Cairo Lecture: Orchestrating Egypt: Cultural Politics and the Adoption of New Instruments in Egyptian Arab Music Ensembles

Presented by: Kira Weiss; Ph.D. candidate in ethnomusicology at UC Santa Barbara

This talk will be followed by an exciting performance of 20th century songs, given by Weiss herself, as well as musicians from the Cairo Opera House!

  • 6:00 PM Cairo Time
  • ARCE Cairo Center2 Midan Simon Bolivar Garden City Cairo Governorate 11461 Egypt
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Lecture Information

When the org and electric guitar were adopted in Egyptian Arabic music ensembles, they were met with significant controversy. This controversy stemmed from a century-long debate about the adoption of new musical instruments in Arabic music.

This talk explores the development of Egyptian Arab music ensembles from the small takht to the large, orchestra-like firqa. Emerging from the field of ethnomusicology–– the study of music in and as culture­­–– this topic serves as a case study in the exploration of national identity and the cultural politics of heritage in modern Egypt.

The lecture will be followed by a performance demonstrating several of the concepts that were presented. Joined by musicians from the Cairo Opera House, Kira will perform a selection of songs from the 20th century and the turāth (heritage).

Speaker Bio

Kira Weiss is a Ph.D. candidate in ethnomusicology at UC Santa Barbara. Her research examines the adoption of new instruments in Egyptian Arab music ensembles in the context of discourses regarding nationalism, postcolonialism, modernity, social class, and affect. Kira’s research focuses on debates over the addition of new musical instruments in the traditional takht ensemble in Egypt, from the violin family to the electric guitar and org. The shifting debates over instrumentation provide a window into broader shifts in Egyptian cultural politics and national narratives over the last century. Kira is currently conducting research in Cairo as a fellow at the American Research Center in Egypt (ARCE).