The Wikala was built in 1504 by Sultan Qunsuwah Al Ghuri as an accommodation and marketplace for traders from all over the world. The rectangular building consists of four stores with 28 rooms in each store Traders used to come from every country in Africa and stay in this Wikala for weeks. They used to stay on one of the upper floors while their animals and goods were stored in the rooms of the ground floor. The Wikala of Al Ghuri is one of the best-preserved examples of Islamic architecture in Egypt.
I visited the Wikala and found a huge number of tourists from different nationalities waiting at the gate of the Wikala for the start of the show. I asked the man at the door and he told me the show would start in 15 minutes and I would have to wait for my turn to enter. I started looking around exploring the people who were waiting to enter the show. Most of the tourists were French and they are famous among us in the tourism industry for being interested in the culture of the countries they visit.
There were other tourists from other countries in Europe, the United States, and Asia as well. This was in addition to a large number of Egyptians who came to the Wikala to enjoy the Tanoora dance show.
I found this a good chance to explore the complex as it was my first time visiting the Wikala of Al Ghuri. I went and took a look inside the rooms that were surrounding the open-air Sahn in the Wikala. In each of these rooms, there were fabulous paintings showing different styles of Tanoora dancing. Some of these paintings were realistic while the others were abstract.
When I went back to my seat, I found out that most of the seats were full of people from different nationalities. An old man was sitting next to me and he started talking to me without hesitation as most Egyptians do on such occasions. He told me that he works for the Supreme Council of Egyptian Antiquities and this was his fourth time to come and see the Tanoora dance show in the Ghuri Wikala. He told me that the dance was very impressive and what he liked most was the Saggat player. The Saggat is a small Oriental percussion instrument. The player holds a couple of metal rings in both hands and starts hitting them together. Honestly, I was surprised that this man came to this show only to see the Saggat player in particular. However, afterward, I understood why he was so fond of this Saggat player.
The performance started with eight music players who came onstage. There were eight Tabla players dressed in white oriental robes. The Tabla is the most famous oriental percussion instrument. It is basically an Oriental style of drums. The Saggat player was in the middle and to the left-hand side, there was one Mezmar player. The Mezmar sound is like the flute in Western music. On the first floor of the Wikala and behind the players, stood a Rabbaba player, which is a 100% Egyptian string instrument that has a quite distinctive sound, and beside him stood a Nay player, which is an old oriental music instrument created in the era before Islam in the Arabian peninsula.
They all started performing together, in the beginning, playing very amusing oriental music. After about 10 minutes the Mezmar player went in front of the group performing a brilliant solo with the other players in the band playing with him. He started moving and dancing in different directions while playing the Mezmar and at the end of his solo, he was rewarded with a huge applause from the audience.
After him, it was the turn of one of the Tabla players who came and stood alone in front of the group. He performed some solos on the Tabla which is considered to be quite difficult. However, he was extremely clever in his performance and the audience was astonished at how he created completely different rhythms in each part of his performance.
At last, it was the turn for the Saggat player who moved proudly in front of the group opening his hands with the Saggat inside them and smiling at the audience. He bowed in front of the audience and seemed very confident of himself and his success but until this moment I didn’t see this distinctive factor that made the old man came to watch him in particular other than any other player in the band.
However, when he started his performance I knew exactly what the old man meant. The Saggat player was different than any other player in the group. With every sound Saggat made, he made quite an interesting facial expression. It seemed as if the Saggat was part of his body sending blood through his veins. His moves and reactions were amazing. He smiled when his music was cheerful and seemed sad when his music was sorrowful. The beats of the Saggat started getting faster and faster as he moved around the stage dancing in circles. His solo was the most remarkable in the whole show!
Then, it was the turn for another Tabla player to perform his Solo. His mission to entertain the audience was difficult after the exciting Saggat player performance. However, this tall man was pretty certain of his success. With the first moves of his long fingers on the Tabla, he seemed to be the most talented among all the Tabla players. He deserved loud clapping with the first beats he played. He started playing the Tabla and all the other Tabla players went moving around him in an amazing tableau of art. It was awesome then to see the Saggat player again in the scene playing his beats with the last Tabla player. They both emerged in an ensemble that really pleased the audience who were seeing the performance and were astonished at the abilities and talent of the players.
In the next part of the show, the stage was cleared and a singer appeared on the second floor of the Wikala beside the Nay and the Rabbaba player. His voice was touching as he started chanting famous oriental songs before the group who left the stage was beside him now on the second floor playing the Tabla while he was singing.
Afterward, a group of Tanoora dancers came on stage and started dancing in circles as they played with the Tabla. Tanoora is an old Arabic word that means skirt in English. They started doing some marvelous group dancing while the singer sang popular songs. They moved around the stages like butterflies as their moves were very smooth.
All the audiences were pleased to see the Saggat player again dancing in the middle of this group of Tabla players. This time, he didn’t hold his Saggat with him but he had two Tablas in his hands and was wearing the colorful Tanoora robe. He started performing the traditional Tanoora dancing moving quickly in circles while the Tanoora robe went higher and higher with the acceleration of the speed of his circles. All the people were amazed that this man was able to move around in circles for not less than twenty minutes without stopping.
This is the most significant factor in the Tanoora show, moving around in circles wearing multi-colored robes. The Saggat player held another rounded robe in his hands and it moved around with the robe he was wearing. The show went like this for a long period with the players changing their dances. They danced while moving around while standing, and even while sitting, with the Tanoora dancer moving around in circles in the middle of the group. At the same time, the singer was singing Islamic tunes.
The last part of the show started with the Mezmar player at the right hand of the stage and a performer with a huge Tabla to the left hand of the stage playing a song together. In ten minutes the other Tabla players joined them. In another ten minutes, two wonderful Tanoora dancers joined them. They both started moving around quickly in small circles making a startling scene. All the people enjoyed this part very much as all the features of the show were combined together in incredible harmony.
At the end of the show, I knew why the old man told me at the beginning of the show that it was quite impressive. All the audience seemed very pleased at the end of the show as they have seen a really distinctive performance that combined architecture, art, and history together. After the show, we went for a delicious Fetir snack in the Hussein Area. Fetir is baked oriental pastries that are cooked wonderfully in the Hussein Fetir restaurant. The performance of the Tanoora dance takes place in the Ghuri Wikala usually on Mondays and Wednesdays at 7 o'clock.
Wikala El Ghuri phone number: +2 0225100823