Like a lot of young boys in Egypt, Abdallah Abozekry had a dream to be a football (soccer) player. His dream changed at age 11.
That’s when he heard the saz — a traditional Middle Eastern stringed instrument that looks like a slender-necked lute.
“I was going to start to learn oud,” he says, referring to another, more common, traditional Egyptian stringed instrument. “But I saw a saz player in the main court of the Arab Oud House-Cairo Academy playing wonderful tunes on the small-size saz, and I was so touched by its sound and how beautiful it looks too. Then the director of the school told me that a department would be opened for this instrument starting from next week and I signed up immediately!”
Abozekry, 20 and one of the youngest experts of the traditional instrument, will bring the saz to in Seattle as part of the OneBeat Festival from Nov. 2 – 7.
The week-long cultural exchange includes artist residencies in Seattle Public Schools and concerts and town-hall forums at venues including the Seattle Art Museum, the Langston Hughes Performing Arts Institute and the EMP Museum.
Public events kick off Wednesday Nov. 4 at a concert at the Columbia City Theater.
The OneBeat Festival involves “24 musicians from more than 17 different countries and we are all going to perform together,” Abozekry said.
“I’ll perform with the Hijazz project, where we will perform a track of our collective composing and arranging. It’s a blend between Eastern music, folk and jazz.”
Education is also a major component of the festival, with several discussions about how music can make positive impact on society and politics — something Abozekry has first-hand experience with in Egypt.
Abozekry says while the political shifts in Egypt have been uncertain in the past five years, the changes have resulted in a flourishing of independent arts and music.
“We had a revolution against the regime — the first time against Mubarak’s regime, and second time against the Muslim Brotherhood regime. I participated in lots of demonstrations, and I participated from the first day of the revolution, but never had a moment of fear for my life, maybe because I was younger and more reckless. But no one actually did feared for his life, we just needed to make a change,” he said.
“Actually, after the five years of revolution almost nothing changed political-wise, but the art scene has developed a lot because of it, especially the underground and independent art, because the revolution has made a huge highlight on it. Lots of venues started to open and people started to be aware that centralism is seriously damaging the art scene and it makes it harder for an artist to survive.”
Other OneBeat artists to catch
OneBeat co-organizer Elena Moon Park also recommends the following artists who will be playing at the Festival:
Gizem Oruc is a producer and activist living in Istanbul, Turkey, who is particularly outspoken about LGBTQ issues in Turkey.
Tariro neGitare is a wonderful Zimbabwean singer-songwriter who speaks very eloquently about contemporary Zimbabwe, where issues surrounding freedom of speech are very pressing, as is concern over one of the highest unemployment rates in the world.
Vieux Cissokho is a kora (traditional string instrument) player who comes from a long line of Griot musicians, a lineage that is passed down through generations in Southern Senegal. He is steeped in tradition but an open collaborator and musical leader.
Arun Sivag is an incredible percussionist and social entrepreneur who lives in Bangalore, India, and uses music to empower children in slums. He is also a supporter of initiatives advancing women’s empowerment and social enterprise.
OneBeat is an initiative of the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, produced by Found Sound Nation and administered by Bang on a Can. For a full schedule and more information, visit http://1beat.org/onebeat-seattle/