Egypt Noir
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Egypt Noir

Kuban Ali Hassan / Fadl Mahmoud

In the last decades, Western archeologists unearthed the remains of an advanced Black African civilization thousands of years older than Egypt’s under the deserts of Sudan. But they could have just as easily discovered the funky echoes of this lost world at certain Cairo hotspots, by spending an evening with the rollicking music of the city’s Nubians.

Driven from their homeland when the Aswan dam flooded a great stretch of the upper Nile that once was the kingdom of Nubia, these musical refugees hit Egypt’s big time starting in the 1960s as they fled to its cities. Just as their ancient forbears contributed in untold ways to the flowering of Ancient Egypt, these modern Nubians discovered new niches in Cairo, absorbing the vibrant cosmopolitan possibilities of everything from Cuban beats to James Brown. Their sonic roots in village festivities, pentatonic scales and unique rhythms were transformed by western instruments and urban weddings.

Now, this doubly lost and found culture shows its stuff on Egypt Noir, a collection of the icons and innovators of Nubian music and their songs of life, love, and loss. The Godfather of Nubian grooves, the late great Ali Hassan Kuban, ushered in this new Nubian era by adding novel instruments like saxophones to the village music of his youth. His contribution is honored by two tracks, as well as a musical tribute to Kuban by his Nubian band.

Kuban rocks side by side with musicians like Sayed Khalifa, performers popular at home but little known internationally. They are joined by the younger, hipper generation who take Nubian sounds in wild new directions. Musicians like Salma and Fathi Abou Greisha, who use their wry wit and a voice of bittersweet beauty to combine Nubian sounds with jazz and Caribbean vibes, all while keeping the Nubian spirit bright as it has been for centuries.

Egypt Noir brings together decades of Nubian urban song, giving an unprecedented overview of the neglected musical achievements of this unsung people. The enhanced CD sports a brand new tribal house mix of Mahmoud Fadl’s “United Nubians" and also offers a window into Nubian music’s global past and present with a visual tour of the great “Orientalist" paintings of the nineteenth century, images reflecting European artists' sensual vision of Egypt and Nubia.


Although Nubia was flooded to make way for the Aswan Dam, its musical heritage lives on in the contemporary recordings of the late Ali Hassan Kuban, thanks in part to the efforts of maverick German world music label Piranha. Funky base, soulful vocals, saxophones and powerful percussion (courtesy of Piranha label mate Mahmoud Fadl) make this a very accessible slice of modern Egyptian music.

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