Review: Lightning and Water Pulses Through the Nile Project at The Clarice

Photo courtesy of Peter Stanley.
Photo courtesy of Peter Stanley.

When we think of unity, we may envision a big tree, its roots intertwining around our feet and soul, gracefully lifting us into the air, the branches connecting us to our neighbors, enemies and friends.

The tree stands firm but constantly growing, continuing to tie us to different experiences.

When we think of unity, we don’t usually imagine water. The mighty and majestic ocean, the tranquil and timid lake, the alluring yet aggressive rain —  we have all drank from these.

We have all drank from the Nile.

The spirit of the Nile overflowed in the Dekelboum Concert Hall at the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center April 27. The Nile Project, which featured artists from 11 countries along the Nile, weaved voices, languages, customs, instruments, experiences and hearts into acts for the audience’s enjoyment.

Each of the musicians added their own color, twist and interpretation of the immortal river with them — bringing humor, power, swagger, mesmerizing dance and sadness.

“Almost any […] country or culture can benefit from seeing something like this,” said audience member Erin Fenton of D.C., “It makes you feel a little bit more self-reflective about how you interact with your neighbors about various resources.”

The musicians interacted with the audience in various ways, through dance and storytelling, inviting them to stand, to sing and dance along with them.

Poetry exuded from Sophie Nzayisenga, the first female master of the inaga, as she danced. She grinned as the music flowed through her veins, her inanga, a Rwandan traditional zither, glowing behind her.

The night was bursting with uncontrollable joy as well as drowning sorrow, showcased when self-taught saxophone player Jorga Mesfin dedicated the song “Resurrection” to the Ethiopian Christians killed by ISIS shown on the video released April 19.

“Their death is our death,” Mesfin said, putting the saxophone to his lips.

The passion and emotion radiating from the musicians held the entire theater in place.

With the stage drenched in blue light and Ethiopian singer Selamnesh Zemene’s voice momentarily singing to the spirits of those far gone, I couldn’t help but think of the hundreds of immigrants who died in the Mediterranean.

No one knows their names, their faces, their dreams or their families.

The saxophone called out to the immigrants and the Ethiopian Christians whose lives were taken away in acts of terrorism.

It begged them to get up, to sprint away from the darkness and come forward into the blue light, the water of life, the fountain of the Nile.

One felt the sensation of standing on a high mountain, overlooking the earth, breathing in every war and every birth, the heart of the land pulsing alongside one’s own heart.

A little girl waved her small arms above her head as Ugandan performer Michael Bazibu played the adungu, a traditional Ugandan stringed instrument. It made me instantly want to get up and dance, but I didn’t have enough courage to.

Ahmed Said Abuamna, a renowned masankop player from South Sudan, gave a special performance, filling my chest with a sense of nostalgia, a longing for relationships long broken and shattered, scattered across the fragile fabric of time.

The communion of the artists was magical to watch. Each one responded to the other, such as when Steven Sogo, a World Bank musical ambassador, mimicked Nzayisenga’s graceful movements during a song, the two artists grinning at one another.

Dina El Wedidi from Egypt, sang “Ya Ganouby” as she held a drum that resembled the moon, her voice becoming an outlet for the pain. She sang “[relieving] the grief of the South.

The night ended with my hands in the air, my hips and arms swaying as percussionists Hani Bedair, Michael Bazibu and Kasiva Mutua cut all ties to reality and got drunk on the fire burning through their fingertips.

The fluidity of the performance, the variety of emotions and memories that it bloomed led me to ask the question, “what is authentic anymore?”

This is authentic, this group has decided to tangle their talents and spirits to one another, an embodiment of what was lost and what has been regained.

“It never stops growing,” said Mina Girgis, president and CEO of the Nile Project, during a phone interview. “We are hoping to work beyond the Nile and find other places where we can [collaborate]. It is amazing to see the diversity of the United States.”

“People would gravitate towards this and it’s going to spread like wildfire because this is culture,” said Princeton Martyn of Silver Spring. “They’re talking about the Nile Valley, where the civilization of the world comes from.”

He continued saying, “The river is inseparable from us it comes from there to here. It is only necessary for it to just blossom.”

headshotKarla Casique is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at

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