Friday, October 17, 2008

Tannoura at Al-Ghouri wikala

The one thing that has been on my agenda for the past one year has been to watch the Tannoura performance at Al Ghouri. Unfortunately, not too much information is available on it on the net, and, somehow the things never fell into place.

My husband is travelling, and, I was footloose, so decided this was my moment. The performances are held on Wednesdays and Saturdays so decided on Tuesday morning that I would go. Asked a few like minded friends if they’d like to come watch the show and round it of with dinner at Naquib Mahfouz at the Khan! They all agreed, it sounded like a plan!

Wednesday night found us at the Al Ghouri centre near the Khan, trying to figure out where the show was being held. Finally, a kind soul showed us the way. Al Ghouri centre is on the left of the foot bridge, which by the way is popularly known as the 6 hours bridge, cos it was supposedly erected in 6 hours. At night the resident went to sleep, and, in the morning, hey presto, the bridge was there! I am not kidding. They had pre-fabricated the bridge and then erected it here, my friend explained.

You have to ignore the main building and go to the left of this (if you are facing Al Ghouri) and head towards the Wikala.

You walk past the security to a host of finely made wooden Mashrabiya, overlooking the courtyard as well as the facade of the building. The stone of the walls and the dark brown of aged wood make for a startling combination that looks hauntingly romantic in the subdued hues of the yellow halogen lamps.

I could close my eyes and see the bustling place the wikala must have been with women peering down into the courtyard from their mashrabiya windows as they watched the hustle and bustle of the courtyard, I fancied I could hear the sounds of the traders dismounting with their goods, and, the conversation of the workers as they lugged goods to the storerooms on the 1st and 2nd floor. I could imagine the laughter and yells of young children as they ran around the courtyard, playing their childish games!

Was brought back to reality as we realised that most of the seating was taken! The courtyard had free seating, based on first come first served. The gates are opened at 7.30 p.m. and the show begins at 8.30 p.m. sharp. There are no tickets, and the show is rather popular, the courtyard small, so it fills up very quickly.


The show starts with a set of musicians playing local instruments. The pristine white of their Sufi dresses reminded me the Mawlawia singing praise of the prophet. The musicians all play the local instruments like rebaba (fiddle), ney (flute), mizmar (shawm), sagat (cymbals), and tabla (doumbek drum).

The highlight of the performance was the “jugalbandi” that took place between individual musicians and the rest of the troupe. Each musician steps forward, and plays his instrument which the rest of them attempt to match. It was fantastic!

There was one chap with cymbals / castanets who was grace personified in his movements and the music he made with just the castanets was soothingly gentle and reflected the grace of his movements. And his “jugalbandi” with the rest of the troupe was fascinating. It was amazing that so light an instrument could sound as majestic and strong as a set of drums and tambourines!

This set the mood for what was to come. Accompanied by a singer and the musicians, the Lafife (main dancer) came centrestage. All I can say is that his performance had me captivated for the entire half hour or more that he was twirling. The bright hues of his skirt, the trance like devotion with which he twirled, the white robed Hanatia (junior dancers) who dance tirelessly around him, the soulful melodies that the singer sang so effortlessly, the music rhythms that swung from the slow, the moderate to the accelerated, all added to the impact of the dance.

People say that the secret of the Lafife even with consistent whirls lies in his foot movement. The twirls are broken by the different foot movements which ensures that he does not loose his balance. I do not know whether it’s the footwork or the trance like devotion which keeps them straight on their feet, but whatever it is, its awe inspiring.

Just when we thought the program had ended, the stage was set ablaze by three tannoura dancers in bright hues of red, green, blue, yellow, orange and what have you. If the earlier dance was frenzied but devotional, this was pure entertainment. They twirled, they bent back, lay on the floor, toyed with each other, continuing to twirl the detached skirt. It made me wish that my son was here to see this.




It was a visual delight – myriad colours meshing with a flurry of movements to the recurring beats of drums and some enthusiastic singing! While talking to the manager later, I discovered that these guys are not professionally trained but have inherited this art spontaneously from their forefathers.
The Egyptian Tannoura is different from the Whirling Dervishes of Turkey in that it’s folksier and is much more a popular Egyptian dance rather than a religious one with direct religious rituals, at least that is what was explained to me. This is reinforced by the colourful costumes which reflect the local environment rather than the stark pristine white robes of the Dervishes.

We decided to round the evening off with dinner at Naquib Mahfouz cafĂ© at the Khan – befitting and appropriate end to an Egyptian evening!

1 comment:

Rhonda said...

Thank you so much for this post! I have been to Cairo three times and each visit wanted to see this show. I never made it for one reason or another. If I ever go back to Egypt (frankly hope I don't) I will make an extra effort to see the Whirlling Dervishes! Thanks Rhonda