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Metal & Egyptian Zar


In December 2021, Cherine flew from Canada to Egypt to attend a 20-day residency with Zar musicians (with the help of the community connector Kawkab Tawfik) to learn traditional zar songs, complex polyrhythmic rhythms and to explore the possibility of creating an EP that blends metal music with Zar. One particular Zar ensemble felt a connection with Cherine’s music; they are called Zar Abu Al-Gheit and led by Mohammed Abouzied.

Zār is a cult of possession in which ritual incorporates music and dance. Zar’s aim is to establish a state of reconciliation between the individuals and the possessing spirits (Asyad) that inhabit their bodies and are believed to be the cause of illness. The Asyad are considered the projection of fears and anxieties; the ritual is thus looking to alleviate sufferance, challenges and conflicts faced by the person in their life. At the center of the Zār ceremony, an ensemble takes charge of guiding the Zār devotees, engaging them in the trance dance through a cathartic process. The repetitive and distinctive rhythmic and melodic patterns of the music, deeply embedded within an emotional and cultural context, break down the barriers that restrict personal identity (Rouget 1980:142); as a result, the person in a trance identifies themselves with the possessing spirits giving them the ability to live in the sensory and material world. The Abul Gheil Ensemble, led by Muhammed Hussein Abuzayd, plays a crucial role in the continued social and cultural acceptance of Zar by integrating it into Sufism. He applies Sufi’s oral texts to zar rhythms, using the musical instruments of the Sufi tradition. This integration preserves its rich cultural heritage while providing a unique glimpse into the spiritual beliefs of the region.

In 2023, the two groups can finally reunite in Montreal for 3 weeks of music workshops to execute the collaboration and present it to the audience on August 18, 2023, in Montreal at Le Petit Campus.

The output of the residency, 7 songs, was recorded in Montreal and planned to be released at the end of Spring 2024.

Recording Credits: 

Cherine Amr - Songwriter/arranger/singer/guitarist

Muhammed Hussein Abuzayd -  a Zar drum master who hosts the last Zar hadra in his house, Abū al-Ġaiṭ village near Cairo, Egypt. He struggles against social demonization to keep the Zar tradition alive and transmit his knowledge. For this purpose, he established the Abou al-Gheit Ensemble in collaboration with the munshid (religious singer) Salem Atallah. Muhammed is also a talented poli-instrumental musician of the Egyptian National Orchestra for Folk Music (Egyptian Ministry of Culture), playing various percussion instruments and kawala (Egyptian reed flute).

Salem Atallah - An Egyptian munshid (religious singer) based in Abou al-Gheit, Egypt. 

Kawkab Tawfik - (Executive producer, consultant and community connector) is an ethnomusicologist and Ph.D. in Cultural Heritage (the University of Rome “Tor Vergata”); she conducted postdoctoral research with ethnographic and participatory methodology on the zar of the Delta of Egypt (2021-22). Her engagement with the Zar community led her to collaborate with the Abou al-Gheit musicians, curating their artistic portfolio and managing their page and artistic activities.

Simon Mckay (Drummer/ Songwriter) - Simon Mckay is a Canadian drummer and multi-instrumentalist songwriter who plays guitar and bass. He is best known as the drummer of the internationally renowned metal band The Agonist, which he joined in 2004. He has been nominated for two Juno Awards with the band and has featured on seven albums with them. He has also done various other session works for different artists and genres. He has toured the world many times with The Agonist and has a lot of energy and creativity for music. He is endorsed by several companies, such as Pearl Drums, Sabian cymbals, Evans drumheads, ProMark sticks, Kaptor Triggers and Trick Percussion.

Frédérick Filiatrault (Bass guitar) - Frederick Filiatrault (aka Chaoth) is a Montreal bass player and composer who's mainly known for his work in the prog band UNEXPECT. He has toured the world with the biggest acts of the genre and is now doing session work and bass classes as well as producing his latest project VVON DOGMA I, with his signature 9-string bass. He has cultivated an interest in the 'weird and unusual' side of art and a reputation for having an insane stage presence.

Etienne Tremblay (La Machine à Mixer) - Music Producer, mixing and mastering engineer. 

Recorded at Studio Mix Art in Montréal, Québec, by Nicholas Pétrowski and Etienne Tremblay. 

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