Peace in their hearts, love in their minds

"Salib Sufi" (literally: "Sufi Cross") combines Christian chants and prayers with Sufi chants and recitations. Accompanied by instruments from East and West, the band performs a mixture of classical recitation and modern singing, featuring elements of Old Coptic. Eslam Anwar interviews project initiator Salib Fawzy

By Eslam Anwar

How did the idea of combining Christian chants and Sufi recitations come about? And why the name "Salib Sufi"?

Salib Fawzy: It all dates back to a workshop with the Egyptian musician Fathy Salama in 2014. At that time I was working on another idea, combining Christian chants and Sufi recitations with Western instruments and jazz borrowings. Following its successful conclusion, I began working on the Salib Sufi project. The word salib, "cross", is not only a religious symbol, but also part of my name. As such, it is intended to express the special significance of the project for me personally. The idea is to underline the concept of divine love, a recurring theme in Sufi recitations.

Sufi chants and recitations are associated with religious rites. However, you present them in an artistic-cultural context. How do you view the connection between art and religion?

Fawzy: Art has a lot to do with religion. Art should make people happy. And religions call people to do good, to love each other, to honour God and to live in peace with one another. Itʹs what I aim to do in everyday life and in my work as an artist. Religion, art and life are inseparable. That's one reason that our projects concentrate on the points of contact between different religions. In the process we also try to reconcile different musical styles, in an attempt to underline that diversity that spurs us on to search for what we have in common as human beings.

The performance and musical accompaniment of Christian chants and Sufi chants is quite different. Was it difficult to combine both?

Fawzy: Previous projects that have tried to present Sufi chants and Christian chants in a combined form always involved two performers, one for the Christian and one for the Sufi chants. I, on the other hand, wanted to perform both together from the outset, especially as both should achieve the same thing, namely an elevation of spirit and soul and a turning towards God, the Lord of peace and love. Thatʹs why I didnʹt find it difficult to combine the two. It was more difficult to implement the whole thing musically, using different instruments and rhythms from the Orient and Occident. The key turned out to be jazz. That has made us want to experiment with more new rhythms and musical styles.

What about the audience? Did they react positively to your project? Was there any criticism relating to content or musical implementation?

Fawzy: The Salib Sufi project appealed to many listeners, but certainly not all. This, however, is something we intend to work on. Perhaps we will be able to reach a wider audience that wants to share this acoustic experience with us. We are always careful to emphasise that we respect all religions; we call for love and peace, because these have always been universal values of humanity, beyond the boundaries of collective identity.

The ensemble also performed some more recent songs about love and peace. How do you regard this blending of tradition and modernity?

Fawzy: We have many modern songs in our programme. The fusion of tradition and modernity is an essential part of our project and our artistic work. The identity of man has always had a long history and is nowhere as clearly expressed as in the fields of art and culture.

What was it like participating in the Shubbak El Fann series of events?

Fawzy: Itʹs great when artists can present their work to the public for free. We really need something like that. Yet such performance possibilities have been rare in recent years. It would be nice if Shubbak El Fann were to be found not only in Cairo, but all over Egypt.

Interview by Eslam Anwar

© Goethe-Institut 2018