This past Saturday, the musical collective, The Nile Project wrapped up its three-month, U.S. tour in front of a packed house in New York. While most audience members were not from one of the eleven countries, through which the Nile River runs, and likely did not speak the languages of those places, the air was thick with tarab, the sublime feeling of connectivity with music.
The Nile is one of the longest, yet skinniest rivers in the world. It runs along east Africa and starts from the Blue Nile, which begins in Lake Tana in Ethiopia, and the White Nile, whose waters largely come from Lake Victoria between Kenya and Tanzania. The Blue and White Nile rivers merge in Sudan, before ending at the Nile Delta in Egypt’s north coast.
More than just a “fusion” band, The Nile Project is rekindling cultural connections that have been historically present in east Africa for centuries, but have been overshadowed by discourses about who “owns” the Nile River. Indeed, the waterway is among the most contested bodies of water on the planet. On a diplomatic level, recent discourse around how to share the Nile’s water has often been framed in nationalistic terms, with officials from Egypt, for example, claiming the right to build dams and monopolize access to the river.
With 450 million people depending upon on the Nile’s water, finding a sustainable way to share the river is more urgent now than ever. To help achieve this goal, The Nile Project works to foster grassroots, transnational decision-making to manage the Nile’s water and ensure all “Nile citizens” are able to access the river. The Nile Project, for example, encourages college students in east Africa to start their own “Nile Project Clubs.” Through these clubs, students in Egypt, Kenya, Tanzania, and Ethiopia can “explore new approaches to Nile sustainability and will collaborate to develop new solutions to water and food challenges.”
The group’s main educational tool, however, is music. During its recent tour, The Nile Project performed pieces from its new, upcoming album, “Tana,” named after one of the sources of the Nile River in Ethiopia. As with its previous work, these songs were performed in several languages, Egyptian Arabic, Sudanese Arabic, Nubian, Amharic, Swahili, and others, melding sounds from each of the seven countries.
In “Tana,” its third album, The Nile Project continues its penchant for creating innovative music out of traditional sounds as it did in previous albums, “Aswan” and “Jinja.” One such song is, “Dingy Dingy,” originally composed by the legendary, early twentieth century Egyptian composer Sayed Darwish, it features familiar melodies sung in Egyptian Arabic, Sudanese Arabic, Amharic, Tigrinya, and Swahili.
Even with the different sounds, instruments, languages, and musical intonations, there is an underlying theme in The Nile Project’s songs: the Nile, as an integral part of east African heritage.
See The Nile Project perform songs from “Tana” here:
*This article originally misdescribed the Nile as beginning in Egypt, and has been corrected here.