Cairo’s second International Jazz Festival brought together some of Egypt’s best jazz bands as well as groups from eight other countries. One of the key representatives of Egyptian jazz at the festival was Akram el-Sharkawy, whose group meshes jazz with Oriental tunes to produce instrumental melodies composed by el-Sharkawy.
El-Sharkawy’s Group features el-Sharkawy on the keyboard and piano, bassist Ahmed Nazmy, and drummer Hazem Abdel Kader, as well as a secondary ensemble playing instruments including the clarinet, saxophone and violin.
El-Sharkawy, 42, found his passion for performing jazz some 20 years ago. He first established the group Steps in 1999, performing frequently at the Opera House and Cairo Jazz Club. At the time they played mostly covers, but now all el-Sharkawy Group’s performances are based on el-Sharkawy’s own compositions.
One of the group’s most popular and exemplary tracks is Kahraman, a musical maze of ups and downs with all the signposts of good jazz in combination with an undeniably Oriental twang.
El-Sharkawy’s music typically mixes jazz with Oriental rhythms, which is obvious in the use of the doff (an traditional Middle Eastern musical instrument) and the violin. He also mixes other influences like samba, Latin and Bedouin beats. The smooth transmissions and talented players allow such a blend to work. The mix appeals to listeners, who enjoyed the group’s two-hour concert at the Cairo International Jazz Festival on Sunday.
At first the musicians appeared anxious, taking the stage after an astounding performance by the Japanese band Tokyo Freedom Soul. The photographers, some technical problems with sound, and creepy smoke threw the audience off at first, but the group’s inspiring music gradually won them back and gained the audience’s admiration. While the band could use some agility to create more of a stage presence, the performance was entertaining overall.
El-Sharkaway, who is currently working on recording his first CD, said he hopes the festival "will open the door for more jazz players from around the world to come perform in Egypt." Noting that Egypt is somewhat behind in the jazz genre compared with countries, such as Syria, which has three jazz festivals a year, he added, "I just hope it will continue."