Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Sounds from the Deep

Egypt has been much in the news of late and like everyone, I felt a great sense of joy in the fact that the young of today are capable of such acts of defiance and bravery.  Their voices can make a difference.  We shall have to see whether the older generation, who always want to cling to their power and keeping the status quo, will respond.  Nonetheless, people have proved that they can unite in this manner.  This is enough to alarm the rigid regimes that exist everywhere.  These regimes exist because the 'old' hates to give way to change - to the 'new' and the young. It is a cycle of history and it is important that the younger generation constantly challenges the old in this way or nothing would change, everything would atrophy and we would all still be in the Stone Age.

Egypt is a place that echoes in all our hearts here in the West.  Its history has changed, stretching far back in time, long before the Fatimid dynasty conquered the land of the Pharaohs and yet it is a strangely timeless country. As one travels down the river Nile from Cairo to Luxor the scenery has scarcely altered and the people along the banks still ply much the same trades as those men and women depicted on scenes in the royal tombs.

Cairo, however, like all great modern cities has become a big, bustling place full of high rise blocks and spaghetti motorways. It looks like any other capital now, much of the old character lost due to wars and the encroachment of modernisation and the use of the car. There has also been the inevitable spread of a poverty stricken population who have ignored all efforts to keep them from building their shanty towns on the edges of the city, creeping thus closer and closer to the Pyramids. Eventually they will engulf them, swallow the past in the needs of the present. In that respect the Arabs have always been more aware of present needs and thus the pyramids have slowly been stripped of their lovely polished stones which now adorn many a Cairene house and ancient treasures have been scattered around the world. Who is to say that is wrong? Starve in the present in order to maintain past glories?

I was born in Cairo during the War and so my conscious memories are few and far between. Yet these early memories sink down into one’s unconscious and their recall can be startling. In the Eighties, a friend asked me to come to a nearby church to hear them perform David Fanshawe’s beautiful ‘African Sanctus.’ I had never heard this music before and assure you it is just stunning. The Sanctus of the Latin Mass is accompanied in its various parts by unique and rare recordings made by the composer as he hitch hiked along the Nile and Sudan in the late 1960’s. He captured a fast disappearing mixture of religious songs, recitations, tribal dances, weddings and other African sounds and blended these with the religious music of the West. It is a true uniting of the primitive and powerful emotional music of the soul and the uplifitng, soaring music of the spirit.

It was when we came to the Kyrie, accompanied by a recording of the imam calling the faithful to prayer from his tower on the mosque that I was suddenly seized by an uncontrollable, deep, almost anguished, sensation that arose from my gut and made me want to sob my heart out with an intensity that shook me to the core. Being very British, I managed to hold back these intense emotions, though tears streamed down my cheeks much to the alarm of my friends. It was only afterwards when I read the programme properly I found that this was recorded in Cairo. This early sound from my childhood, the beautiful ullulating cry to the faithful to come and worship Allah, was in my soul.

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Favourite Quotes

  • My home is my retreat and resting place from the wars: I try to keep this corner as a haven against the tempest outside, as I do another corner of my soul. Michelle de Montaigne
  • Happiness is when what you think, what you say and what you do are in harmony: Mahatma Gandhi
  • Friends are people you can be quiet with. Anon.