Karim Nagi’s energetic performance on Saturday evening in the Den exposed students to various styles of Arabic music and dance.
Nagi, an Egyptian native and multi-instrumentalist, was brought to campus by Arabic Club and the Abbot Academy Association.
Nagi regularly tours high schools and colleges, and although he usually performs solo he said he has played about 300 concerts with Boujemaa Razgui, who accompanied him on Saturday evening.
Nagi explained that what makes Arabic music so great is that “it seems so simple to play, but it’s actually impossible.”
Nagi and Razgui played different instruments for nearly every song, varying from flutes like the “daf” to stringed instruments like the “buzuq,” which Nagi said could be found depicted in ancient hieroglyphics.
Many of the instruments at first seemed familiar, but the duo played them in ways not typically heard outside of the Middle East.
During one song, Razgui played a violin propped upright on his knee. Nagi explained that Arabs originally invented the violin but were not the ones to perfect its playing.
Nagi also demonstrated the incredible range of sounds that could be made from the “sagat,” small cymbals traditionally used as a religious instrument, but most typically seen in the United States as clasped between the hands of a clapping monkey toy.
In addition, he also played the “riq,” a type of tambourine. Nagi joked that in the Arab world, schools offered PhD’s in playing the riq, while in the United States the only way to play the tambourine was to hit it against your hip and was usually only played when “you didn’t know how to play an instrument but you still want[ed] to be in the band.”
Nagi said he encourages the blending of cultures. To the audience’s amusement, he played “arab-ized” versions of songs he had heard while touring in Mexico such as “La Cucaracha” and “Tequila.”
The smaller audience size led to a more relaxed performance, with Nagi joking and interacting with audience members in between songs. He asked for Arabic song requests, and encouraged students to buy the cookies and brownies that Arabic Club was selling to raise money for UNWRA, a relief agency that aids Palestinian refugees.
Kevin Newhall ’13 said, “[The performance] was surprisingly good. I expected it to be more formal, but it ended up being a lot of fun.”
“There are only 3.2 Arabs in the audience tonight,” Nagi joked towards the end of his performance. He then went on to explain that this was a good thing because that meant most of the audience was seeing and hearing something new.
Nagi said that he wants to expose Americans to the Arab world through something positive like music and dancing.
Although the performance was not widely attended, those who did go definitely experienced something new in a fun and relaxed setting.
To engage with the audience, Nagi often danced and even came off stage while he played.
The audience clapped along to several songs. During the last song, which Fay Feghali ’12 requested be a “good dancing song,” several students stood up and started dancing, an impulsive and engaging finale to the show.
“It was awesome,” said Dory Jones ’13. “The drums really made me want to dance.”