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Biblio-art: How Polish artist adorns Egyptian monastery with Christian designs

“My work is meant to tell spiritual stories of this mountain and of Christianity in general.” -Mariusz Dybich

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Biblio-art: How Polish artist adorns Egyptian monastery with Christian designs
Polish artist Mario, sculptor of St. Simon the Tanner Monastery complex, poses for a picture alongside sculptures at the church in the Egyptian capital Cairo's eastern hillside Mokkatam district. (Photo by Mohamed el-Shahed / AFP)

Whistling a tune, Mario nimbly clambered up the scaffolding enveloping part of the rock-hewn St. Simon Monastery atop Cairo’s Mokkatam hills to add the final touches to his latest sculpture.

He had spent more than two decades carving the rugged insides of the seven cave churches and chapels of the monastery with designs inspired by biblical stories.

It was all done to fulfil the wishes of the monastery’s parish priest who met Mario in the early 1990s in Cairo. The Polish artist, who had arrived in Egypt earlier on an educational mission, was then looking for an opportunity to serve God at the monastery.

Biblio-art: How Polish artist adorns Egyptian monastery with Christian designs
Polish artist Mario, sculptor of St. Simon the Tanner Monastery complex, works on a scene at the church in the Egyptian capital Cairo’s eastern hillside Mokkatam district. (Photo by Mohamed el-Shahed / AFP)

“I want you to turn the mountain into an open Bible,” Mario recalls the priest telling him.

Back then, Mario had no experience in sculpting. But he bought an electric drill and chisel hammer and within days had finished his first sculpture.

It told the story of the miracle of the moving of Mokkatam mountain, a feat said to have been done by a 10th century craftsman known as Simon the Tanner to prove the strength of his Christian faith. The monastery is named after him.     

READ: Rwanda’s Ubumuntu Arts Festival and the celebration of humanity

“I had no idea sculpting was a talent I have, but it turned out (to be) as you can see,” said Mario as he showed off his work around the walls of a vast cavern which regularly hosts gatherings at the monastery.

Across one, he sketched another chronicle about St. Simon, shown brandishing a needle before gouging his eyes out to punish himself for lusting after a woman.

Other walls recount stories from the New Testament.

“It can take between five days up to half a year to finish a sculpture, depending on the design,” he said.

‘Masterpiece’ – 

“My work is meant to tell spiritual stories of this mountain and of Christianity in general,” he said. “I want them to live on for future generations.”

Biblio-art: How Polish artist adorns Egyptian monastery with Christian designs
Polish artist Mario, sculptor of St. Simon the Tanner Monastery complex, works on a scene relief depicting the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ, at the church in the Egyptian capital Cairo’s eastern hillside Mokkatam district. (Photo by Mohamed el-Shahed / AFP)

Mario says he kept practicing, sculpting for more than 23 years, and completed about 70 sculptures adding to the monastery’s allure by giving it an ancient look.

Construction of the complex started only in the 1970s, a thousand years after the story of moving Mokkatam mountain believed to have taken place in November 1979.

Building began after the monastery’s current parish priest known as Father Samaan, Arabic for Simon, visited the area and decided to turn it into a worship place.

READ: How South African teens are using radio to fight gun-related crimes

“I also thought then why not carve the miracles of Jesus on the mountain. It will benefit the people and (create) a lively depiction of these stories,” said Father Samaan.

Resting at the pinnacle of Mokkatam mountain, the monastery has a commanding view of the megalopolis of Cairo. Unsurprisingly though, reaching the top of the mountain is no small feat.

The gruelling trip to the top requires visitors to pass through the teeming slum area known as the city of “Garbage Collectors” of uneven roads and malodorous piles of garbage strewn along the way.

Despite the tough journey, the monastery welcomes thousands for services weekly as well as on holidays and celebrations of the Copts, Egypt’s Christian minority which makes up about 10 per cent of the country’s Muslim-majority population.

“The monastery is now a masterpiece,” Samaan said in his office in one of the churches of the monastery. “We have the pyramids and the artefacts in the Egyptian museum. But they are all ancient but this monastery is new.”

‘Most comfortable’ –

For Mario, whose real name is Mariusz Dybich, he grew accustomed to life in Cairo and work at the monastery.

Besides sculpting, he even gives an adrenaline-spiking High Ropes sport course at the monastery.

Biblio-art: How Polish artist adorns Egyptian monastery with Christian designs
(Photo by Mohamed el-Shahed / AFP)

“It is surprising to many that a European man willingly leaves his country to work in the city of Garbage Collectors in Cairo,” said Mario. “But I believe it’s God who sent me here.”

READ: Contents of two ancient pyramids unveiled in Egypt

The 51-year-old is originally from the city of Krakow in southern Poland but has been living in Egypt for nearly three decades now. He has over the years become known to everyone in the monastery and the thousands of people living in the city of “Garbage Collectors” by his nickname, Mario. 

He married an Egyptian woman and has two girls. He mastered over the years the Arabic language and developed a particularly strong command of the Egyptian dialect.

He witnessed in Egypt the 2011 uprising which toppled longtime autocrat Hosni Mubarak and ensuing years of political and economic turmoil.

Yet he does not see himself settling anywhere else.

“I just love living here. It’s where I am most comfortable among the simple people of Egypt. I would not leave unless God decides otherwise.”

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Muziki: Top 10 African music video chart for this week [countdown]

Here is our top 10 African music chart this week

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African Music Chart

It is an established fact that African artists are shining brightly on the global music stage. From West to East, South, North and Central Africa, artistes are relentlessly doling out amazing songs. On this week’s edition of Muziki, our official African Music Chart, we bring you a list of the top 10 songs that have continued to dominate our airwaves and keep fans and music lovers thrilled.

Number 10: Anybody – Burna Boy 

At number 10 on this week’s Muziki music chart is Anybody by Burna Boy. The hit song off his African Giant album, released on July 2019 has found its way to the hearts of many music lovers. With a whopping 12 million views on YouTube, ‘Anybody’ is indeed a seasonless song. Play it at a birthday party, nightclub, in your sitting room.. the song will definitely get everybody doing the ‘Fela Dance’ spontaneously! 

Burna Boy – Anybody (Official Video). Courtesy Burna Boy on YouTube.

Number 9Online – DJ Vitoto ft Moonchild Sanelly

DJ Vitoto’s Online is number 9 on the list. The song which features South African musician and dancer, Moonchild Sanelly, leaves one asking for a repeat whenever and wherever it is played. Released July, this year, ‘Online’ has continued to enjoy both commercial and musical patronage from music lovers across Africa. 

DJ Vitoto – Online [Feat. Moonchild Sanelly] (Official Music Video).

Number 8: Kiza Kinene – Nandy ft Sauti Sol 

Sitting at number 8 this week is Kiza Kinene by Nandy featuring Sauti Sol. The song from Tanzanian’s award-winning female singer and songwriter featuring Kenya’s Afropop band, Sauti Sol has continued to hold listeners spellbound. With its smooth African rhythm and strong lyrics rendered in French, Kiza Kinene has taken the stage since its release about a month ago. The video, which features an impressive dance performance, has garnered over 1.9 million views on YouTube.

Nandy Featuring Sauti Sol – Kiza Kinene (Official Music Video)

Number 7: Doyin – Mr Eazi ft Simi

Mr Eazi is never found wanting when it comes to releasing mad hits. The ‘leg over’ singer has taken it upon himself to always give his fans something to dance and vibe to with every release. On this one, he features Simi to produce this beautiful soul-enriching song. With 5.9 million YouTube views and millions of streams and downloads, the song is undoubtedly a major hit. 

Mr Eazi & Simi – Doyin (Official Video)

Number 6: Ololo – Stonebwoy ft Teniola

Released in September this year, Ololo has continued to appeal to music lovers. The Ghanaian Afropop, dancehall and reggae artiste features Nigerian songstress, Teni on this one. Ever since Stonebwoy released his debut single, Climax, featuring Samini, he has been serving it hot to millions of his fans.

Stonebwoy – Ololo (Official Video) ft. Teni

Number 5: I Like – Kojo Fund ft Wizkid

At number 5 on our top 10 is ‘I Like’ by Kojo Fund. The Ghanian-British born artiste who calls his music genre Afroswing featured Wizkid on this one. With 7.4 million views on Youtube, the song deserves to be in the ranks. 

Kojo Funds – I Like ft. WizKid [Official Video]

Number 4: 49-99 – Tiwa Savage

The much-anticipated song started dominating the waves immediately the former Marvin records queen released it. With a uniquely conceived video to accompany the song, it’s been taking out the competition. Tiwa has been doing big things nonstop from Mavin Record to Universal Music. The fact that she could come up with such an amazing song did not come as a surprise to her fans.  

Tiwa Savage – “49-99” (Official Video)

Number 3: Yo Pe Remix – Innoss’B ft Diamond Platinum

Innocent Didance Balume popularly known by his stage name as Innoss’B has remixed his single titled Yo Pe. The Congolese singer and songwriter featured Diamond Platnumz to add a whole different vibe to the remixed version. It made it to number 3 on the Muziki Top 10 chart. 

Innoss’B Ft Diamond Platnumz – Yope Remix (Official Music Video)

Number 2: Ghetto Love – Wizkid 

Ever since the ‘Ojuelegba’ singer released ‘Ghetto Love’ his first single of the year, the song has enjoyed high youtube views. Even when it seemed the follow-up single Joro, would douse the popularity of Ghetto Love, the song has continued to appeal to people.

WizKid – Ghetto Love (Official Video)

Number 1: Blow My Mind – Davido ft Chris brown

Sitting on our number one throne is Davido and Chris Brown’s first collaboration, ‘Blow My Mind.’ The song which is worth every bit of attention, is still on repeat for many and still being massively streamed. Fans have gotten a taste of the latest collaboration between Davido and Chris Brown with the audio release of ‘Lower Body.’ But that hasn’t stopped ‘Blow My Mind’ from continuing to dominate the charts. 

Davido, Chris Brown – Blow My Mind (Official Video)

Bonus tracks of the weekHonourable mentions

Beginning – JoeBoy

Following his break out hit ‘Baby’,  Joeboy has made it obvious he has come to write his name in the sands of time with his follow-up single titled ‘Beginning’. This is surely one young artiste to look out for!

Joeboy – Beginning (Official Video)

Saara – Sarkodie ft Efya

The Ghanaian Rapper featured Efya to come up with ‘Saara’ which is doing just great on music platforms. Coming from the Ghanian rap legend himself one already knows the song cannot fall below expectations.

Sarkodie – Saara ft. Efya (Official Video)

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M.I Abaga vs Vector the Viper: Nigeria’s battle for rap supremacy [Updated]

Rivalry in the Rap genre of music is not a new thing as it has always been in the scene

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M. I Abaga vs Vector the Viper: Nigeria's battle for rap supremacy

The Nigerian music space was on fire during the weekend with the rap war between M.I Abaga and the “lafiagi” crooner Vector. Vector had released a diss track titled ‘The purge’ on 20 September 2019, in which he featured Vader and Paper Corleone. Barely 7 days after the release of ‘The purge’, Vector released another apparent diss track titled ‘tetracycling’. 

Unable to hold it any longer, M.I released ‘The Viper’ a comprehensive reply to Vector’s diss tracks. The Viper which he, M.I personally directed served as an expository of some sort to the genesis of the bad blood between them as well as a clapback to Vector’s two diss singles The Purge and Tetracycling. 

With many Nigerians hailing the Jos-born rapper for schooling the Lafiagi crooner on the social media space, one can guess Vector’s mood at the moment. In the 5 minutes Viper track which the 38 year-old rapper claimed to be an advice to Vector instead of a diss, he rated Vector below the top 5 rappers from Yoruba land and goes further to make a shout out to indigenous rappers like Olamide and CDQ for making farbetter impacts in the industry than Vector has ever done. 

M. I Abaga – Viper (official audio). Courtesy: MI Abaga on YouTube

Pay Attention: Wizkid News: Four latest news on Wizkid you probably missed

Rap battles – the origins

Rivalry in the Rap genre of music is not a new thing as it has always been in the scene. It is even worse in America, where one can rightly say rap originated from. It has also been alleged that it was the remote cause of the untimely death of legendary American rappers,  2pac Shakur and the Notorious B.I.G both of who engaged each other significantly during their lifetime. 

There have also been rap rivalries between the pairs of Jay Z & Nas and T.Pain & Gucci Mane. And more recently, between the Carribean rap queens, Nicki Minaj and Cardi B. 

Coming back to Nigeria, what many may not remember, is that M.I Abaga is not new in rap rivalry in Nigeria. He has gained notoriety with the vice years before Vector even came to limelight. Years ago, M.I had battled it out with Kelly Handsome. This time, he was the first to provoke the verbal war. He lyrically got the attention of Kelly Handsome with the following lines;

                                       Kelly Handsome is handsome

                                         i don’t need you to tell me

                                         ….short black back dude 

                                        Says he is sitting on top

                                       Sitting on top Naija Hip Pop

                                      …But i am the ladder to the Top

Read Also: Sex for grades” – Another sad reminder of our failed education system

This obviously infuriated Kelly handsome who replied and later released his own diss track against M.I, titled ‘Finish you Boy’.

In 2009, an American based Nigerian rapper by the name, Iceberg Slim also involved M.I in his song titled ‘am i better?’ with lyrics that implies M.I already knew who was better between them. As was expected, it did not go down well with the American trained economist cum rapper, M.I Abaga, who released a clap back single titled ‘Somebody Wants To Die’, featuring Chocolate City mate, Ice Prince. 

Finally, expectations are high with regards to what is coming next. Will they makeup or continue this diss saga that has already pulled a lot of attention? Is Vector going to be the mature party this time and not think of releasing another diss single? Only time will tell! Meanwhile, Vector is currently busy working with Davido on a new song.

Just when M.I must have taken a deep breath for putting Vector in his place, it seems, that feeling of accomplishment has been cut short as Vector has vowed to throw the last punch. Determined not to be ‘the vanquished’ in this war of rap superiority, Vector has released another diss track titled ‘Judas The Rat’ dedicated to M.I Abaga. 

Vector – Judas The Rat (Official Audio). Courtesy: Vector on YouTube

In the 4:03 seconds track, Vector unleashed unexpected blows on M.I. In the audio track he posted on YouTube in the wee hours of Friday, 11 October 2019, he calls M.I a rat and enlightened the 38 year-old rapper on the reason he, Vector is not his son (recall, that M.I had called vector his son in his track titled ‘The Viper’). 

What is indeed interesting in this latest track is that, Vector did not only mention M.I but also mentioned M.I’s younger brother Jesse Jagz. He raps that M.I claims to be helping people but have not helped his own blood brother Jesse Jagz. With this latest track, one may conclude that they are still far from calling a ceasefire.

Who do you think has the last laugh? Let us know in the comment below.

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Morocco’s renowned “Critical” cannabis faces threats from foreign hybrids

While Morocco’s cannabis cultivation is falling, the adoption of hybrids means hashish production has remained stable

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Morocco's renowned cannabis faces threats from foreign hybrid, "Critical"

Morocco’s rugged Rif Mountains have long been renowned for their cannabis but traditional varieties are being smoked out by foreign hybrids offering higher yields and greater potency.

The local strain of marijuana, known as Beldiya, is coveted by afficionados but is gradually disappearing from the fields in the kingdom.

Nowadays in Ketama, a region in the heart of the northern Rif, a strain called “Critical” is king.

Hicham, a 27-year-old cannabis farmer, says that he grows Critical because “the new imported seeds give a much higher yield.”

Major cannabis producers decide what to plant and “hybrid plants have become a market all on their own,” said Moroccan anthropologist Khalid Mouna, who has written a thesis on the economics of Ketama’s cannabis production.

READ: Morocco’s last woman-potters hope on social media for survival

Critical, which Mouna said comes from the Netherlands, is the latest hybrid created in laboratories in Europe or North America to be introduced to Morocco.

With names like “Pakistana”, “Amnesia” and “Gorilla”, hybrids are popular for their potency and affordability. 

Critical sells for 2,500 dirhams per kilo, while Beldiya goes for up to 10,000 dirhams per kilo, local sources told reporters. 

Buoying production – 

Morocco's renowned cannabis faces threats from foreign hybrid, "Critical"
A villager stands in a field of cannabis near the town of Ketama in Morocco’s northern Rif region on September 2, 2019. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

Morocco has long been a leading producer and exporter of hashish — refined cannabis resin — even though the production, sale and consumption of drugs is illegal in the country.

READ: Sand Miners threaten Morocco’s coastline

A quarter of hashish seizures worldwide originated from Morocco between 2013 and 2017, according to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.

While Morocco’s cannabis cultivation is falling, the adoption of hybrids means hashish production has remained stable.

In 2003, 134,000 hectares were under cannabis cultivation, falling to 47,500 hectares by 2011 under a large official reconversion programme, according to a 2015 study by the French Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction (OFDT).

But modern hybrid strains produce five to 10 kilos (11 to 22 pounds) of hashish per quintal, a traditional unit of weight equivalent to 100 kilos, compared to a single kilo for kif, as local cannabis is known.

“The substitution of hybrids for kif might explain why the production of Moroccan hashish has barely decreased,” the study said.

Livelihood –

In Ketama, kif is part of the culture.

Producing it and smoking it are tolerated by the authorities and its cultivation provides a livelihood for 90,000 to 140,000 people in an otherwise deprived region known for its poor soil.

Morocco's renowned cannabis faces threats from foreign hybrid, "Critical"
A villager stands in a field of cannabis near the town of Ketama in Morocco’s northern Rif region on September 2, 2019. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

People in the area told reporters that it was mostly traffickers or intermediaries who bought the cannabis harvest for smuggling to Europe or other Moroccan towns.

READ: Lesotho is pioneering Africa’s medical cannabis industry

Hicham divides his time between his cannabis field and a cafe, where he and his friends smoke joints and watch satellite TV — a distraction from unemployment, he says.

In this rural region, job prospects are rare, with one in four young people unemployed, according to official figures.

Hicham and his friends all left school early to support their families, and many have left for Europe in search of work.

Those who stay mostly work seasonally for large cannabis growers, earning about 100 dirhams per day for a month or two at a time.

Most lack the money to get set up and work for themselves.

Environmental cost –

The high yields of imported hybrid cannabis plants come at a cost, however.

The strains require heavy fertilization, which can damage the soil. And their insatiable thirst threatens the region’s water supplies, according to the OFDT.

Critical grows in the dry summer, requiring heavy irrigation, while Beldiya is planted in winter, depending only on rainfall.

Some locals complain that major producers enforce the planting of hybrids even in arid areas. 

“The traffickers impose it and the people don’t have any other choice,” says Mohamed Benyahya, a local community figure.

To water their plantations, major producers install solar pumps on the roofs of their mansions.

Not far from Hicham’s local cafe, a vast terraced cannabis plantation sprawls up a nearby mountain. 

Rows of carefully maintained plants are watered by drip irrigation via a network of pipes connected to a reservoir.

To legalise, or not –

Hybrids like Critical are notable also for high levels of THC, marijuana’s main psychoactive chemical. 

The adoption of hybrids explains the “rapid and significant increase in the average THC content” of seized Moroccan hashish, according to the OFDT.

Morocco's renowned cannabis faces threats from foreign hybrid, "Critical"
A villager stands in a field of cannabis near the town of Ketama in Morocco’s northern Rif region on September 2, 2019. (Photo by FADEL SENNA / AFP)

For smokers, the effect compared to Beldiya is pronounced. “One makes you think, the other makes you paranoid,” says Mohamed, a friend of Hicham.

READ: Kenya denies it has given a US company licence to produce cannabis

“European consumers no longer want hybrid cannabis on account of its high THC levels,” Mouna said. 

“Traditional Moroccan cannabis remains highly coveted, particularly by advocates of legalisation.”

Cannabis decriminalisation remains controversial in the conservative country. 

Proposals to legalise cannabis have so far met fierce political opposition.

For Mouna, legalisation could help regulate cannabis consumption while also preserving the more traditional and environmentally friendly Beldiya.

And, while Hicham may have switched to growing Critical, he still only smokes Beldiya.

“The modern varieties,” he says, “are mediocre.”

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