Nubia was an ancient African kingdom in the Nile valley, situated between present-day southern Egypt & northern Sudan. Sometimes referred to as Kush or Aithiopia, it is thought to have been one of the earliest settled societies in the region, occupying an important trade route through North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa and the Mediterranean.
NubaNour are a Cairo-based collective of Nubian singers and master frame drummers, performing traditional music and dance from antiquity alongside contemporary songs reflecting the ongoing struggles of life in exile after the loss of their Aswan homelands in the 1960s during the construction of the High Dam.
The Aswan High Dam became a symbol of Egyptian nationalistic pride following the 1952 Revolution, promising to usher a new era of prosperity through industrialisation. Financed by the USSR and hailed, at the time, as a triumph of water management and the might of hydroelectricity, the project resulted in the creation of Lake Nasser, one of the world’s largest man-made reservoirs. Perhaps not since the time of the Pharaohs had Egypt’s aspirations been expressed though such an epic feat of engineering.
It was the people of Nubia however who were to pay a high price for the benefits the Dam bought to the wider Egyptian population, and some fifty years after their ancestral lands were drowned under the waters of Lake Nasser the environmental and social impacts of the High Dam are still felt amongst those who were disposed.
While some Nubians were moved by the Government to new settlements in Aswan, to a place known somewhat dispraisingly as the Valley of Hell, the majority of Egyptian Nubians sought refuge elsewhere across the country, including Cairo where the first incarnation of the NubaNour group was created by the late El Said Gamal in 1962.
NubaNour’s repertoire comprises both the sacred and secular. The band’s hybrid Sufi chants feature verses equally praising Christian and Islamic saints, reflecting the influence and dominance of different religions and spiritual practices in Nubia throughout history. Nubian singers pride themselves on having song for very social occasion, from birthing rituals through to tender laments to mark the passing of a loved one’s soul to the afterlife. Typically, theses old tribal customs are performed by call and response vocals, with hand claps and accompanied by the Tar Frame Drum, thought to possess a mystical ability to evoke the sound of fire, water and air - it’s traditional circular construction from palm bark and goat skin said to creating an unending union between the Nubian people and their environment.
Dance also plays a central role in the band’s performances with a unique dance called Frry representing the movement of Balti fish swimming through the waves of the Nile. Agricultural and work songs serve to remind the Nubians of their farming origins while later day poetic songs are meditations about the loss and longing endured by the Nubian people, serving both as a melancholic reminder of their submerged villages in Aswan and as an expression of hope for the growing movement calling for a return to a new home in their ancestral lands.