Mazaher is an ensemble in which women play a leading role. The musicians of Mazaher are among the last remaining Zar practitioners in Egypt. As one of the African dimensions of Egypt, Zar music unfolds through rich poly-rhythmic drumming: its songs are distinctly different from other Egyptian music traditions. The music of Mazaher is inspired by the three different styles of Zar music practiced; the (Upper) Egyptian Zar, Abu Gheit Zar and the Sudanese, or African Zar.
Zar is a community healing ritual of drumming and dancing whose tradition is carried mainly by women – men have the secondary roles – and whose main participants are women. The Zar is said to have originated in East Africa and, although its practice is disappearing in Egypt, the ritual flourishes in other parts of East Africa and in the Arabian Peninsula. Shunned by the religious establishment, the state and the official cultural elite Zar is a part of the underground culture. As such, it has survived as a sub-culture in its original form without any major interference. Many of the poly-rhythmic songs and chants are distinctively different from other Egyptian music traditions. However, the practiced ritual became limited in its content, many songs have been forgotten and the practice of Zar in Egypt has nearly vanished. Not more than a dozen persons within greater Cairo still have knowledge of the musical legacy of the Zar. In the whole of Egypt only around 25 people continue to practice this knowledge and this tradition.
The ritual has been misperceived as a form of exorcism. However, the aim of Zar is to harmonies the inner lives of the participants. As well as drawing women who are seriously ill, the Zar is a space in which women can work out the tensions and frustrations of social constraints which limit their movements, their dress, their voices and even their dreams.
Communication with unseen spirits is driven by the insistent and varied drum rhythms and by the energetic movements of the participants in an intense rhythmic interaction which can lead to an altered state of consciousness and, even, trance. The experience can be cathartic, a physical and spiritual purification that leaves one calm and ready to face the world again.