Oxford Maqam Big Band: Cairo Nights

Oxford Maqam Big Band perform at the Greenwood Theatre.  

Photo Credit: Harry Elletson Photography

Written by Jake Fletcher, KCL Liberal Arts alumni.

Internationally renowned Oxford Maqam have collaborated with musicians from King’s College London and London conservatoires to perform music from 1950s Egypt.  King Edward Professor of Music, Martin Stokes worked with KCL Liberal Arts alumni Jake Fletcher and SOAS PhD student, Daniel Woodfield, to arrange eight charts for the Oxford Maqam ensemble and big band. They performed the charts at the Greenwood Theatre, London Bridge to a sell-out audience. 

On Saturday 20th May, Oxford Maqam collaborated with KCL musicians to perform a sell-out concert at the Greenwood Theatre.  Oxford Maqam predominantly performs music from the 19th and 20th century of Egypt, and have performed in Cairo, Kuwait, Australia and other places across the world.  

Oxford Maqam perform in the first half, featuring songs from the early 20th century. 

Photo Credit: Harry Elletson Photography


The concert programme was divided into two halves.  The first half featured songs from the early 20th century, with works by Sheikh Sayyid Darwish the composer-singer legend and the diva he worked with, Zakariyya Ahmad, the Sultana Munira Al-Mahdiyyah.  Yara Salahiddeen, vocalist with Oxford Maqam and PhD student at the University of Oxford, noted “For those who may not speak Arabic, we’ll be singing about romantic love finally returned, national independence during the time of the British occupation and how to survive in a recession, just to keep it topical”. 

Left to Right: Arthur Elletson, Trumpet (KCL Music Alumni), Jake Fletcher, Trumpet (KCL Liberal Arts Alumni), Jai Patel (Trombone, Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Music and Dance). 

Oxford Maqam Big Band perform at the Greenwood Theatre.  

Photo Credit: Harry Elletson Photography


For the second half, Oxford Maqam were joined by students and alumni of King’s College London and Trinity Laban Conservatoire of Dance and Music.  The new transcriptions were based on audio records by established Egyptian singer, Abdel Halim Hafez whose works brought together an Arabic sound and other influences from around the world, including the big band scene and Latin America.  These songs were featured on Arabic films, and popularised through widely disseminated vinyl and audio recordings. 


Yara Salahiddeen continued, saying “this concert is a celebration not only of the singer Abdel Halim Hafez, whose songs we present but of a specific moment in his career during the 1950s and the artists who surrounded him. People like Ali Ismail, Baligh Hamdi, Mohammad al-Mugi, Kamal Al-Tawil, as well as other creatives like Fuad al-Zahiri and Andrea Ryder. Through their different contributions, they created a uniquely cosmopolitan sound world that has since disappeared in live performance and that inspires our efforts tonight.” 

Vocalist Tarik Beshir and MD Daniel Woodfield performed in the finale of the concert. 

Photo credit: Harry Elletson Photography


The charts have been specially arranged for the thirty-piece ensemble by King Edward Professor of Music, Dr Martin Stokes (KCL), PhD Student at SOAS, Daniel Woodfield and recent KCL Liberal Arts graduate, Jake Fletcher.  Daniel Woodfield led the ensemble in a series of workshop rehearsals in the weeks leading up to the concert.  The concert featured a standard big band line-up, with trumpet, trombones and saxophones, plus a rhythm section.  We added a string section to the ensemble, with violins, violas and cellos joining the mix. The concert was a fantastic opportunity to experience the diversity of Egyptian popular culture presented live by a uniquely talented and knowledgeable ensemble working in the UK today.


Oxford Maqam Big Band intends to return to the Greenwood Theatre in 2024, and has big plans for the next few years.  To stay up to date, please follow @oxfordmaqam on Instagram and twitter, or visit www.oxfordmaqam.com to sign up for email updates. 

Oxford Maqam and the Oxford Maqam Big Band.  Vocalists Tarik Beshir and Yara Salahiddeen, MD Daniel Woodfield and Musical Arranger Prof Martin Stokes

Photo Credit: Harry Elletson Photography


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