S.O.S. Music Festival Sep 15th, 2006

We attended the SOS Music Festival yesteday at the Chinese Garden on the Cairo International Conference Center grounds. The name chosen for the all-day, 8-bands affair reflects the opinion, shared by many Egyptians, that low-quality pop music has monopolized Egyptian airwaves, leaving nothing to the real musicians. This festival was an attempt at saving the music.

And saving it did! All the factors that make attending open-air music festivals enjoyable were there. The location is a huge garden with a big grass field, probably donated by the Chinese government, that comfortably accepted the 2000-3000 attendees. Once inside, past what looked like decent security gates, we immediately felt transported to an alternate and sorely-missed Egypt. One where you can stroll around freely, lay on the grass, enjoy the nice weather and relax to the music. Without being subjected to scolding or lustful stares, authoritarian treatment, or flea-market swindles. The crowd, mostly university students, were there for the music and the good time. Since no alcohol was allowed, there were no fights or the typical weird vibes. I did not smell too much drugs either :-)

Now the music. The stage was of decent size, well-lit, with great sound - for a welcome change. It was flanked by two screens on either side, and your typical corporate sponsors billboards. There was no master of ceremonies, but each band presented itself and the crowd was pretty receptive. The bands that we caught were Sa7ara, Massar Igbary, Nagham Masry, Eftekasat, Resala, and El Door El Awal. We missed the last performance by Wust El Balad because we were all pretty tired by then :-) These bands represent the still-underground modern Egyptian sound: typical Western rhythm sections (guitar-keys-bass-drums) mixed with Oriental instruments (prominent percussions, violin, oud, nayy, kanoun). All lyrics are in Arabic, which is a phenomenon that did not exist 5 years ago, and which to me marks the successful assimilation of the Western format to a new musical identity. The musical influence of Pink Floyd and other guitar bands was obvious, and lyrically Egyptian folk poets such as Ahmed Fouad Negm, Sheikh Imam and Salah Jaheen were frequently sung. Thankfully, we did not hear a single stale love song.

Of course, this is an early step in what will be a long process. One particularly infuriating detail was forbidding the use of cameras or recording equipment. The culture of openness and democratic journalism hasn't yet caught on, and as a friend remarked, with the current crop of camera phones, what we'll end up with is bad pictures as opposed to no pictures at all! The organizers or the sponsors probably wanted "exclusive rights" to the festival footage, but they don't realize that the best marketing comes from the happy customers themselves.

All in all, though, it was a perfect afternoon. I am looking forward to the next one!