Last night I went to an open stage night run by my friend, a poet, Linda Cleary. It was held (as the name suggests, up ‘on the roof’ of the Darb 17/18 art centre which is a fabulous art gallery space in Fustat. It is situated in a very local area and the night was punctuated with zaghreets, gunshots and shaabi music- all celebrating a wedding nearby.
When we arrived to set up, it started to rain. RAIN... the reason events like this would rarely be held ‘on the roof’ in UK and indeed the reason why most buildings in UK do not even have a roof space that could be used! Anyway- thankfully the rain didn’t stick around, but the wind did (which created sound issues with feedback from the mic's, and blew peoples papers around when they were trying to recite from them!). It was still warm though!
The night had a range of performers from stand up comedians to ‘folk’ singers to poetry recitals and article readings to rapping.
A few really stood out for me, a comedian talking in Arabic, where I could understand only a fraction of the words but from his fabulous delivery had me in stitches. Another comedian , talking in English, who also brought tears to my eyes in a good way, joking about passing around the ‘unemployment’ (the Arabic word for a joint is ‘job’, which he pointed out was strange because if you smoke that stuff often you don’t have a job!) . What amazed me was the open talk about drugs, bodily functions etc which are common place on the comedy circuit in UK but I haven’t ever heard here. Most Egyptian humour I had previous heard was all about sex (mainly about people cheating on their wife/husband) or about stupidity- the ‘saaidi’ jokes in Egypt equate to the ‘Irish’ jokes at home. ( I wrote ‘at home’ there, then had an instant urge to delete it and write ‘in UK’ again, since Egypt is now my home... but left it to prove that you have take a girl out of Scotland but you can’t take Scotland out the girl!!!
There was one poet who read his word in Fus’ha, i.e. classical Arabic, and the sound of it was fabulously beautiful, but as admitted by the Egyptian man next to me, understood by very few. Even though most of the audience were highly educated with many of the performers being doctors in the ‘real’ world. This poet then read a translation of his work in English and it was still so deep that I couldn’t get a lot of it. Proving some minds have to be admired even when they can’t be understood in either language!
The acts I didn’t enjoy so much were rarely about content and more about delivery. The difference between those who had memorised their work and performed for the audience compared to those who were reading was massive. Even the best reader’s words get lost when the wind is blowing the paper about wildly and when they struggle to read everything in the dim lighting! And many were reading from their mobiles or laptops, which also had the effect of distancing me from what they had to say.
The highlights of the night for me were 2 Egyptian rap artists. One tried to perform something he had written as a rap but in poem form... and on forgetting the words had to go back and put it to a beat to bring back the words to his mind. Proving the power of music! The other, who performed twice, worked with a variety of backings. He had a guitar backing him, then a sound track he had obviously created for the piece played from his iPod, and then... on not having a backing track for his last piece, asked if there was anyone ‘in the house’ who could do beat box..... And there was- and it was amazing!!! The spontaneity of that and the professionalism of the result really impressed me.
Oh and I must mention the guy who’s poetry didn’t get me as much as his actions did. On his last poem, he turned to his mobile which was on a chair... and making a call, put the phone back on the chair and apologised on the mic saying that the next one was written for his ‘girl’ and he wanted her to hear it! His face went all soft as he almost whispered his last poem- about love. When he finished he grabbed the phone talking with his girl will a soppy grin all over his face as he walked but through the crowd. THAT is Egyptian!
It was an amazing event with about 100 people in attendance and it happens every month. I was nervous about going, knowing that at least half of the 20 the acts would be in Arabic, which I might not understand, and not being so into poetry... but I was entertained totally throughout. I recommend it as an educational and fun night out surrounded by talented and interesting young Egyptians, up on the roof!