The Pharaohs phoned me in a bit of a panic 2 weeks ago. “We need you to work on Thursday (the dancer who was on the schedule couldn’t do it for some reason), but you can’t.” I assured them I could, no problem, but then they told me that Outi was working the same night on the other boat. The thing is, for the past few months Outi, a dancer here from Finland, and I have been sharing a band. It just made sense. Work levels since revolution have been so low, that by using the same band we could ensure they didn’t leave to try and find more regular work and they could actually make enough to feed their families. So, I had 2 days in which to find a new band for myself so that Outi and I could both work the same night!
Thankfully, just before Ramadan I had performed at a couple of weddings, and the guy, let’s call him M, who found me the bands for those (which were fabulous) was happy to put together a band for me on short notice.
The night of work we all met in a sound studio not far from the boat to have a quick rehearsal, or prova as they call it here. I knew the accordion player already, and seeing who the singer was, was a lovely surprise since I have wanted to work with him for a long time and we had actually discussed it just the week previously! I’ve got excited about new bands before, and often disappointed, so I was trying to keep it together- but it sounded great!
Then there was all the fuss. There is always fuss. On day 2 the tabal didn’t show up to one sail, then the accordion didn’t come to 2 and then the dholla left before the last one. It was a disaster. (Although musically I have to admit to being pleasantly surprised how well we did considering!) I phoned the guy who got me the band, M; only to find out that he had outsourced the job if you like, to someone I don’t know, let’s call him A, so he had to call him, who then had to call the musicians. 3 phone calls in each direction just to try and find out what was going on with my own band. It was ridiculous. So, when the singer told me that he loved working with me, but couldn’t unless he was the ‘chief’ the band leader I agreed. It makes much more sense than dealing with this chain of folk. Plus, he really does know his stuff and is easy to get along with, and I had asked him a year ago to form a band for me and at the time he couldn’t.
However, then the real fun began. I had to essentially fire the man who had gotten me the band in the 1st place, M. He wasn’t happy, but understood. ‘A’ however was less than amused accusing the Singer of stealing his work etc. Setting the musicians up against him. Saying I had said all sorts of things, which I hadn’t since I still haven’t even met ‘A’. Trying to get the musicians to refuse to work with the Singer, threatening to cancel all their other employment with him. Did you follow all that? It was a mess. I swear that employing a band in Egypt is often like being a school playground attendant.
So, at the moment, I still have this band. The singer is band leader, which so far he does seem to do well and we will see how many of the musicians stay after I have paid them for this schedule of work. It is such a shame that the faff and politics takes away from the joy of making music! What I love about this band so far is they are full of great music ideas of songs I should listen to and learn and then they start singing them then and there. So every night at work, I get serenaded between shows! Is that ‘up’ worth all the downs of working with musicians.... absolutely!!!!