by Tom Huntington, Arts Correspondent
Preview of The Nile Project at the Flynn on Saturday, March 28. Get tickets at www.flynntix.org.
The Nile Project brings its vibrant music and environmental message to several area locations, where the collective of a dozen musicians from several different countries touching the world’s longest river will settle in for stirring performances and a variety of activities during extended residencies on its first tour of the United States.
Over two years in the planning, the ambitious New England portion of the tour was initiated by the Hopkins Center for the Arts, and features an unprecedented level of cooperation among New England arts presenters like the Hop, the Flynn Center for the Arts, the U V M Lane Series and Middlebury College, among others. The Nile Project makes extended stops in Burlington (March 28-31), Middlebury (April 1-3) and Hanover, N.H. (April 13-18).
The Nile Project was formed in 2011 by Egyptian ethnomusicologist Mina Girgis and Ethiopian-American singer-songwriter Meklit Hadero, both of whom are based in San Francisco. Meklit (pronounced meh-KLEET), 35, a rising star on the singer-songwriter world who now performs under a single name – she’s delivered a couple of well-received performances of her own in Burlington during the past three years — will perform with the group at all the New England dates.
The majority of the musicians on the tour hail from Egypt and Ethiopia, but Uganda, Sudan, Kenya and Rwanda are also represented. And the band’s buoyant sound is created by a variety of instruments from Nile-basin countries, including the masenko (Ethiopia), the ney and oud (Egypt) and the adungu (Uganda), in addition to violin, saxophone, bass guitar and six vocalists singing in 11 languages.
While such a disparate assortment of musical traditions and instruments could easily be a recipe for disaster, organizers took great pains to create a collaborative environment for musicians. Preparation for the tour included a two-week “cooperative creation” residency for all musicians last November in Egypt. And, prior to that, a 10-week online course created by Nile Project music director Miles Jay designed to help musicians delve deep into the details of the different styles.
“This made a huge difference in the quality of collaborations among the musicians during the residency as they were already fluent with many of each other’s musical backgrounds,” says Girgis in press materials.
Adds Meklit, “I feel that the spirit of curiosity is really deep with these artists. Everyone is outside their comfort zone. No one is doing what they normally do.” The results have been well received since the group’s storied first live performance in the Egyptian city of Aswan in early 2013 – recorded for the Nile Project’s debut album, “Aswan,” which NPR called “joyous and even raucous” and one of “5 must-hear international albums” that year. “You can hear how much fun the crowd is having,” said NPR, “and how tight the band is.”
And the New York Times called the Nile Project “a committed, euphoric international coalition” in a review of a January concert at Webster Hall. “With such vibrant music, the good intentions were a bonus.”
This article first appeared in the Rutland Herald and the Times-Argus.