Ancient Pharaonic harp strums along to new tune - GulfToday

Ancient Pharaonic harp strums along to new tune

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Iman Haddo, a 20-year-old musician, plays a semsemia fan during a music session.

When Mohamed Ghaly's workshop was reduced to rubble in February, he could never imagine that a new cultural centre dedicated to an instrument with Pharaonic roots would thrive just months later.

The semsemia, similar to a harp and made of beechwood with steel strings, is believed to have ancient Egyptian roots. It appears on ornate engravings on tombs.

Ghaly, a carpenter by trade, is one of the last craftsmen in Egypt keeping the cultural heritage of the instrument alive.

"It's an enchanting instrument that summons you in a way, and I answered its call.

In the last century, the triangular lyre-lookalike with a round bottom has become associated with the coastal towns dotted around the Suez Canal, especially Port Said.

The semsemia is normally played in a dhamma (gathering) with a tabla (an Arabic drum) and a riq (tambourine) accompanying as the musicians sing.

'Palpable spirit'

Firefighter Ibrahim Awad, 35, a semsemia fan from an early age, was there on the emotional night when Ghaly had to close up shop.

"What I love is there isn't a band with a leader but a palpable spirit you can feel...it's really interactive," he told AFP.

When British, French and Israeli troops launched an attack in 1956 after then president Gamal Abdel Nasser had nationalised the canal, Egyptians wrote nationalistic songs inspired by their defence of the canal.

The semsemia became a musical weapon of national resistance.

'Not just for men'

Iman Haddo, 20, is part of the young crowd that gathers at Canal 20, where Ghaly displays old photographs of semsemia legends.

She instantly fell in love with the semsemia when she was a teenager after attending a local concert with her father

"We want to show music lovers that the semsemia isn't just for men, that women can play it well and be successful at it," she said.

Agence France-Presse