In Egypt, zar combines music with exorcism

Auditorium, musicians, audience.. a regular concert? No, because at this point in Cairo, souls rub against the audience’s shoulders and under dim lights sing Umm Sameh to heal the sick of their demons. The zar, which arrived several centuries ago from Ethiopia and Sudan, spread throughout North Africa, especially in Egypt. The names and tools vary, but the goal is the same: to exorcise evil spirits from the victims of the jinn.

Traditionally, the ritual lasts several days and requires animal sacrifices. But in a place, the popular downtown of Cairo, there is no bloodshed: musicians present a soft version that amaze curious Egyptians and tourists eager for exoticism. The audience was affected by the voice of Umm Sameh and his family by the looks of kohl.

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“Zar is a very ancient ritual, associated with healing, it is a kind of medicinal treatment”, explains to AFP Ahmed Al-Maghraby, founder of the Mazaher group, the last group, according to him, to practice zar in public places. In 2000, the place opened “To preserve this heritage and archive Egyptian folk music.”The gray-haired man explains. And to return her lofty discourses to the zar denounced by the pious – Muslims as Christians – and by the authorities who want to get rid of rural traditions to embrace modernity and industrial development.

“Gin and Blood”

“In Egypt, there is sometimes a tendency to disdain local culture or traditions.”Mr. Moroccan regrets. Moreover, when he started 22 years ago, he attracted almost only foreign appearances. They came to the show with the Egyptians. The latter came reluctantly, for zar for them was ‘jinn and blood’, but when they saw the set of appearances and its lighter version of zar, they were pleasantly surprised. »

We are neither charlatans nor witches., annoys Um Sameh, 72, the lead singer of appearances, who remains in her light outfit after the performance. In a patriarchal society where women claim that the law is discriminated against, zar ceremonies are held by the women, beginning among themselves. Umm Sameh learned the ritual since the age of 11 with her mother and grandmother. Sixty years later, she sings the same words, the same melodies and says proudly, “Without notes or written words, we inherited it like this and grew up with it”. “It is a spiritual song that releases negative energies. There are also some mystical supplications.”She continues, imposing circular earrings and arms covered with dangling gold bracelets.

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However, he regrets Abu Samra, a tanbura player – a kind of old harp -, “Some have a very negative idea of ​​the Zar because of the movies” In Egypt, “Arab Hollywood”. In the eighties, the movie chimes visited (“The Zar Strike” in Arabic) summoned the musicians to manipulate the woman by shaking the ghost of the jinn while they were in the condolence(“Fuck”), Arab singers Yousra and Tahia Karioka led to disappointment with fake blood and loud cries. “But it is an art like all the other arts, you have to forget these ideas that have been received.”urges Abu Samra bald head and long galab.


In a sign that times are changing, Mazahir, whose members are all over 60, has found a new recruit: Azza Mazahir, Umm Hassan’s forty-year-old daughter, one of the band’s percussionists. The contrast between mother and daughter is astounding: while Umm Hassan beats drums on a secluded chair, Azza enlivens the dance steps. If someone feels bad and the doctors can’t find a cure, we can organize a party. But here, we offer something light, folkloric, for people to discover, understand and appreciate.”She told AFP.

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The formula appears to be working. Mazhar has already participated in several European festivals. And in Cairo, he convinces more and more Egyptians. They look like us and represent us.Maryam Al-Issawi, who is in her twenties, was excited after the ceremony. For this Egyptian girl with a modern look and a pierced nose, “The zar is part of our history and heritage”.

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The world with AFP

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