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A song for Nubia

CultureRights & dissent

42yearold Zakariya Tag El Sir hails from Soheil, a small Nubian island in the southern region of Aswan in Egypt. The island is home to 2,000 people today, the oldest of whom arrived in the 1960s, when they were forcibly displaced by the construction of the Aswan Dam, initiated by Gamal Abdel Nasser and aimed to better control the seasonal flooding of the Nile and produce hydroelectricity. 111 meters high and almost 4 kilometres long, the dam created a huge lake – whose surface represents half the size of Lebanon – which not only swallowed the Nubian lands but also its history.

Nubian culture, the manifestations of one of the earliest civilisations in Africa, has been largely forgotten in the national narrative of Egypt. The Nubian people today live along the river Nile, on both sides of the border between northern Sudan and southern Egypt – a consequence of the partition of their ancestral lands when the Republic of Sudan gained independence in 1956.

In all of Soheil, there is only one professional musician and comedian: Zakariya Tag El Sir, who also is a member of the famous Egyptian theatre company El Warsha, the country’s first independent troupe inspired by the international free theater movement. His life is entirely dedicated to music and to using it as a means to make the voice of Nubians heard. In 2016, Zakariya Tag El Sir opened a cultural centre on the island, to teach the children of Soheil different songs and tales in the Nubian language, and to transmit its cultural heritage. This is how he took up his arms of choice: the lute and the tunes of his voice.

This article is part of the Web Arts Resistances project in collaboration with Babelmed, Inkyfada, ONORIENT, Radio M and Tabasco video.

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