The Nile Project Collective first gathered for a two-week residency in Aswan, Egypt in January 2013, during which they collaboratively composed a new body of songs drawn from the Nile Basin’s diverse musical traditions and instruments. The result was their first album, Aswan, recorded live at their debut performance.  The collective’s six vocalists sing in 11 different languages on the album. Their lyrics range from the deeply personal to the party anthem, exploring themes of identity, regional solidarity, intercultural relationships both between and within their respective homelands, their local music scenes, and living in the diaspora.

A powerful pan-Nile percussion section drives the collective, which reunites traditional instruments of ancient common ancestries and merges new ones.  The plucked harp (lyre) and spike fiddle have formed the heart and soul of the Nile’s musical identity for millennia, and modern versions of both instruments are found in every country along the Nile Basin. The former is represented on Aswan by the Sudanese masenkop, Ugandan adungu, and Egyptian simsimiya and tamboura, while the latter manifests as the Ethiopian masenko and Ugandan endingidi. In curating the collective, co-producers Mina Girgis and Miles Jay sought to highlight the unique timbres of these instruments, while also surrounding them with complementary sounds from their respective traditions, including the Ethiopian saxophone, Egyptian neyoud, and violin, and the bass guitar.

At a moment when riparian tensions over the proposed Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam have captured headlines around the world, The Nile Project offers an innovative model for cross-cultural dialogue and cooperation. The world’s longest river runs through the political boundaries of eleven countries and touches the lives of 300 million people, but over the past century East Africa’s leaders have struggled to find ways to preserve and share this critical resource. Founded by Egyptian ethnomusicologist Mina Girgis and Ethiopian-American singer Meklit Hadero in 2011, The Nile Project responds to these challenges by inspiring, educating, and empowering Nile citizens to work together to foster the sustainability of their shared ecosystem.

With its power to inspire curiosity, generate empathy, and promote dialogue, music is the Project’s natural starting place. By exposing local audiences to the cultures of their river neighbors, the Project’s music provides a space for them to learn about each other and create a shared Nile identity. Building on this awareness, the Nile Project is developing educational programs, an online dialogue platform, and a Nile Prize to incubate innovative solutions to the region’s cultural and environmental challenges.  We are currently accepting applications for our January 2014 musical residency in Uganda.

Find out more about Nile Project musicians here and programs here.

Commissioned by Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts for Target Free Thursdays at the David Rubenstein Atrium.

Image: Nile Project’s Cairo concert at Al Azhar Park on 31 Jan 2013 © Matjaz Kacicnik