April 20, 2011

Rango-bride of the zar

Everyone knows that Cairo has preserved ancient secrets and cultures for thousands of years,
 while Cairo's el-Mastaba Centre for Egyptian Popular Music has preserved 
three of the known remaining rango instruments.
A rango is a mysterious xylophone-like instrument with wooden keys and twisted gourds hanging
 beneath the keys for reverberation and amplification.
The rango has all but disappeared in this region of the world due to its affiliation with mysticism and the occult.
More specifically, it is a musical instrument used in the performance of the zar and Sudanese tanbura rituals, which are tranceinducing religious ceremonies intended to cure mental illnesses, exorcise jinn and resolve sundry other maladies of the soul.
These mystical healing rituals and musical performances, though mostly of Nubian, Saeedi and baladi extraction (in Upper Egypt, extending into Sudan), can today be enjoyed in Egypt's capital.
The performances are rich with rhythmic chanting, pounding percussion and feathered costuming, and, unlike the seemingly patternless scale of Arabian music, rango music is familiar to the Western ear " a musician would have to explain why that is.

Audience participation enhances the trance-inducing performances, with infectious dancing spreading, passim. The rango is believed to have been brought north from black African Sudan into Nubian Upper Egypt and then further north, following the dark-skinned diasporas of the slave routes, the instrument settling with Sudanese communities in Cairo and Ismailia.
And here, the instrument remained a part of the local communities' weddings, the hypnotic and entrancing music providing the soundtrack for the celebrations.
These celebrations and mystical ceremonies, though much part of contemporary rural Egyptian culture, are considered haram (forbidden) in the faith of Arabia, due to the pagan nature of this activity.
This taboo, associated with the forbidden rango instrument and the mysterious Sudanese voodoo music, is perhaps why the instrument faded from popular use, and ultimately disappeared in the 1970s.
Hassan Bergamon, who grew up in the Arayshiyyit el-Abid (Slave Stockades) in Ismailia, has helped save the rango from near extinction. He used to play as a boy " his mother was a fourth generation zar singer.
Bergamon is considered the last living player of the rango, and he learned from the old masters. 
But it was no easy task to revive this forbidden instrument from the brink of extinction.
Finding the last remaining instruments required as much patience as it did to convince the owners to part with the mystical instruments " the owners believing the rangos contain the souls and spirits of those relatives who once played the mystical instruments.
Hassan Bergamon still performs on an original rango a few times per month. 

Pete Willows
The Egyptian Gazette : 20 - 02 - 2010

and here's the proof


  1. WOW :)

    Django did not know Rango.

    Great cover too!

    so is the music...

    thank you nauma & Rango :)


  2. Thanks so much, nauma!

    The cover photo reminds me of how some older baianas (Bahian women) dress for rituals and festivals... some of their jewelery looks very Arabic, believe it or not.

    I don't know if there is further information bout the zar in the liner notes, but... staged versions of the ritual are quite common - staged by people who perform Egyptian folk dances (both in Egypt and in other countries). The basic rhythm for the zar is found on many recordings, by Egyptian darbuka players especially.

    I think one of the reasons that it might seem "mysterious" is that the zar is a womens' ritual - no men allowed. ;)

    Also... there are "mainstream" recordings of Egyptian folkloric music, but there's definitely more out there than most Western record companies would have you believe. The problem is in finding it - one more or less has to take a trip to Egypt and buy cassettes. (As with much other music from both North and sub-Saharan Africa...)

  3. There's some footage of actual zar/zaar ceremonies here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2KJFlDtT70c

    I am not sure about the belief that the ritual originated in ancient Egypt - my money is on Sudan, Ethiopia, etc. (I know an Egyptian musician and dancer who says it originated in Sudan...)

  4. Oh yes I am in love again :)
    Thank you very much!

    If anyone is interested in information on Zar there are several sources one of are: http://www.bdancer.com/zarrevis.html

    Rituals such as this that include dancing or any other extatic form of celebration of the divine are moast often described to be healt beneficial due to release of tension and stress, especially for westerners, it maybe so but it is much more, only personal remark I have on these texts is that such attitude towords religious and spiritual practises can ba insulting or at least ridiculous.

  5. kokolo - I agree very much with your comments about the zaar (and similar rituals) being "much more." I think the video I linked to above is actually an attempt to make the zaar seem somewhat comprehensible for Westerners who have never encountered such things and who are suspicious or afraid of them... but I also agree with you about "insulting" and "ridiculous."

  6. I wish Rango's managers were *not* calling their music "Sudanese voodoo." The press materials (on the site Miguel linked to) are pretty terrible, imo.

  7. I agree with all of you my friends
    these rituals and healing practices are too precious to be exposed in that way...
    anyway this is maybe the start for further acceptance.
    the problem lies in the dominant "Western" mentality that can't understand or even worse ridicules "irrational" cults....

  8. Yes there are "rituals" for tourists, helps people earn some euros/dollars, and there is the real thing, to encounter it withouth the risk of being pulled of for some thousand $/€ is almoast as miraculous.
    Of course I am aware that taped ceremonies are for the sake of music, and are often adapted, so I am not judging that. Taking the "spirit" out of african music would be as taking the sound out of the drum.
    Oh I was just wrighting when I saw cour coment Nauma. It is difficoult to understand something you haven't tasted ;)

  9. or you have never dreamed that exists ,or you don't want to taste, or you fight its existence,
    and so on dear kokolo!
    this life is much more,than what they have told us

  10. it's also true of many Sufi rituals (especially in Turkey) that are staged for tourists, as opposed to the actual ceremonies themselves.

    I think this kind of commercialization can be found everywhere, unfortunately...

  11. In a a way all is ok for promoting culture.

  12. kokolo, i think so, too - as long as it is done by people who respect their culture, rather than people who just want to make money out of something.