The slow-burning musical ritual known as zãr

The veteran, venerable musicians of Mazaher are the foremost purveyors of zãr, a cultural tradition combining singing, dancing and percussion that’s more a ritual than a performance. Its roots lie in east Africa and was subsequently transported across the continent by migrants, mutating as it moved. Its Egyptian incarnation, as practised by Mazaher, draws on Sufism and Christian mysticism, and attempts to banish evil spirits through smouldering, slow-burning musical pieces adorned by call-and-response vocals and the mazaher frame drum that gives the occasion its heartbeat. Zãr performances are usually open-ended affairs, sometimes lasting for days on end. Obviously that won’t be the case here at Charlton Park, but you can expect one of the most spiritual and intense hours of your life. Indeed, in the pages of The Wire, Louis Pattison praised “the music’s therapeutic properties: it soothes crying babies, cures migraines and creates in participants a feeling of calm and wellbeing”.