Yeah yeah, I know how late this is, my To Do list is evolving into a joke, yet not crossing things off it irks me, so here you go, my belated take on the notorious Cairo Jazz Festival.
So a month prior to the concert, minimal details have been announced and getting a ticket is a challenge that involves seeking the help of lovely individuals such as the delightful queen of the pink planet (in my case). Thanks ya fandem for the tickets and the effort.
So there we were at the doors of the Wheel armed with our golden tickets and looking at a horrendously long queue. For non-Egyptians reading, you couldn’t possibly understand what “queue” means in Egypt, I’d explain, but I’m pretty sure I’ll get criticised for speaking unfavourably of our lovely Cairo. Utilise your imaginations though, think “stampede”.
Using a buddy technique, hand holding, some creative stair hopping and a walking and evading technique so complex it would qualify as dancing; we make it across the Wheel grounds to the designated stage area. At this point I am both shocked at the sheer amount of people there who seem interested in Ziad Rahbani and in the age range and nature of those “cultured” attendees. Needless to say, gates having been opened for only five minutes, yet the seated area is already fully occupied by attendees who pulled strings and used a rear entrance.
Using brute force to maintain any semblance of personal space, we occupy a little area at the front to the right of the stage, on the off chance the piano was going to be on that side. Tens (hundreds?) of individuals filled that space in the river hall, crowding, pushing, arguing, chanting, carrying signs and flags and calling his name. Sawy came out a couple of times asking people not to smoke and to practice patience. We were surrounded by the same crowd and attitude you would get at the stadium. Only this was a Jazz concert!
Ziad finally arrives and starts, visibility of the stage is almost non-existent. I had friends who actually opted to go sit by the Nile river bank and watch off the monitors and just listen through the speakers. Ziad himself was quite hassled, he made it a point to ask the random chanters and clappers to quiet down so that he and the band could play. He also had to remind the lighting engineer that less really is more, as he and the band were unable to read their notes. He didn’t sing during the first portion, which came as a semi-disappointment.
On the plus side, the music was heavenly, the brass section brilliant and the drummers inspired. I was quite impressed by the young vocal he invited out. Yet it is a truly alarming thing when the highlight of a jazz concert is a cameo by Wust El Balad’s Hany. He seems to have quiet enjoyed himself. I thought he was pretty good. Crowd loved him as usual.
After the first break my claustrophobia was starting to kick-in. I abandoned our location and joined my friends at the river bank. Only at that moment they restarted with “Walla Keif”, Ziad’s version of Autumn Leaves originally sung by Fairouz. The lovely female vocalist I had actually enjoyed earlier did a horrible job of it. So we leave, finding nothing else to keep us. Driven off by the commercialisation of culture, the horrible acoustics, the lousy organisation and all the damn cigarette smoke.