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The Egyptian Zar at Makan House

Updated: Mar 26, 2020

While in Cairo in April 2018, I attended the Makan House Zar with JtE (Journey Though Egypt) group. This was my second visit, the first was in 2009. The Zar is a spiritual healing ceremony that is practiced in several North African countries. Drumming, song, and movement, are believed to appease a spirit that possesses a person causing mental distress.

The Egyptian government puts on the Zar at Makan House. The place is packed - mostly we sit on cushions but a few chairs line the space. For a tourist show, I was surprised at how many Egyptians there were in the audience. The performers consist of 6 men and 4 women all with lots of drums of various types. There is a woman who is the leader. She and one of the men are the main singers. I love watching her move to the drums as she sings, seeing its pulse in her body, an ever so slight shoulder drop, a sudden bow to the heavy beat, a sway of the whole body- and the joy too.

Most of the show is music with a heavy ayoub (2/4) beat and all of the songs seem to start out slow and then reach a frenzied ending. One of the women plays very large sagats (finger cymbals), sings chorus, and goes from swaying to the music to a dancing ecstatically as the music picks up. The rest form the performers form the chorus/band. There is a nay player who starts several of the pieces with a taqasim (improvisation), and in the second half, a simsimmiyya player.

We are treated to hibiscus tea at intermission. Then, in the second half of the show 2 of the men performers wear heavy belts with goat hooves on their hips that they shake to the music with small, rapid twisting movements. One dances about the space while shaking the hooves belt, too. Some of the songs seem to be favorites of the Egyptians as they enthusiastically clap along. It is hard to believe that 2 hours have passed when the show ends. Mazaher Ensemble presents a moving and fascinating performance.

Here are some articles you can read about Mazaher Ensemble:

Here is a short pictorial description of a traditional Zar ceremony: The Egyptian Zar Ritual

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