Reviving Ancient Egyptian music: A journey



Fri, 14 Dec 2018 - 03:02 GMT


Fri, 14 Dec 2018 - 03:02 GMT

Khairy El Malt, The Professor Doctor at the Faculty of Music Education, Helwan University, and Founder of the National Project for the Revival of Ancient Egyptian Music

Khairy El Malt, The Professor Doctor at the Faculty of Music Education, Helwan University, and Founder of the National Project for the Revival of Ancient Egyptian Music

CAIRO – 14 December 2018: A fate-changing plane ride over Luxor’s artefacts and mind-blowing heritage left Khairy El Malt wondering about his ancestors and the music they played. The Professor Doctor at the Faculty of Music Education, Helwan University, and Founder of the National Project for the Revival of Ancient Egyptian Music, had been frequenting Qena through Luxor for weeks in the early 1990s; yet, he had not visited any of the touristic locations. He had not yet embarked on his journey to reviving and spreading Ancient Egyptian music.

“I looked outside the window,” Malt revealed to Egypt Today, “I could see all these beautiful locations and I knew that I had to visit them. I had been coming here every Tuesday for a couple of weeks now and it had never crossed my minds to go see them. I thought to myself, how can I be here and not see the sights that people fly thousands of miles to visit.” He continued, “I started to visit touristic places. I was a tourist at first. Then, I started to go again and again. I became a researcher. I started to dwell over our heritage, our history. All those things that people are not talking about but that our ancestors left for us.”

As a musician, the temples and murals fazed him. He saw much documentation of musical events and music being used for different reasons. “Music was used for religious reasons, to celebrate festivals, childbirth, entertain guests, men in the fields and fishermen, along with many other reasons. Music played a big role in Ancient Egypt,” Malt explained.

According to Malt and Sherif Hamdy, Professor Doctor in Western Solfege Department at the Faculty of Music Education, Helwan University and Hieroglyphic singer in the Grandchildren of the Pharaohs musical troupe, Ancient Egyptian music had melodic modes, scale system musical sentence, harmony and specific instruments. All of which, according to both doctors, means that they produced complex and impressive musical pieces. According to the research carried out by Malt and his team, Ancient Egyptians had 53 different instruments, each of which produced a different sounds, had different depth, aim and size. “We [Egyptians] had a complex musical presence at the time where other cultures didn’t have a lot of things,” explained Hamdy.

With a notebook and pen in hand, Malt continued his visits to touristic sights. He would sketch the music-related drawings to analyse later. Malt felt responsible for informing people about music in Ancient Egypt, “I was, and still am, of course, proud of our heritage and want people to find out about the musical part of Ancient Egypt. I want to spread this knowledge.”

Throughout his visits to Qena, Malt started to build a national project to revive Ancient Egyptian music. The project has two aspects: academic and cultural.

To bring his idea to life, Malt began to knock on the doors if international organizations. Eventually, in 2004, the European Union (EU) gave him a grant to form an international-Egyptian research team to investigate and explore Ancient Egyptian music. The ‘Individual Mobility Grant’ enabled Malt to team up with people from around the world, becoming the research team to be called on if one needs to check musical facts related to Ancient Egypt. Through their work, Malt and his team were able to secure another grant. This time through the World Bank in 2005 to establish a diploma for Ancient Egyptian music.

Simultaneously, Malt explained, “we had set up a musical troupe called Grandchildren of the Pharaohs and had started writing music, practicing and introducing ourselves to the Egyptian and international communities.” Dressed in Pharaonic wear, using original instruments, the Grandchildren of the Pharaohs musical troupe is the first of its kind in the world. It performs music inspired by murals and documented musical events that revealed the style of harmonies played at the time.

On the academic front, the aim is to study the instruments that Ancient Egyptians used and recreate them with the aim of understanding their poetry and harmonies better. “I also wanted to spread this knowledge to musicians and people, in general; so, I thought a diploma would be able to educate people on the topic sufficiently,” explained Malt. He exclusively revealed to Egypt Today that he has written a master’s program handbook that he will introduce to the Minister of Higher Education sometime soon. This program is expected to launch during the next academic year.

Speaking about the diploma, Ibrahim Aly Hamdy, a student undertaking the diploma and Professor of Music Studies, explained that the “unique experience has allowed [them] to be specialized and stand out among the crowd.” This unique experience, according to Laila Niazi, a teacher affiliated with the Ministry of Education and student in the diploma, has broadened her mind and made her see Ancient Egyptian artefacts differently. Recollecting her most recent visit to the Great Pyramids of Giza, Niazi said, “When I went to the pyramids after starting this diploma, I saw it in a different way. I started to imagine what it was like at the time like I had never before. I enjoyed the experience more.” Niazi is set to join the Grandchildren of the Pharaohs troupe, the troupe established by Malt in 2007 to spread Ancient Egyptian Music around the world, soon.

Ahmed Nour who works in the stock market and whose love of music pushed him to pursue the diploma agreed with Niazi. “The diploma opened my eyes to things that I had not noticed before. We share a lot of values with our ancestors; a lot of what we do is a natural progression to their actions and beliefs,” Nour explained.

On the cultural front, Malt wanted to reclaim the culture that people were trying to steal, to take as their own, something that he claims to have seen during his travels around the world. This led him to create the Grandchildren of the Pharaohs troupe that plays authentic instruments recreated from versions of those used in Ancient Egypt and sing hieroglyphic poetry taken from the murals.

The troupe aims to spread the idea that Ancient Egyptian music is the mother of music in the world and let people understand how advanced Ancient Egyptians were, as explained by Dalia Abdelhai, Doctor at the Faculty of Music Education, Helwan University and a troupe member. “Like they now know that the origin of astronomy, medicine and so on is from Egypt, we want them to know that the beginning of music is from Egypt. We are not making something up, we want to show people what is already on the murals that is why we do all this research,” explained Dlia Abdel Hai, Doctor in the Piano Department at the Faculty of Music Education, Helwan University.

Abdelhai enthusiastically explained that people come from all around the world to see our monuments and temples; “they study and appreciate our culture more than we do.” She continued, “We need to be proud of our culture and show it off to the world. It is our role to reconnect with the past and develop it.” Walaa Samir, a producer and director, undergoing the 2000-Egyptian-Pound diploma agreed, adding that the diploma allows them to “understand the link Egyptians have with their ancestors.”

Asmaa Karem Mahmoud, Professor in the Solfege Department and member of the troupe, added that much of what we do today, celebrate and say dates back to the Ancient Egyptians. “‘Khai’ and ‘Khaity,’ for example, is currently used in many areas in Egypt to mean brother and sister, respectively; these two words date back to the Ancient Egyptian time.” This also applies for ‘Tata-Tata,’ a phrase used to encourage toddlers to take their first step that means step-by-step hieroglyphics; and ‘kokh,’ a word used to tell toddlers to stay away from something that means not clean in the Hieroglyphic language. Mahmoud added that the phrase ‘wahawi ya wahawi, iyaha,’ which has left many Egyptians confused, often questioning its origin without success, dates back to Ancient Egypt too. According to her, it means, “moonlight, moonlight, please light for us.”

Both the troupe and the diploma aim to spread the music of Ancient Egypt and protect the hieroglyphic language that we have derived many phrases from. According to members of the troupe, Egyptians are the primary benefiters of keeping the Hieroglyphic language study alive, as it enables us to understand our heritage and read the engraved stories on the murals. Forgetting the language would lead to a significant decline in our knowledge of the Ancient Egyptian monuments, according to troupe members.

Insisting on the importance of realising that there harmonies are inspired, Hamdy explained that by looking at murals, one can see the exact position of musician’s fingers on instruments, which, in turn, reveals their style and whether they were all playing the same note or different notes.

Hamdy explained, “the songs and symphonies that we sing and play are inspired by Ancient Egyptians Murals. The Pharaohs were very precise in their documentation of events and so although these are not the songs they played, it sounds very similar to it. By documenting their concerts and showing the exact position of the fingers and drawing the instruments so precisely, we can imagine what they played and how they played it. They have poems on the Murals as well that show us the lyrics that they sung. We translate the poems to understand it and feel it when we are singing it, we were also taught phonetics by professors of hieroglyphics to ensure that we have very precise pronunciation.”

Agreeing, Malt explained that murals show different notes being played at the same time by musicians, meaning that evidence of harmony in Ancient Egypt exists. The troupe not only created the symphonies based on murals, they also base them on the psychological state at the time of Ancient Egyptians, as documented on the walls, as well as the number of strings, melodic modes, mood and the reactionary actions at the time. “Yes, these are not the exact songs but they are very close to those that were there at the time,” Hamdy explained.

The troupe started to spread its music around the world. They got invited to musical nights, culture nights, concerts and even Egyptian embassies across the world. “The eye hears and the ears see,” explained Malt and Hamdy when asked why they dress in Pharaonic wear. Hamdy continued, “We want people to be engulfed with the experience. They need to listen to us while imaging themselves in Ancient Egypt, 7,000 years ago. This is why we use authentically recreated instruments from the times of the Pharaohs, dress in their fashion and sing in Hieroglyphics. It is about reclaiming out culture but also enjoying an authentic, unique experience.”

The first of its kind to sing in Hieroglyphics, the troupe sings the poems engraved in murals after translating them. Hamdy elaborates, “Music is felt, not simply played. By translating the lyrics, we are able to feel their words and understand how we should sing them. We also have trainers that show us how to pronounce words. We are trying to protect out heritage, so we have to be very careful to pronounce words carefully and clearly.”



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