Aswan Music Project (AMP) - Egypt

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Performing together, Gharb Aswan, Aswan, Egypt (May 2017).
Salam Yousry leading a children's group in Silwa al-Bahari, Aswan, Egypt (May 2017).


Conceived by Michael Frishkopf, Director of the Canadian Centre for Ethnomusicology at the University of Alberta, and developed in close collaboration with the Aga Khan Music Initiative directed by Fairouz Nishanova, the Aga Khan Foundation (Egypt), the Om Habibeh Foundation (an Egyptian registered charitable organization based in Aswan), Ashraf el-Kennawy, and a local team including ethnomusicologist Kristina Nelson, El Mastaba founder Zakaria Ibrahim, and filmmaker Tamer Eissa, the Aswan Music Project aims to harness tremendous power of music and arts education to mobilise and connect communities, seeking stronger social integration and pluralism while celebrating richness and diversity of Aswan’s cultural heritage.

See intro video.

See map of project locations

The general aim of the Aswan Music Project is to promote the emergence and amplification of a “musical civil society” in Aswan: a socially extensive and extensible, culturally and economically vital and viable, locally sustainable social layer in the Governorate, rooted in Aswanese and Egyptian musical traditions, and creatively extended via exposure to diverse global musical currents. Through a civil society expanded and strengthened by music culture, we anticipate also tangible social and economic benefits. During the initial phase (May 2017 - Dec 2017), emergence is to be catalyzed through four pilot initiatives—(1) musician meetups, (2) musical training, (3) public events, and (4) research and documentation—all designed to support the broader programs of the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) and Om Habibeh Foundation (OHF) towards the social and economic development of Aswan.

The key strategy of the Aswan Music Project is the cultivation and development of “traditional music,” not as a fixed canon but, abiding by the word’s Latin root (tradition, “handing down”), as sounds and practices that are passed down through the generations. There is no reason such music can’t change, and it typically does! Often orally defined, hence embodied, flexible and adaptive—rooted in the past, but open to creative possibilities in the future—traditional music offers what is in effect a powerful social technology capable of forging and renewing social bonds within and across generations, by gathering participants; aligning perception, emotion, and behavior; galvanizing a sense of solidarity and purpose; enabling cooperative interactions infusing social bonds with sentiment; and sedimenting an affectively charged collective memory.

By promoting traditional music culture, we aim to catalyze emergence of a stronger, more interconnected, continuous social fabric linking young and old, past, present, and future, and strengthening civil society in the region. The value of such a social fabric is incalculable, if rather intangible. In a more practical vein, developing a musical civil society simultaneously provides concrete potential for economic development through musical employment (particularly for the youth) in the tourism sector, where the full potential of music and allied arts has never been developed to anywhere near its full capacity in Egypt, not only for touristic entertainments, but for musical tourism (foreigners traveling to Egypt specifically in order to learn music and participate in musical events). This is the case, a fortiori, for Aswan, a touristic site replete with natural beauty combined with monuments from Egypt’s pharaonic past, and a fascinating mix of cultures in the present, particularly as a touristic project is planned for the Nile’s west bank, sponsored by AKDN.

Pilot project

The pilot took place May 12 - 24, including village workshops, performances, and focus groups, in three villages: Silwa Bahari, Iqlit, and Gharb Aswan. See map of project locations.


Aswan Music Project press release (AKMI).

Article in Ayn newspaper (Arabic)

On Egyptian morning television program, Niharak Sa`id (Good day)

Ahram Weekly article (in English)