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Musicians From The Nile Basin Bring Geopolitical Medley To The Stage

The Nile Project is a collective of musicians from countries along the Nile basin. The group tours internationally and brings the eclectic sounds of participants’ native instruments to the stage. The musicians also organize lectures and workshops alongside their performances to discuss water conflict issues affecting their respective countries.

Guest host Adam Hochberg speaks with Nile Project founder and CEO Mina Girgis about why he created the project. Seven members of the Nile Project perform live in studio and discuss the challenges they face combining musical styles from various countries.

Musicians include: Saleeb Fawzy from Egypt on vocals; Asia Madani of Sudan on vocals; Salamnesh Zemene of Ethiopia on vocals; Ibrahim Fanous of Eritrea on vocals; Kasiva Mutua of Kenya on percussion and vocals; Adel Mekha of Egypt and Nubia on vocals and percussion; and Nader El Shaer of Egypt on kawala and accordion.


I felt that there could be some value to this cultural contact and that music could facilitate this conversation; get people to be a little more curious about each other; and about their neighbors and the music that they share.

Nile Project founder Mina Girgis on music inspired by the Arab Spring:

2011 in Egypt was a year of musical renaissance that I haven’t seen during my lifetime. There was a burst of creativity, not just musical, but artistic in general, and literary. And we are still seeing some of the products from this era. The square itself was as much of a political conversation as it was an artistic and musical conversation.

Girgis on the challenges facing Nile Basin countries:

The Nile is much skinnier than the Amazon. It has less than 13 percent of the water than the Amazon, and with 11 riparians, I think there are about eight countries sharing the Nile. There’s more complexity to working together to finding coordination mechanisms that would allow these countries to have a resilient infrastructure to respond to this water scarcity.

These countries live in very diverse realities. Some have a lot of water, some have very little, [and] some have more energy than others. So while upstream countries are looking to develop their infrastructure and their access to energy and food, downstream countries are more worried about the water. And this dialogue needs to happen not just on the government level,  but also on the civil society level, the private sector and many other levels, so that there is still resilient infrastructure that we need to respond to modernity. 

Girgis on trying to create a Nile Basin consciousness:

They speak profoundly different languages, but also they don’t think of themselves as part of the same region because we‘ve grown to think of Africa as North [Africa] and SubSaharan Africa, so we split Africa laterally. And the Nile challenges that geography; it kinda cuts across many of these regions. 

Girgis on combined different musical styles: 

It can all sound really good on paper, but unless the music that comes out is coherent and is compelling, there would be a different Nile Project. I think part of it is giving the musicians room to learn about one another—learn to teach one another about their musical traditions. And to give them enough of a clear vision for what we’re trying to do.

Musician Kasiva Mutua on her traditional drum, the ohangla: 

Ohangla drums are traditional drums from the Western part of Kenya, near the Lake Victoria...They are made of recycled cans, and the heads are made of cowhide. And tuning them— basically you have to heat them. Either by placing them in the sun or by fire. But since I can’t light fires everywhere here in the U.S., I use a little stove that we carry with us.  

Laura Pellicer is a digital reporter with WUNC’s small but intrepid digital news team.
Adam Hochberg is a journalist with more than two decades experience with national news organizations. Hochberg spent 15 years as a correspondent for National Public Radio. His work also has been featured on CBS, ABC, and the PBS Newshour.