Originated in the African-American communities of New Orleans, United States, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, jazz music has spread its influence around the globe. Today, in Egypt, the number of Egyptian jazz musicians is steadily growing.
The past decade has witnessed the emergence of many jazz bands in Egypt, such as Cairokee, Massar Egbari, El Dor El Awal and Cairo Steps. These bands have achieved great success and participated in many international festivals and events.
Jazz music in Egypt is usually linked to the name of Yehia Khalil, who is considered one of Egypt's jazz pioneers and who invented "oriental jazz."
“Jazz is different than any other music genre; it reaches directly to the soul,” Khalil told Al-Monitor.
In 1965, Khalil left for the United States to study jazz. Fifteen years later, in 1979, he decided to take what he had learned and move back to Egypt.
After introducing jazz to the Egyptian music scene, through a series of concerts at the Cairo Opera House and cultural centers, jazz music gained popularity in Egypt.
Khalil started mixing oriental music and jazz, creating a unique fusion that was admired by the masses in Egypt and also abroad.
"The audience loves it when I put this unique spin on old folkloric songs from Umm Kalthoum and Wadea El Safi and others," Khalil noted.
In 2009, Egyptian pianist, composer and producer Amr Salah founded the Cairo Jazz Festival (CJF). The annual event celebrates jazz music in Egypt and cultural exchange, with musicians and artists from all over the world.
For nine days starting Oct. 28, jazz music fans will enjoy the 13th edition of the Cairo Jazz Festival that will take place at the American University's Tahrir Campus, in downtown Cairo.
"The Cairo Jazz Festival aims to spread jazz and helps it reach more people — not only as a music genre, but as a life experience with its ideas, freedom of expression and innovation," Salah told Al-Monitor.
He said, "Jazz music is different from other music genres for its improvisation state that excites both musicians and the audience."
The 13th edition of the festival will feature distinguished Egyptian musicians, including El Dor El Awal, Mohamed Abo Zekry Project, Samer George Quartet, Tarek Raouf Ensemble and Bahaa El-Dahabi Quintet, Otaak Band and Soul Trains.
The best of the world’s jazz musicians will play at this year's festival — 20 bands and 95 musicians from the United States, Germany, Austria, Portugal, the Netherlands, Sudan, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Hungary, Bulgaria, Denmark and Egypt.
The current edition also witnesses the return of cultural cooperation between the festival and the United States, as it hosts for the first time three American bands: ICX Jazz Ensemble and the AJOYO group, in addition to American artist of Egyptian origin Ayman Fanous, who will play with the famous American cellist Frances-Marie Uitti.
The festival is not limited to musical performances; a number of different events such as workshops, exhibitions and documentaries have been organized in order to enrich the Egyptian cultural scene and increase the societal awareness of music in general.
"The festival organizes photography exhibitions, reviews the history of jazz and presents a special lecture on the history of jazz in international diplomacy, presented by James Ketterer, dean of the College of Continuing Education at the American University," Salah said.
The CJF repeats its annual tradition in cooperation with the Bandmakers Music Academy, which presents a jazz program for the youth, titled Jazzinino. The youth program aims to introduce children and youth to jazz music by interacting with artists during workshops and group playing.
Jazzinino provides an opportunity to present young musical talent to the public.
As part of its endeavor to spread the culture of jazz music and present it to the Egyptian public on a large scale, the festival will screen two documentaries. The first film is about the life of famous American pianist Dave Brubeck, one of the pioneers of jazz music. The second film reviews the stories of the struggle and suffering of four of the most famous American jazz singers during their careers, and the racism they were subjected to in their lives.
"This year we will hold concerts in many places that never hosted jazz performances before, such as the governorates of Kafr El-Sheikh, Qena and Menyia," Salah said.
He added, "CJF allows jazz to cross borders and transcend its origin. Jazz is a fusion of human experiences that has always absorbed other cultures and ideas, artists, art projects and music styles."
US jazz musician Miguel Merino told Al-Monitor, “I am so excited to attend some of the workshops that will be held during the festival. I am also interested in attending the free improvisation by musician Ayman Fanous and several other performances."
He said, "I will perform twice — at the festival's opening with Egyptian jazz singer Noha Fekry, and on the final day, Nov. 5, I will be playing folkloric songs on the semsemya [stringed instrument] and hand drums with my own band Otaak."
Shaimaa Ismail, a fashion designer, told Al-Monitor, “I can’t wait for the festival to start. This event is exceptional for anyone who enjoys music from all over the world. It provides a chance to attend performances from different cultural backgrounds."