Last Saturday, April 11, the music department hosted the Nile Project, a self-described “collective of musicians from the Nile basin countries,” representing 11 African nations. The group’s website states, “The concert experience aims to inspire curiosity, highlight regional connections, and showcase the potential of trans-boundary cooperation.” Founded in 2011 by an ethnomusicologist and a musician “to address the Nile Basin’s cultural and environmental challenges at the core of the conflict,” the band tackles broad and important social issues of the region.
While we were waiting for the band to get ready, I did not know whether the Nile Project was primarily a band or an advocacy group; I already dreaded what I was expecting to be numerous lectures on hydropolitics of the Basin pierced by the occasional show-and-tell performance of an obscure instrument. Fortunately, the performance was far more smooth and engaging. The show felt more like someone had let a very talented jam band loose in an ethnomusicology museum; sax and bass added a pleasant bluesy sound at times.
The eclectic group’s instruments ranged from the common – saxophone, bass, drums – to the unusual – harps and lutes and a thing that I can only describe as a large wooden Gameboy – to form a surprisingly harmonic ensemble. Five talented multilingual vocalists rounded out the company.
The concert’s vibrant mix of music and dance, however, would have gone much further in a more open and flexible space than Chapin Hall. The performers urged us to dance but inspired only a handful to sway on the pews while leaving many of the mostly older listeners unstirred.
This brings me to the second issue of that night. The group, which aims to be “inspiring, educating, and empowering an international network of university students,” was unfortunately missing an important component – the students themselves. The pews were filled, but students were hard to spot among the aging crowd. The fault lies, of course, with poor promotion, the stuffy space and the timing on a Saturday night, rather than with the group itself.
Nevertheless, audience participation was high. The audience sang, clapped and snapped to the catchy beats, and eventually the group of dancers grew. After three songs I was enjoying myself so much that I put pen and paper away and immersed myself in the music.