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A fusion of spirit
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 06 - 09 - 2018

Last week, the Egyptian-Armenian oud virtuoso and composer Georges Kazazian gave a concert at the Wisdom Hall of El Sawy Culture Wheel. A nostalgic experience for me, since it had been 15 years since I was introduced to Kazazian's inimitable music, it proved just as unforgettable as the first time. For an hour and a half he was accompanied by ney and mizmar player Nagah Abdel-Hamid, and in what felt more like an improvisational statement than a recital provided his unique blend of eastern and western sounds.
Over five pieces beginning with Munajah, I was glad to see that Kazazian's serene but sure style of performance had not changed. Looking stern while he sat cross-legged in a black outfit with an orange scarf, he took the lead, while in a traditional grey galabiya Abdel Hamid punctuated the oud's melancholy with bursts of mizmar joy. Both also used percussion instruments at various points in the course of the evening. Neither used any notation.
Born in Cairo in 1953, Kazazian has 10 albums to his name, including Sabil (1991), Sajaya (1997), Munajah (2001) and Zafir (2008). With no fixed format or genre beyond improvisational fusion, his music is a kind of Sufi jazz in which the eastern element tends to be more pronounced. His 1999 album Al-Janub relied on tabla and mawwal singing from the south. He has also written music for such films as the late Mohammed Khan's Wife of an Important Man (1988) and Factory Girl (2014) as well as Ali Badrakhan's Hunger (1985).
Francis (photo: Ahmed Al-Borgy)
In the next piece, once you let go of worry and tension, it was possible to hear the seasons: heat and rain. Short and fast, Hind, the third piece, conjured up a passionate female spirit, while Madad — a clearly Sufi reference — was relatively unremarkable. The fourth piece had Greek and Oriental overtones, and the last, dedicated to the great sculptor Adam Henein, featured Karim Francis on the Oriental violin. Kazazian's unusual mix of instruments, notes and tempos makes listening to otherwise familiar sounds an unprecedented experience.
Like Fathi Salama and Yehia Khalil, Kazazian gives concerts year round, but it is strange and frustrating that they seem to attract only foreigners and some intellectuals. Could this be the price of genuine innovation? We won't know until there is more fusion to choose from.

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