Thursday, September 20, 2018

Splendid nights at Kennedy Center: Dina, Youssra, Karkade explore different US venues

Dina el-Wedidi and Youssra el-Hawary experience a splendid night at Kennedy Center in Washington - Photo by Nourhan Magdi/Egypt Today
Image from article, with caption: Dina el-Wedidi and her band perform at J.F. Kennedy Center in Washington as part of Center Stage program - Photo by Nourhan Magdi/Egypt Today

WASHINGTON – 18 September 2018: Two Egyptian artists, Dina el-Wedidi and Youssra el-Hawary, experienced special evenings on Sunday and Monday, as they performed with their bands at one of the most prestigious venues in Washington D.C., the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Both artists are currently in D.C. for one month as part of their participation in the fourth edition of the cross-cultural program, Center Stage, sponsored by the U.S. Department of State.

Last week, Mohamed Abo Zekry, the founder of Karkade, and the third Egyptian participant in this season of Center Stage, performed at Kennedy Center as part of his individual tour.

Founded in 1971, the Kennedy Center serves as a living memorial to President John F. Kennedy, and it hosts a wide range of different performances including: theater, dance, ballet, jazz, popular and folk music.

The center provides live recordings of the concerts it hosts so audience can tap into the website and check the live streaming.

The Eisenhower Theatre where the artists performed includes seats for dozens of attendees placed not close to the stage.

Although different from the acoustic and engaging environment experienced Saturday at Tropicalia, a neighborhood club and bar, the Kennedy Center still had its splendid reflection on the two bands.

There is no shortage of free theater in Washington, DC, from shows with no admission charge to events and concerts. Some of the city’s most prestigious venues offer free opportunities, including the Kennedy Center, most notably, its Millennium Stage.

Having performed on the Millennium Stage at the Kennedy Center, Dina and Youssra said they were proud of the experience and happy with the audience who actively reacted to their songs. Although some of the attendees said they only understood a little bit of the songs, they enjoyed the music and the rhythms, proving that music can go beyond language barriers.

One of Youssra’s songs that she likes to sing on the program and gets huge engagement from the audience is called “Jessica”. She usually starts by telling the audience the story of the beautiful Italian girl named Jessica that everyone fell in love with.

On her experience singing in different venues in Washington, Dina said: "It was a different feeling and I was glad to perform in Kennedy Center. The sound, the venue and the audiences' interaction with us were all great. I also liked that we had the chance to meet our Middle East fans coming to us in Tropicalia."

Alicia Adams, the vice president of the international programming and dance at the Kennedy Center, told Egypt Today Monday that the center has a very different mission from other cultural institutions in the United States in that it brings the best of the different cultures to its stage.

“The Kennedy Center has a long history of doing international festivals and it is part of our way of meeting our congressional mandate to put on our stage the best in terms of the performing arts and education… we bring people from all over the world to perform here at the Kennedy Center,” Adams said.

According to Adams, the Kennedy Center has held different festivals including one in 2009 called “Arabesque”, bringing in some 800 artists from 22 Arab countries, including Egyptian musicians and literary figures.

“We introduce our traditional audiences to new work that they may never get to see in their life time unless it is here at the Kennedy Center,” she added.

Adams is also an advisory member of the Center Stage program and she helped selecting artists participating in some seasons, “so that every program that comes to the US performs at the Kennedy Center before going off to other parts of the country, and we are proud to do this,” she said.

All Center Stage ensembles perform on The Kennedy Center Millennium Stage, which offers free performances at 6 p.m. every day of the year.

The fourth edition of the US-sponsored cultural-exchange program, Center Stage, marks the first Egyptian participation, with three music ensembles from Cairo set for one month-long individual tours across the US.

The public diplomacy [JB emphasis] initiative launched by the US Department of State in 2012, bringing to American soil, a range of 154 artists in 24 ensembles from nine different countries.

From Egypt, the bands participating in the fourth season are: Dina el-Wedidi, Youssra el-Hawary and Karkade.

Dina el-Wedidi 

Dina el-Wedidi became an international icon for her delicate fusion of local and global styles of music that allowed her to gain a leading spot among the underground musicians in her country, Egypt.

Wedidi’s voice caught the sentiments of Egyptian, Arab and foreign audiences, with her lyrics, music and performance on stage.

It all started for Dina in 2008, when she decided she had to explore the beauty of music.

Youssra el-Hawary 

A mix of innovative original music in content and style, a charismatic charm and lithe composition paved Song-writer and accordionist Youssra el-Hawary's way to fame.

Hawary first started with playing the accordion, and then she began singing about real-time events that influenced her. Hawary is visiting the US for the first time as part of her participation in Center Stage’s fourth season.

Her music was greatly inspired by the 2011 Revolution in Egypt. In 2012, she released her first hit single “El Soor” (The Wall), which was a satirical, political take on the Egyptian situation then.


Choosing to call his band “Hibiscus Tea”, a widely enjoyed drink on Egyptian streets, puts fragrance to the group’s attractive oriental music. Mohamed Abo Zekry founded his five-member band in December 2015, and released their first album in 2016.

Abo Zekry is a composer and musician who studied at Beit El-Oud and was a member of El-Sharq Orchestra, led by the famed Nasseer Shama.

Center Stage brings Abo Zekry to the US for the first time, where he will get the chance to introduce his classical music mixed with Sufi calls to different audiences.

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