. Saleh, who continues to be active, has founded and participated in a variety of projects in theater. Confidence booms in Saleh’s voice that finds a surprise partner in her playful mannerisms.
Another local talent will also perform in Hayy, but this accomplished gentleman, Fathy Salama, will actually be accompanying the Algerian female artist in the line-up. Karima Nayt has performed several times with Grammy-award-winning Salama and his group Sharkiat. Also an award-winning actress and dancer, Nayt sings in Arabic, English, French, and Berber.
The sounds and sways of electronica, reggae, and flamenco will also fill the El-Geneina Theater.
Hailing from Tunisia, Badiaa Bouhrizi, performing Aug. 18, has traversed through a variety of genres — her voice floats easily on an acoustic jazzy melody just as easily as it does with electronic beats. Her music finds a place in reggae, Berber music, soul and pop.
Bouhrizi’s project, Neyssatou, represents, according to the Hayy program, “the original essence of the North African spirit.” Yet, neither music nor life seems to be one thing or the other for Bouhrizi. In her bio, the artist refuses to indulge in “futile rhetorics” and aims to “keep music pure.” Her songs wax both lyrical and critical as her music walks a delicate balance between various styles.
Reggae, pop, and a good dash of flamenco will be on offer as El-Geneina kicks off with Spanish artist Ara Musa Honra on Aug. 11. The dreadlocked Honra blends the grungy sounds of reggae with her native Spanish elements — fast paced flamenco called buleria and the tanguillos (think festive tango). The result is music that is always uplifting.
When asked how things had changed since the revolution, Akl noted that previously artists extended their stay in Egypt to visit the Pyramids and other tourist sites. “Now, they are all staying to go to Tahrir Square.”