There are two music venues I have been wanting to go to since I arrived in Cairo. The first is a very well-known spot that I visited once or twice last time I was here: El Sawy Culture Wheel. The second location is a smaller venue that keeps sneaking up on me. I feel as though every conversation about music ends up with a reference to Makan. It's reputation as the best whole the wall for underground and traditional music convinced me that I HAD TO see this place for myself. I had been (desperately) wanting to go to concerts at these places but I hadn't had a chance to organize any friends to go. While I considered just forcing myself to go alone, general apprehension and laziness kept me at home. I also acknowledged that a more easy-going, Insha'allah, attitude about by goals was more Egyptian. I am glad to say I was rewarded for adopting this attitude. I've had a great weekend so far!
This month's session of Arabic classes will finish up next week, and then most of my buddies are traveling for Ramdan or back to real life in their home countries. (It looks like it's just going to be little ole me studying away by my lonesome next month.) We all wanted to meet up before we disperse, so we agreed to meet downtown and go to a cafe. Last minute, plans were changed slightly, and all I was told was that music was somehow involved. I was absolutely gleeful to be led be lead directly to the one place I most wanted to visit: Makan. The venues was perfectly dingy for my taste, but I think even the neat-freaks in my family could enjoy it there. The three member band played Eritrean, Sudanese, and other African traditional songs. The songs were unstructured and emotive with beats that my white brain couldn't duplicate. I thoroughly enjoyed it. At one point a beautiful women got up and started dancing despite the calm atmosphere of the venue. With perfect confidence she proceeded with the most graceful, subtlest, and sensual belly dancing I have seen. I hesitate to call it belly dancing because American and even showy-Egyptian belly dancing has such a different flavor with big sweeping hip movements and body tricks, but this was all small concentrated movements with a more African flavor. This woman's friend joined her (with a more Egyptian party style of dance). When they saw me jamming in my chair they pulled me up to dance with them. Believe it or not, my friends say I held my own. Twice they had me dance with them. My high school obsession with Shakira has paid off! I am proud of myself for not feeling too embarrassed. The music wasn't exactly the kind that makes you jump out of your chair, but if you let it sweep over you you can find the jam. It was a great night that ended with a lovely sit at an 'ahwa.
At Makan, British friend Mike said he had seen this band before. I asked him where he found out about events and he pointed me in the direction of Cairo 360. The next day I was perusing this website, and low and behold a musician I liked was playing at El Sawy THAT NIGHT! The musician was Ramy Essam, a young man who became famous during the revolution for putting popular chants to music. I actually gave a presentation about him and other music in Egypt in a class I took about the Revolution. Essam was actually arrested and tortured at one point, making him even more famous. He is also very cute. So I had to go. I pretty much ended up going alone. I assumed my foreign friends didn't know the musician and my Egyptians couldn't meet until after, but it doesn't matter. I SAW RAMY ESSAM.
Essam opened for himself with an acoustic set. (I don't know if opening bands are even a things here.) For a few songs he brought on a friend who played classical guitar. It sounded great. Essam's voice has that raw untrained quality, like melodic speaking, but at the same time his voice is good enough that it doesn't berak, he can do some beautiful runs, and has a decent range. But after a short while he left the stage, "for five minutes." We were standing there for over an hour. While it was hot and stuffy and crowded it was also a fun experience because everyone knew Essam's songs, the crowd just sang them with out him, and then recited all the latest protest chants.
Eventually, dreamy Ramy did return, and with a full band. Instead of a drummer he had kind of a cheesy DJ for his beats, but after a few songs I got into. (There was also a tabla, or Egyptian hand-drum, player, so that helps.) It was a fun set, and he played for quite a while to make up for the time he lost. Boy, is he cute. I was smart enough to bring my glasses so I could see him properly.
The concert ended in fireworks, and then I met some friends at a cafe. It was a good night in a good weekend :)
I desperately want to upload the videos that I have from the Rany Essam concert. I can't get it to work right now, but I will keep trying!