In 2011, two San Fransico-based East Africans, Egyptian ethnomusicologist Mina Girgis and Ethiopian-American singer Meklit Hadero, wanted an innovative and effective way to inform the world of the growing freshwater crisis crippling the nearly 440 million inhabitants of the Nile River basin in Africa.
The answer was the foundation of The Nile Project, a music ensemble that brought musicians from the 11 countries of the great river together to entertain, engage, and educate its viewers on the challenges at the heart of the conflict. The idea is to use the numerous cultures’ unique perspectives on the situation to inspire university students around the world to think culturally and attempt to identify the potential of world-wide cooperation.
The mission statement of the organization is as follows:
The Nile Project is transforming the Nile conflict by inspiring, educating, and empowering an international network of university students to cultivate the sustainability of their ecosystem. The project’s model integrates programs in music, education, dialogue, leadership, and innovation to engage students across disciplines and geographies.
The music is the product of close cultural exchange between the dozens of musicians of the project and the 11 countries they call home. Songs native to one country have been blended with instruments, vocals, and ideas from other countries, resulting in a harmonious product that encourages further cultural cooperation. The show is presented as one long musical piece consisting of an amalgamation of numerous other scores that have been carefully and emotionally unified to flow flawlessly while featuring a rotating lead performer or soloist. To complement the river basin’s well-known history with percussion, the collective features prodigies on African instruments that include: oud, violin, simsimiya, and the Egyptian ney. Added to this, of course, are a plethora of powerful vocals.
This cultural diversity makes for an entertaining event; one for which there are few equals. In 2013 the troupe released its first album, Aswan, named appropriately after the city in Egypt where it was recorded (during their first ever show). The group will also release a second album from their 2014 tour; however, it is still a work in progress.
Along with the concert, The Nile Project also hosts a series of discussion-based workshops to spread understanding of the crisis to willing university students. The objective of these workshops is to provide a unique experience that will inform the students about the Nile’s ecosystem and stimulate new methods of communication in hopes of solving the crisis.
The Nile Project is currently touring the US and will find its way to the Champaign Urbana area in the first week of March. The concert will be held at the Krannert Center for Performing Arts on March 6th at 7:30 p.m., and a few of the workshops will be available March 5-7. More information on the event can be found on the project website: www.nileproject.org.
Image: Nile Project’s Cairo concert at Al Azhar Park on January 31st, 2013 by Matiaz Kacicnik