Egypt’s blind female orchestra stuns audience, gains world fame

Blind female musicians perform in Cairo, Egypt, on Oct. 7, 2018. The audience at one of the halls of Cairo Opera House were so stunned by the performance of an orchestra of about 40 blind female musicians that they seemed hypnotized by the music, yet they couldn’t help applauding, cheering and sometimes whistling after each piece. (Xinhua/Ahmed Gomaa)


The audience at one of the halls of Cairo Opera House were so stunned by the performance of an orchestra of about 40 blind female musicians. They couldn’t help applauding, cheering and sometimes whistling after each piece played.

Among the most breathtaking pieces played by the Chamber Orchestra of the Cairo-based Al-Nour Wal Amal (meaning Light and Hope in Arabic) Association were Mozart’s Symphony No. 4 and Turkish March, Tchaikovsky’s Chinese Dance, Khachaturian’s Saber Dance, in addition to Arabian music.

It is not the first time that the orchestra performed at the most prestigious house of music in Egypt since the association’s music institute was established in 1961, when all the musicians were little children.

“I love classic music and I adore Al-Nour Wal Amal orchestra. They are literally so excellent and they feel so much for what they play. I enjoyed every one of the many concerts I attended,” said Heba Mostafa, a lady in her 30s and one of the audience at the Opera House.

The performance was held before the White Cane Day that falls on Oct. 15 every year to raise world awareness on blindness and the contribution of the blind and visually impaired people to their societies.

Shaimaa Yahiya, a 33-year-old visually impaired violinist, charmed the audience by playing her solo part of one of the symphonies presented by the Chamber Orchestra during the concert.

“My relationship with the orchestra started 27 years ago when I joined Al-Nour Wal Amal Association as a student,” the violinist told Xinhua during a rehearsal before the performance.

After graduating from a language college, Yahiya has become an English teacher at Al-Nour Wal Amal and continued as a veteran member of the orchestra.

“Before each concert, we feel like in a state of emergency with intensified rehearsals as if it is our first concert, although we have toured the world with our orchestra,” she continued.

Her friend, Shahinaz Salah, a contrabass player in her late 20s, said that she started playing contrabass 20 years ago and that the warm reception of audience everywhere was a main motivation for the orchestra’s success.

“The warm welcome we receive sometimes move us to tears,” Salah told Xinhua the night before the performance at the Opera House.

“We held performances at several countries across the world, the last of which was China, where the audience impressed us with their appreciation,” said the player.

Mohamed Saad Basha, the conductor leading the Chamber Orchestra, spent hours of rehearsal with the musicians the evening before the opera performance, but he said he didn’t face any obstacles or challenges while dealing with them over the past six years.

“The girls are very talented, devoted and punctual. They memorize Braille music notes as well as my instructions by heart,” the Conservatoire professor told Xinhua, adding that they are the only orchestra of blind female musicians in the world.

“They impressively played a whole opera show of two acts while dancers and actors performed on stage at grand halls in Egypt and France, which is not easy at all,” Basha said.

Founded in 1954, Al-Nour Wal Amal Association provides primary, preparatory and secondary education for blind girls and the association’s music institute was established in 1961 in cooperation with the Higher Institute for Music, known as the Conservatoire.

The orchestra has performed in 31 countries around the world, the first being Austria in 1988 and the last being China in 2017.

They have made trips to the United States, Canada, Australia, Britain, France, Germany, Spain, Hungary, Greece, India, Japan and several Arab states, including Qatar and the United Arab Emirates.

“We have another two concerts in the coming two months, one in the Embassy of Belgium in Cairo and another at a world youth forum in the Red Sea resort city of Sharm El-Sheikh that will be attended by Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi,” said Nagat Radwan, the executive director of Al-Nour Wal Amal’s music institute.

The Egyptian president hailed and honored the orchestra after they performed during an event he attended in March.

Following the president’s praise, the orchestra has finally become well known in Egypt after years of being more popular abroad than at home, said Amal Fikry, vice president of Al-Nour Wal Amal Association.

The orchestra, which started with 15 girls more than four decades ago, has now boasted over 60 musicians, with 35 in the senior orchestra that toured the world and 27 others in the junior one.

“The association is generally supported by donations from businessmen, yet we still face financial challenges to buy new instruments for the orchestra to replace the old ones and take their performance to a higher level,” Fikry told Xinhua.

Source: Xinhua