Snapping his fingers, the conductor steps to one side and lets the orchestra of 45 women take centre stage, their melodic notes flitting through the air and mesmerising the audience.
The Egyptian Al Nour Wal Amal chamber orchestra musicians have no music scrolls, because even if they did, they would not be able to see the notes – they are all blind women who study classical music in Braille and performsolely from memory.
“There’s an ongoing revolution in Egypt, but we are a revolution in ourselves because when people see and hear us play like sighted people, we change their perception, we revolutionise their perspective,” orchestra member Marwa Solieman, 24, said.
Their first-class music has charmed people from all walks of life in 23 countries, including Malta where they performed at the Manoel Theatre in Valletta on Sunday.
“The world is looking for the eighth wonder of the world ... well, here we are,” violinist Shaimaa Yehia giggled.
The 28-year-old English teacher joined the orchestra 17 years ago and believes the Al Nour Wal Amal (light and hope) orchestra has equipped her with self-confidence.
“The orchestra has taught us how to be part of a group, be responsible for ourselves,” Marwa Solieman, 24, chipped in.
Ms Solieman, who has been playing the violin for the past 15 years, is a new graduate in English.
The women learn music at an institute set up in Cairo in 1961 by the Al Nour Wal Amal association, a non-profit charity run by volunteers which provides free education, literacy programmes and vocational training for blind women across a wide range of ages.
Mariam Kamel, 17, is a secondary school student who also plays the violin. She joined the orchestra two years ago and brims with pride when she talks about it.
“Whatever Egypt is going through in these difficult times, the country still has something unique to be proud of,” she says softly.
The orchestra is the only one worldwide entirely composed of blind musicians who play classical and oriental music.
“It’s especially challenging for the Egyptian culture... We are blind, play hybrid music, and we are women,” Ms Solieman laughed with pride at the orchestra’s many achievements.
The chamber has also changed the women’s life. It has given them access to another world.
“When playing the violin we slip into our own colourful world away from this world of war. Our concerts give us the force to continue, because the audience’s interaction helps us forget everything,” Ms Yehia beamed.