The Middle East Ensemble at UCSB will embark on a journey to Egypt this July to perform a series of concerts across the country.
The Egyptian Ministry of Culture personally invited the group to tour the country and exhibit its orchestral and dance performances. The troupe is slated to tour through Cairo, Alexandria and Luxor. Of the 70 musicians and dancers who constitute the ensemble — which is made up of students and faculty — 50 will journey to Egypt to perform.
Helmed by founder and director Scott Marcus, a professor in the Music Department’s ethnomusicology program, the group hopes to share both its musical talents and an optimistic message about diversity.
“It’s such a positive celebration of the diversity of Egyptian musical culture,” Marcus said. “This event has the potential to break down a number of the most negative stereotypes that Arabs have of Americans, and equally, stereotypes that Americans have of Arabs.”
The company will perform at such major venues as the Cairo Opera House, and possibly, the Temple of Luxor, in addition to a variety of local spots. The tour is expected to be highlighted on Egyptian television and international stations such as Al Jazeera.
The troupe plans to perform songs that represent a broad spectrum of Egyptian culture and traditions, from classical and religious performances to folk, cabaret and children’s songs. The ensemble will also feature culturally significant artists in their program including Sayyid Darwish and Umm Kulthum — who Marcus said is frequently referred to as the “voice of Egypt.”
“We’re trying to perform a great variety of songs from Middle Eastern culture,” Marcus said. “I believe that this concert tour can truly be a moment for Santa Barbara and UCSB to shine on the national, and even international, stage.”
James Grippo, a UCSB graduate student of ethnomusicology and member of the Middle East Ensemble for 21 years, said members are already anticipating the performances and looking forward to deepening their cultural understandings of the Middle East.
“I think any time Americans come to visit the Middle East they should be sensitive to the culture because it’s important to respect it,” Grippo said. “We’re all educated in the traditions through the music and we have a lot of insight into the religious, classical and folk culture. Everyone that goes will be very well informed.”
After a 2007 campus performance, Egypt’s consul general in San Francisco suggested the group perform at a concert in Cairo. The Ministry of Culture then extended a formal invitation to the ensemble for this occasion.
The group was recognized internationally in 1999 when seven members were invited by the government of Uzbekistan to represent the United States at the annual Festival of Eastern Song in Samarkand. In addition, the troupe has performed on campus and across the U.S.
Director of the MultiCultural Center Zaveeni Khan-Marcus said membership in the ensemble extends beyond singing and performing.
“It really makes a tremendous statement of positive culture through music,” Khan-Marcus said. “The members themselves have developed an appreciation for Middle Eastern culture and music that they may have not had before.”
Those interested in more information about the Middle East Ensemble can visit http://www.music.ucsb.edu/mee/.