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At Uncommon Ground, Egyptian Musicians Play With a 'Message for the World'

By Benjamin Woodard | March 21, 2013 6:52am

EDGEWATER — Two Egyptian musicians, who protested in Tahrir Square during their country's 2011 revolution, traveled to the city's North Side to play at the Edgewater Uncommon Ground location in a show called "The Arab Spring Concert."

Nour Ashour and Ahmed Derbala are a long way from their homes in Alexandria, Egypt.

They had their first American meal — a "tasty" burger — Tuesday at St. Andrews Inn, said 22-year-old Derbala.

On Thursday, they plan to satisfy their dream of going to a Chicago Bulls game.

The two friends were invited to play in the show by its creator, Allie Deaver-Petchenik, the director of Classical Revolution Chicago.

The collective works aim to bring classical music to coffee shops, restaurants and small venues in Chicago's neighborhoods.

Deaver-Petchenik said she met Ashour and Derbala while traveling last summer in Egypt and Tunisia.

"During my time [traveling]," she said. "I got to work with some pretty spectacular musicians."

They jammed together there and stayed in touch. And then when the opportunity arose to bring them to Chicago, the Egyptians made it happen.

Derbala and Ashour, 30, play together in a band in Alexandria called Ressala.

The self-taught musicians said they play any genre they feel like playing, pulling from classical, reggae, funk and even Spanish flamenco traditions.

Derbala is fluent in Spanish and French.

Ashour, a saxophonist, said Alexandria feels like "the center of the world," surrounded by so many cultures and styles of music.

Derbala, whose favorite artists are Sting and the late Amy Winehouse, sings and plays the guitar.

On a chilly Wednesday morning, Derbala wore a beanie displaying the green, yellow and red colors of the Rastafari Movement.

Bob Marley — "a happy man," says Derbala — is another inspiration for the two Egyptians.

The Egyptians said their music carries messages of human rights and equality, strengthened by their people's plight.

Their music, they say, is "a message from Egypt to the world."

Derbala said Chicago is "a great city," but "it's very cold here." On Wednesday, their hometown saw a high of 72 degrees, while Chicago was below freezing.

He and Ashour said before the revolution in Egypt, people were afraid to express how they felt.

The revolution "was huge" for music, opening up the ability to sing about some of the ideals you might find in a Marley song, Derbala said.

"After the revolution, we can talk freely. We can say whatever we want, even if it’s against the government," he said, although politically the country is still in turmoil as different groups vie for power after the resignation of Hosni Mubarak.

Derbala and Ashour will play alongside American musicians on Friday. Each will perform their own songs.

They've played for Americans before, but never in front of an entire audience of them.

"We don't know how the Americans will react," Derbala said. "I hope they like it."

The concert begins at 9:30 p.m. Friday at the Uncommon Ground, at 1401 W. Devon Ave. Admission is $10. Call Uncommon Ground at 773-465-9801 to reserve tickets.