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Arts & Culture

Bringing A 'Pillar' Of Arabic Music To Connecticut

Andrew Swaine
Courtesy the artist
Karim Nagi

Arabic drummer Karim Nagi is bringing his dynamic educational performances to Connecticut schools and libraries this week.

The musician stopped by our studios to demonstrate traditional Arabic hand percussion.  The instrument he brought with him is called the riqq. “It’s a tambourine, except the skin is a fish skin,” he said.

Nagi explained that every Arabic rhythm has a name and a basic skeleton.

One of the rhythms is called a masmoudi. “The word is an Arabic word,” he explained. “It means pillar or something that holds something up.”

Nagi is from Egypt. His family moved to the U.S. when he was elementary school. He said he was drawn to the arts as a way to connect with the people around him, “so that they would feel more comfortable and less fearful of people from my part of the world, be it Egypt, or the rest of the Arab world, or the Muslim world,” he said. “Music seems to be a good gateway for people. It humanizes me, it humanizes the culture and from there I think people are more receptive to get to know us as people.”

Nagi performs traditional Arabic music, but also likes to blend musical genres and cultural influences.

“Culture is evolving and I definitely want to represent my culture,” he said. “But I am also not a museum curator all the time. Something that was traditional, when it was created was at that time contemporary. Something that was contemporary in the past is now considered tradition. So I think it is important to be open and to fuse and make hybrids, as long as you do it in a responsible way.”

Karim Nagi performs this weekend at the Miller Library in Hamden.

Diane Orson is a special correspondent with Connecticut Public. She is a longtime reporter and contributor to National Public Radio. Her stories have been heard on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition and Here And Now. Diane spent seven years as CT Public Radio's local host for Morning Edition.

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