Season 4 of Center Stage sees first Egyptian participation



Thu, 13 Sep 2018 - 10:10 GMT


Thu, 13 Sep 2018 - 10:10 GMT

Three Egyptian bands selected for season 4 of Center Stage - US Embassy in Cairo

Three Egyptian bands selected for season 4 of Center Stage - US Embassy in Cairo

WASHINGTON – 14 September 2018: Egypt participates for the first time in US-sponsored cultural-exchange program, Center Stage, in its fourth edition, with three music ensembles from Cairo touring across the US.

The public diplomacy initiative was launched by the US Department of State in 2012, bringing to American soil, a range of 154 artists in 24 ensembles from nine different countries.

The Egyptian bands participating in the fourth season are: Dina el- Wedidi, Youssra el-Hawary and Karkade. Two Ukranian bands are also partaking in the fourth season.

Speaking with the US Embassy’s Press Attaché Samuel Werberg about the Egyptian artists’ participation, he said that “Each group chosen from Egypt to participate this year brings something unique that American audiences would not normally be exposed to.”

He added that “the groups are also chosen based on their level of professionalism, their ability to sustain a lengthy tour across America, and their potential to move to a much higher level of international recognition through this program.”

Werberg further explained to Egypt Today that music is among similarities that bind Egypt and US together, and that they look forward to seeing how Egyptian artists will interact with American artists and others during the tour.

“If the result of this program is a better understanding of Egypt and Egypt’s rich culture diversity by the American audience members, then we will consider that a great success,” he continued.

The fourth season kicked off on Sept.6. Karkade was the first band to arrive in Washington, followed by Youssra el-Hawary on Sept. 9, and Dina who will depart from Cairo to DC on late Thursday.

On board of her flight to DC, Egypt Today covering the program this year meets with Dina and her band, who spoke about their excitement to be part of this season and their high expectations of a successful tour across different US communities.

On Center Stage

With around 85 US communities visited during the past years, the initiative aims to expand the audience platforms of the participating bands globally and expose the US audience to different cultures.

In-door and out-door concerts, residencies in large and small cities, workshops, community gatherings and educational and artist-to-artist activities are features of each tour’s intensive schedule.

Bands participating in the program are selected by nominations made by artists, US Embassy personnel and people with knowledge about art ensembles in the identified countries.

The selection process is administered by the New England Foundation for the Arts and Lisa Booth Management after nominations are reviewed by a panel and delegations’ travel to each country to meet with candidates.

“Since 2012, the program has welcomed important new voices into our national cultural dialogue, enlarging our world and sharing diverse, global perspectives directly with communities in the U.S. and via real time virtual interactions with fans and allies abroad,” according to Center Stage’s website.

As the aims of the program are two-fold, Werberg went on explaining that a number of groups who previously participated in the program managed to make new professional contacts that they have then used to get booked for tours and events in US on their own.

“This is the ideal outcome for this, that Egyptian artists and others will have direct connections with their counterparts and music professionals in America, one of the biggest music markets in the world,” he noted.

Who are the bands selected this year?

Dina Elwedidi - Courtesy of Center Stage website/ Photo by Azema Photography

Dina el-Wedidi became an international icon for her delicate fusion of local and global styles of music that earned her a leading spot among underground musicians in her country, Egypt.

Wedidi’s voice caught the sentiments of Egyptians, Arabs and even foreign audience, with her lyrics, music and performance on stage.

She captured attention for her unique style of singing, although she never knew she had the talent. It all started in 2008 when she decided she had to explore the beauty of music.

One can touch her passion about oriental languages in her music, as she studied Turkish and Persian literature in the Faculty of Arts.

Throughout her journey, Wedidi collaborated with various artists such as Kamilya Jubran and Fathy Salama. She also shared the stage with legendary Gilberto Gil.

She has been part of several projects that included foreign collaborations, including the Nile Project. Also, she is part of a music project tracking the history of the railway system in Egypt.

Youssra el Hawary - Courtesy of Youssra

A mix of innovative original music in content and style, a charismatic charm and a distinctive voice paved the way to fame for song-writer and accordionist Youssra el-Hawary.

Hawary first started with playing accordion, and then she began singing about real-life events that influenced her. Hawary is visiting the US for the first time as part of her participation in Center Stage’s fourth season.

“Perfect, easy magic. I'm totally hooked on music by this folkie-ish, indie-ish, chanson-ish singer/songwriter from Egypt armed not with a guitar, but ... an accordion,” said NPR’s All Songs Considered.

Her music was greatly inspired by the 2011 Revolution in Egypt. In 2012, she released her first hit single “El Soor” (The Wall), which was a satirical, political take on the Egyptian situation then.

Amid the marginalization of underground bands, let alone the high cost of production, accordion player, singer and composer Hawary launched a crowd funding campaign to produce her first album “N’oum Nasyeen”, which translates to “We Wake Up Forgetting.”

She previously spoke to

Egypt Today

about her first album, and her traveling abroad, which added to her style. She said she was “taught different music styles such as Jazz and Kango through accordion when she traveled to France.”

Mohamed Abo Zekry & Karkadé - Courtesy of Center Stage website/ Nada Elissa

Choosing to call his band “Hibiscus Tea”, which is widely enjoyed on Egyptian streets, adds fragrance to the group’s attractive oriental music. Mohamed Abo Zekry founded his five-member band in December 2015, and released their first album in 2016.

Abo Zekry is a composer and musician who studied at Beit El-Oud and was a member of El-Sharq Orchestra, led by famed Nasseer Shama.

“Oud has character as an instrument and doesn’t have to be stuck in any one style,” the US monthly music digital Paste Magazine said.

In 2014, Abo Zekry graduated with a bachelor's degree in music composition from Université Lumière Lyon 2 in France. He has been part of numerous projects and bands, in addition to composing film scores.

He also embarked on a schedule of solo and collaborative projects that took him around the globe. When he returned to Cairo, he found very few musicians who master the older styles he likes to play.

“The commercial scene today has absorbed the overwhelming majority of skilled musicians of the past few generations,” Abo Zekry told Center Stage . “There are fewer and fewer resources for culture, especially for traditional culture. There are also next to no new creations based on this heritage.”

Center Stage brings Abo Zekry to the US for the first time, where he will get the chance to introduce his classical music mixed with Sufi calls to a different audience.



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