We were quite pleased one day to return to our hotel in Cairo and see a crowd of wedding guests waiting for a zaffah, the traditional wedding procession where dancers and musicians lead the bride and groom into the reception hall with dancers and musicians. I’ve performed in zaffahs in Canada so the prospect of seeing one in Egypt was quite thrilling.

The zaffa started at the ground floor of the hotel. No less than 27 musicians in cream pants and rich brocade vests flanked the gilt-edged stairs that brought us to the reception on the second floor. A mizmar player dressed in the traditional galabaya, accentuated the music with his horn-like instrument’s distinctive pitch.

There were even 4 bag-pipers! I was surprised because I erroneously thought of bag-pipes as the pure tradition of Scotland. They, in fact, originated in Egypt, around 800 B.C.E. Playing them was a cultural tradition which the Romans later spread to Europe and which the Scottish have preserved.

Zaffah at a Cairo Hotel
Two dancers in fuchsia dresses with yellow beading and shamadans or candelabras (a candle-lit version of a chandelier) on their heads sprinkled flower petals on the bride and groom and danced in front of them before leading them up the stairs. Sometimes, they synchronized their steps. Guests were making the trills of joy (ululations), called zaghareets that are typical at all celebrations, but especially weddings. The live music and the zaghareets made for a crescendo of energy as the bride and groom entered the reception. it was a beautiful experience for me to witness. This was nothing like the zaffahs I've experienced in Canada. Our economy does not permit a zaffah of this size. There is definitely something about a parade of musicians and dancers on this scale, that is quite momentous and definitely spectacular.

This was not the only zafah we were to witness. We were fortunate to have an even more personal experience with Khariyya Mazin.

The last of the original family of ghawazee-gyspy dancers, she joined us in Luxor on our Nile Boat Cruise to give a class on ghawazee dancing. Dancers in Egypt do not travel lightly - she came with eight musicians who played as she taught. Khariyya is actually in her sixties, but her movement and her face do not belie this. (Oriental dance really does help to preserve one’s health and youth-fulness!) After the class, we had a zaffeh for two of our own.

  Marie-Eve's zaffah  

Khariyya held her class in the reception area of the boat. We improvised a zaffah with our recently married friends, Marie-Eve and Steve stepping out into the hallway so that Khariyya and her musicians could lead them into the room. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s just something about a beautiful zaffe with live musicians that gets under your skin. This one was far more momentous because I knew the bride and groom! Imagine the feelings that were stirred up in me, witnessing and participating in this intimacy with my dear friends - the dancing, the music, the smiles and tenderness between Marie-Eve and Steve, the emotions it all procures . . .

I felt my pores raise and tried to hold back the tears that trickled down my cheeks...I was relieved to see that I was not the only one so affected... NEXT

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