Nile Pop!

This year we celebrate Nile Day in front of the Egyptian Taffeh Temple in the Rijksmuseum van Oudheden in Leiden. By enjoying poetry, music and stories inspired by the river we will reflect on how popular culture shapes our understanding of the river and ongoing negotiations on the sharing of its water.

In the past weeks technical and diplomatic delegations from Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia have been meeting regularly to negotiate the filling of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam that Ethiopia is currently building on the Nile River. Why is it so difficult to reach an agreement?

Nile Pop turns the Rijksmuesum van Oudhen’s Tempelzaal into a stage featuring presentations and performances to show how the Nile river and its infrastructures have inspired popular culture in Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia. We will discover how three countries are not merely negotiating water flows, but rather engaging with political identities, nation building projects, symbols and emotions deeply associated with the river.

Daniel Soliman, curator of Rijksmuseum’s Egyptian collection will introduce the story of the Temple of Taffeh as crossroad of cultures: the temple was donated by the Egyptian government to the Dutch in reward for the technical assistance in preserving Egyptian archaeological heritage endangered by the High Aswan Dam works in the 1960s under the UNESCO Abu Simbel campaign.

Alia Mossallam, Egyptian cultural historian and fellow of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Berlin, will then presents the songs of the workers who built the High Aswan Damd and the music by the Nubian people that have been displaced by its construction.

We will then move to Ethiopia with Azeb Ahma, researcher at the African Studies Centre in Leiden, to discover how these mixed feelings resonate with the representation of the river Nile in traditional Amharic songs and poems, where sorrow and glorification coexist. Abebe Yirga Aynalem, IHE Delft MSc student in water management and governace, will present his ongoing thesis research on popular songs about the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam. Abebe will illustrate how the construction of the dam has transformed the narratives about the river, emphasising national unity and pride.

Finally, musicologist and musician Amal Guermazi will bring us back to Egypt and the High Aswan Dam, by telling the story of a movie that was commissioned by the Egyptian government to the master of Egyptian cinema, Yousef Chahine, to celebrate the technical cooperation between Egypt and the Soviet Union. We will also listen how the river itself inspired Chahine’s movies and soundtracks. As it is often said that Sudan lies in between Egypt and Ethiopia both from the hydrological and the diplomatic point of view, The Nile band will play songs from the Sudanese tradition on the Nile river and its people as intermezzo between the presentations.

Nile Pop is organised by the project “Open Water Diplomacy. Media science and transboundary cooperation in the Nile basin”, funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs – Global Partnership for water and development (DUPC2), in collaboration with Stichting Zenobia, Rijksmuseum van Oudheden, and the Africa 2020 workshop “The Nile: inclusion and exclusion over a transboundary resource” funded by The Leiden African Studies Assembly.

Photo: Roger Anis, #EverydayNile


Emanuele Fantini

Emanuele (@emanufanti) is senior lecturer and researcher at the Water Governance Chair group of IHE Delft. He works on water, politics and development in Ethiopia; media, science and water conflicts in the Nile basin; visual research methods. Emanuele hosts the podcasts "The sources of the Nile" https://nilewaterlab.org/podcast-the-sources-of-the-nile/ and Water Alternatives Podcast http://www.water-alternatives.org/index.php/wat

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