“Dressed in all-white, Fikry Kashef sits on a wicker chair strumming his oud, a pear-shaped stringed instrument popular in the Middle East and North Africa. A dozen men or so from across Egypt, many of whom have come from neighboring villages outside the city of Aswan, sit around him, on the floor or on the couch, surrounded by a cacophony of ashtrays, cups, and plates. Kashef’s voice is filled with melancholy as he sings. “Feel pity for you who have deserted me. God knows how much I adore you.” In a call and response, the chorus of men around him joins in, mourning in unison their first love: the Nile River. It sits to their left, just out of reach. “God knows how much I adore you,” the men sing.
Kashef, 69, is one of Egypt’s most renowned Nubian folk singers. His songs—often recited in Nobiin, an endangered Indigenous language spoken by the Nubian people in the Nile Valley—are an archive of history and loss. When some 135,000 Nubians were forcibly displaced from their homelands in southern Egypt and northern Sudan, mostly in 1964, Kashef bore witness.
Now three generations after the tahjir, a word used by Nubians to describe their displacement, Kashef is fighting to keep his people’s cultural memory alive. But in the wake of catastrophe, and as the impacts of the climate crisis loom, survival is uncertain.”
Words by Omnia Saed
Photography by Ebrahim Bahaa-Eldin