Microphone hits the right notes

Whenever I get sick of all the unoriginal mainstream music blasting from loud radios and TVs — which is something of a permanent state for me now — I discover a song or a band in the underground music scene that revives hope.

Contrary to what most commercial musicians want us to believe, music is an art form. It has the ability to stir sadness, joy, or an endless array of emotions we never knew existed. But for music to keep its place in the world of arts, it has to be heartfelt. Artists that aren’t seeking the approval of either ill-informed or commercially-oriented producers tend to deliver this genuine type of music. And although many such acts draw a steadily expanding loyal following, the same commercially-oriented producers don’t usually seem interested. Thus, they remain part of the underground scene — treasures that need to be dug.

This is why I was excited about watching “Microphone”, a film about the underground music scene in Alexandria. I had seen director Ahmad Abdalla’s debut feature, “Heliopolis”, last year at the Cairo International Film Festival. It was beautiful and promising and made “Microphone” even more appealing.

The film lived up to my expectations and more when I watched it in a packed theater as part of this year’s festival. It was joyous and upbeat, in spite of highlighting the artists’ daily frustrations. It’s the effect of music. Here’s my review of it for Daily News Egypt.

The film featured four bands, Y-Crew Family, Mascara, Massar Egbari, Soot Fel Zahma, in addition to a range of other individual artists. According to Abdalla, he chose these out of nine bands. And there are dozens more in Alexandria.

Until the film and the soundtrack are released in Egypt, here are two of my favorite songs in the film. There are more, but these are the ones I found online. Make sure to visit the musicians’ pages on MySpace and Facebook to listen to more of their work.

Massar Egbari & Aly El Halabawy, “Mirsal le Habibty” (A Message to My Love)


Massar Egbari, “Eqra El-Khabar” (Read the News)


Film Trailer:


For more about the film, its makers and the musicians: http://www.microphone-film.com/
And http://www.microphone-themovie.com/


Tweetup & Open Mic Night this Friday

Now there are two regular events that I look forward to in Cairo: the Open Mic Night (which was held before at Makan) and the Cairo Tweetup. This month, both are happening on the same night. But the good news is that both are happening at the same place: Darb 1718.

Like Jelly are performing (I said next time they go on stage I’d be there). And on the comedy side Ahmed Al-Mojadidi is making his debut (I guess). I haven’t seen him on stage before, but I’ve met him a couple of times and he’s HILARIOUS.

According to Mo-ha-med, Tweetup Guru, you can call Mojadidi ‘Dodi’, even though he might not like it. But you have to do what Mo says anyway. No questions asked or you’ll be banished from Tweetup Heaven.

So here you go, you can rediscover and support local talent while meeting very interesting tweeps, all at the same time.

We’ll be the geeks with the name tags. We wear them with pride.

Come along and say hi.

For more info, check the Facebook event or Mo’s blog post. And here’s the map.

The wonderful people of Makan

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.

Mariam & Abdel-Rahman, Take 1

Last Saturday, January 16, Abdel-Rahman Hussein took hold of his guitar as Mariam Ali belted out a couple of songs in her powerful voice to the lucky attendants of the Hannfaninha Gallery 1st anniversary celebrations.

Even though I’ve known Abdu for years, it was the first time I’ve seen him perform live. And what a treat. Like I’ve always heard, he’s one of the best guitar players. I’m no musician, but his skillful strumming doesn’t need an expert eye.

As for Mariam, many of you must be familiar with her voice now, having heard her on the radio (Nile FM) before. She doesn’t need much introduction; her warm voice literally speaks for itself.

And to top it off, the duo have an evident and delightful chemistry on stage.

Just watch the videos here. (I had to lower the quality of the second one to cut down uploading time; I’m still new to this video business).

And after you watch these videos and start regretting you weren’t there (which you definitely will), don’t fret. Both are playing tonight, Thursday Jan. 21, in Makan at 8:30 pm. It’s an open mic night, so there will be other acts too.

Be there!