I arrived late. I had missed the part I was looking for the most. That was the first thing I learnt when I met my friends; Rami’s standup comedy bit was over. I readied myself to spend half hour or so and then leave. It was open mic night and the last (and only) time I went was solely to see a friend play the guitar. But the half hour turned into three and half. And I spent Friday evening at Makan.
The seven-minute performances were a mix of music, comedy, poetry, and… things. Music without words, songs without music and an amazing tabla duet intercepted by standup comedy, storytelling and poetry recitals. One young woman took the mic to share her views about the definition of humanity. Initially she sounded out of place, and I can’t come up with a category to classify this under, but it was an opportunity for her to share and for us to listen. And like the rest, she was received a guitar smashing applause by the welcoming and enthusiastic audience.
I was enthralled by the abundant talent of mainly amateur performers. Some came out as natural performers, some found a home on the stage, letting go of inhibitions to interact with audience as if with old friends — maybe due to pervious experience in the same or another venue — and others struggled with their stage fright. But all were equally welcomed — ok maybe some more than others — by a friendly and encouraging audience. The consensus was: if you muster up enough courage to step on the makeshift stage, you’ll get the superstar treatment.
It was almost therapeutic, for the performances and the audiences alike. As if by stepping into Makan that night was entering a safe haven; be yourself, experiment if you want, (you can even forget the lyrics and stutter,) and thou shall be rewarded.
The audience, me included, was equally rewarded. In addition to the inspiration provided by amateurs willing to take a risk on stage, the talent as I said earlier was abundant and entertaining. Two presented an animated, choreographed mix of children songs from the 1980s and 90s. Starting with the opening song of “Cinema El Atfal,” the duo elicited laughs as they stirred happy and silly childhood memories. And we all sang along. When their funny skit was over, one of them sat down to belt out a melancholic Aidy Al-Ayoubi song. The applause was roaring and I couldn’t even get their names.
There was a justifiable bias to performances grounded in Egyptian culture. Although they weren’t many, such dispersed acts offered short reprieves from the English-language performances and guitar playing to provide a much needed local touch to the talent on display. One such sensation was a tabla duet. Again the crowd was invigorated to the familiar sound of those oriental beats.
But the audience also appreciated the other not-so-local acts.
The Maqars, a duet of father and daughter, were a returning sensation. Their performance at a pervious open mic night was so successful that they repeated it and again to roaring applause. Whether it was for Malak’s strong and reverberating voice or her father’s impromptu songs in which he humorously mixed Arabic with English, the crowd went crazy.
Shady Ahmed, singing and playing three songs on his guitar all in English, also got us all to sing along. Moving masterfully from mellow to upbeat, he ended his performance to yet another roaring applause.
But the utmost highlight of the evening was Like Jelly. With just three songs, each preceded by a satirical story, the three-man and one-woman band mixed minimal Arabic lyric with one Portuguese song. The chemistry between the four was evident, so was their humor.
Next time they are playing, I’ll be there.