Egypt, the Hieroglyphics Ensemble

Posted February 3rd, 2011 at 4:05 pm (UTC+0)

Diaa Bekheet | Washington, DC – Music is a language understood by almost all the peoples of the world. Jazz music, in particular, was forged by civil rights, social struggle and aspirations for a better and peaceful life. When I interviewed American Saxophonist Peter Apfelbaum in 1992, he told me he wanted to drop a “music bomb” to stop wars and bring peace to the world.

Apfelbaum, who formed the Hieroglyphics Ensemble jazz group, has been using music for years as a way to spread peace and harmony among the peoples of the world.  He mixes world beat, big band and genuinely attractive global jazz-fusion into reggae segues.  The music plays with passion.

“I’ve never come up with a name for the kind of music I do, although I can tell you how it came into being.” he says on his Website.  Apfelbaum talked to me about “The Hieroglyphics Ensemble” and the reference to ancient Egypt, and the Egyptian “Ankh“, symbol of eternal life and peace. (mp3)


Many people use music as a tool to voice discontent with the way they are governed.  Here in the United States, the civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. chanted for social change. His motto “We shall overcome” was a kind of protest song associated with the movement for civil rights.

Music & Revolt on the Nile:

During the current protests in Egypt, dubbed by some as “Revolt on the Nile” or “The Lotus Revolution“, a tune familiar to all Egyptians has become one of the driving forces for protesters gathered in Tahrir or “Liberation” Square in downtown Cairo. The song is meant to convey that they are fed up with deteriorating social life and runaway corruption, and demand “the removal of the regime.”

Aljazeera Arabic TV was quick to use a clip from the song by the Diva of Arabic music, Umm Kulthoum, with graphics of the protesters being surpressed by police in the backdrop. The clip aired during news breaks.  Perhaps knowing that the Egyptian culture produced this music to criticize social injustice and corruption with candor, sadness, and sometimes humor, motivated Aljazeera to choose this particular clip.  The clip is from a famous song called “Egypt Speaks about Herself” or in Arabic Misr Tatahaddath Ann Nafsiha” by the renowned 20 century Egyptian poet Hafez Ibrahim, ( also known as the Nile’s Poet.) The refrain says: “If God ordains my dearth, you will never see the East [Arab World] able to raise its head [again].” It’s a reference to Egypt’s leadership in the Arab World and its strategic importance to the world in general.

The singer, Umm Kulthoum, or Kawkab Al-Sharq (Planet of the East), was profiled by renowned Egyptian actor Omar Sharif. To get an idea how Egyptians and Arabs revered Umm Kulthoum, watch what they did for her funeral procession in 1975.

Bloggers offer the clip and the song in full for free download or you can link to it . You can also find additional songs used by the protesters in Tahrir Square or online and written by famed dissenting, pro-democracy poets and singers, like Ahmed Foaud Nigem and Imam Eissa’s Misr Yumma Ya Baheyya or “Pretty Egypt.” Their nationalistic songs, similar to old African jazz, are sung in various Egyptian cities by young protesters who are eager for change, Barak Obama-style.

Diaa Bekheet

Diaa Bekheet
Diaa Bekheet has worked for a host of media outlets, including Radio Cairo in English, ETV News, Deutsche Presse-Agentur (dpa) and the Associated Press. He joined VOA in Feb. 1989 as an International Broadcaster, hosting a variety of popular news and entertainment shows such as Newshour, Radio Ride Across America, Business Week, and Jazz Club USA. He has interviewed a number of Jazz celebrities, including the legendary Dizzy Gillespie, Ramsey Lewis, Wayne Shorter, and George Benson. Diaa is currently an editor for our main English site,

9 responses to “Egypt, the Hieroglyphics Ensemble”

  1. Ruby Goes says:

    Hi Diaa,
    Thanks for Jazz Beat.

  2. Hey,
    It’s really a Good work,
    thanks a lot for all this. and this chance to let us know more about it.

  3. […] backstage comments on the 18-day Egyptian revolution (Revolt on the Nile) against years of rampant government corruption made Egyptian newspaper […]

  4. john says:

    Gadafi is on his final legs

  5. john says:

    Down with the tyrant

  6. john says:

    get rid of him, he has to go

  7. Tom says:

    Thanks for the details. I look forward to reading more.

  8. ECA Stack says:

    Wow! Impressive write-up, My husband and I loved this.



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