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The Nile Project brings East African music, cooperation to Eisenhower April 23

Image: Matjaz Kacicnik
April 13, 2015

The Nile Project, which uses music to raise awareness of the cultural and environmental challenges along Africa’s mighty river, comes to Penn State for a residency the week of April 20. The highlight of the visit is a concert by musicians from 11 countries at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, April 23, in Eisenhower Auditorium.

Tickets—$38 for an adult, $17 for a University Park student and $28 for a person 18 and younger—are available online at www.cpa.psu.edu or by phone at 814-863-0255 or 800-ARTS-TIX. Tickets are also available at four State College locations: Eisenhower Auditorium (weekdays 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.), Penn State Downtown Theatre Center (weekdays 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. and Saturdays 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.), HUB-Robeson Center Information Desk (weekdays 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and Bryce Jordan Center (weekdays 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.). A grant from the University Park Allocation Committee makes Penn State student prices possible.

The Nile forms a complex system wrought with political, environmental, economic and social challenges. The project seeks to educate and empower Nile citizens to work cooperatively to boost the sustainability of their ecosystem.

The project unites artists from each country in the Nile basin to learn from one another and compose music together.

“To a traditionalist, the Nile Project might look like an ungainly mélange: a gathering of musicians from 11 countries of the Nile basin, playing instruments that weren’t made to share a stage or a song,” wrote Jon Pareles of The New York Times. “They included an Egyptian wooden flute, an oud, African harps, a thumb piano, a saxophone. But at Globalfest, the annual world-music showcase … , the Nile Project was a committed, euphoric international coalition. The musicians had worked out the nuances of modes and rhythms to join one another’s songs, no longer separated by geography or politics. Some of the music showed roots in Arabic culture, some in East African polyrhythms; the words were in various languages, the voices gentle or declamatory or cutting.”

The project’s orchestra features percussion from Kenya, Uganda and Egypt plus other instruments such as the masenko (single-stringed bowed lute), ney (end-blown flute), simsimiyya (plucked lyre), tanbura (long-necked stringed instrument) and adungu (arched harp).

Mina Girgis, who co-founded the project in 2011, was born in Paris and raised in Egypt. At 22, he enrolled at Florida State University, where he studied hospitality and ethnomusicology before going on to graduate school in California.

“We were interested in bringing musicians together from the 11 Nile countries to collaborate on creating music that would both help expand people’s cultural curiosity and musical curiosity in the Nile basin—about their river neighbors—and also facilitate conversation beyond music to get people to start talking more about the water conflict that we face and the water issues that we have to overcome together,” Girgis said.

The project unites instruments and musical traditions that weren’t historically connected.

“Most of the world-music fusion projects … have given little attention to the process and more attention to the product. You bring musicians together that are masters in their own traditions, and they come together and they quickly cook up some fusion. You can still see the different styles,” Girgis said. “Most people don’t spend weeks educating the musicians in their respective styles so that you have a Ugandan who can play Egyptian maqam and an Egyptian who can play Ugandan polyrhythms on every song.”

Each year, the project musicians get together for a two-week residency. They also compose music when they’re on tour. In between, they meet online.

NPR named “Aswan,” the project’s first recording, one of the “five must-hear international albums” of 2013. A second album, “Jinga,” is slated for release this year, Girgis said.

The Center for the Performing Arts and its university partners have scheduled an array of engagement activities, many featuring Girgis and the musicians, that are free and open to the public. For details, go to http://cpa.psu.edu/events/nile-project.

Watch a preview of The Nile Project.

Days Inn Penn State sponsors the concert. The Sidney and Helen S. Friedman Endowment also provides support.

Artistic Viewpoints, an informal moderated discussion featuring Mina Girgis, president and chief executive officer of The Nile Project, is offered in Eisenhower one hour before the performance and is free for ticket holders. Artistic Viewpoints regularly fills to capacity, so seating is available on a first-arrival basis.

Photos of The Nile Project for media use are available to download at www.cpa.psu.edu/press.

Find the Center for the Performing Arts on Facebook at www.facebook.com/PSCPA, on Twitter at www.twitter.com/psupresents and on Instagram at www.instagram.com/psupresents.

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