Ancient harp strums a new tune

Semsemia, which is made of beechwood with steel strings, has Pharaonic roots
When Mohamed Ghaly’s workshop was reduced to rubble in February, he could never imagine that a new cultural centre dedicated to an instrument with Pharaonic roots would thrive just months later. The semsemia, similar to a harp and made of beechwood with steel strings, is believed to have ancient Egyptian roots. It appears on ornate engravings on tombs. Mr. Ghaly, a carpenter by trade, is one of the last craftsmen in Egypt keeping the cultural heritage of the instrument alive. “It’s an enchanting instrument that summons you in a way, and I answered its call,” he said. Mr. Ghaly, 52, convened a final dhamma flanked by bulldozers as his workshop was demolished to make way for a new shopping mall. He had implored the authorities to save his workshop, but to no avail. Weeks later, however, Mr. Ghaly secured a new venue for El Toratheyah — a folk arts association he founded in 2005 dedicated to the instrument. Canal 20, his new incarnation, is a cultural museum standing just a stone’s throw away from Port Said’s majestic harbour. When British, French and Israeli troops launched an attack in 1956 after then president Gamal Abdel Nasser had nationalised the canal, Egyptians wrote nationalistic songs inspired by their defence of the canal. Iman Haddo, 20, is part of the young crowd that gathers at Canal 20. She instantly fell in love with the semsemia when she was a teenager after attending a concert with her father. Strumming the semsemia’s strings came naturally to her, and a year ago, Ms. Haddo started the Arab world’s first all-woman semsemia choir called Amwag (waves).

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