Thursday, April 17, 2008

We were helped down by mountain rescue

Tuesday night was spent with the crème de la crème of Egypt’s left-wing community at the mozza Marcel Khalife concert: it was a bit like being at a protest without the riot police, and with everyone in their Sunday best. Excitement was high, but not as high as our seats, which were on the top balcony or row or whatever the nomenclature is, and so far up that I could almost touch the ceiling. Being stuck in the seat for two hours with the ceiling causing static to my hair reminded me of my journey from Abdel Meneim Reyad to City Stars in the rain by microbus, when we got stuck on the October Bridge for forever.

I paid 100 Egyptian pounds for this ticket, which irked me slightly given that 1. I was sitting on the roof and, 2. I spied plenty of empty seats millions of miles below in the balcony and had understood that ticket price was linked to scarcity. The front row was of course occupied primarily by the leadership of the Tagammo3 political party, who were rewarding themselves for the hard work of hording the best tickets distributing the tickets fairly and in an egalitarian fashion.

I was even more irked to see that while I had dusted off one of two dresses I own in order to comply with the Opera’s dress code (and as a result spent the evening wobbling around in painful high heels because even I wont wear brown suede slip-ons with a dress), I saw numerous men dressed in jeans with ties slung round their necks in order to distract attention from their legs. They looked stupid, but not as stupid as me involuntarily doing my Tina Turner dancing walk.

I understood that mozza Marcel had appeared on the stage when the audience started clapping, and when I got out my periscope I did indeed see a distant speck in a green scarf clutching a wooden instrument of some sort. It was like looking at him on Google Earth. He and the bloke next to him on the double bass then proceeded to bang out instrumental jazz fusion music which might charitably be called experimental. Alternatively, if you are a philistine from Croydon, you might term it shite.

Things looked up when mozza Marcel’s sons Ramy and Bachar appeared on stage. In conformity with the tradition in the Arab world of sons joining the same profession as their fathers (see: Gamal Mubarak) Bachar is a superb percussionist and Ramy is a Julliard-trained piano virtuoso. They banged out a lovely song about love before starting the Mahmoud Darwish-penned ‘Jawaz Safar’ which is wowzers blazers.

Alas in the middle of Jawaz Safar there was an attack of the bollocks and it descended into jazz improv. Peter on double bass started knocking out a random order of notes as is customary while Ramy on piano suddenly felt the need to stand up, lean over the piano and earnestly play the keys or the strings or whatever they’re called, inside the piano. The sound was unremarkable and he looked like he was looking for something he had accidentally dropped inside it.

As is inevitable, the cacophony on stage was eventually matched by the buzz of people chatting and sending SMSes and getting up to have a fag as can only be expected when people in front of you on a stage are producing the sound equivalent of releasing one’s bowels.

Mozza Marcel & sons eventually remembered that they were giving a public performance and regrouped, and then did a rousing song involving audience participation which was enjoyed by all.

One member of the audience bellowed out ‘O3’NEYYA LE MA7ALLA YA MARCEL’ [a song for Mahalla, mozza Marcel] which mozza Marcel resolutely ignored. Which pissed me off immensely. Later, he announced that the next song was for ‘kell el sho3oob el Arabeye men el mo7eet lel khaleej’ [all the Arab peoples, from the Med to the Gulf], a classification which I suppose encompasses Mahalla.

There was a superb moment of petulance during which mozza Marcel got out his handbag and told us off. What happened is that he started strumming the opening notes of his classic song about his mum’s bread, which is better than it sounds and extremely moving. Two notes in and somewhere in the auditorium a passing flea expectorated phlegm softly, causing Marcel to cease and desist and announce ‘el og’neyya hai keteer ma7taja samt, samt kebeer’ (or something like that) [this song really requires silence, complete silence]. This being Egypt, the response of the audience was to clap, which only incensed mozza Marcel further and suddenly I had got my money’s worth.

Near the end of the concert he started thanking us for coming and telling us that we had lit up the opera etc, causing one impassioned woman to bellow out NO NOOOO, presumably in protest at his buggering off early. He told her off, too, requesting ‘la7ze wa7de sa3’eera’ [one moment] from the ill-mannered woman, in a prissy manner. He then explained that a huge artist from the world of Egyptian music would join him on stage and we all held our breaths waiting for a big star to appear as we mentally went through the list of still-alive Egyptian musicians on to guess who it possibly could be. “HASSAN MOTAZ!” he declared, before an unknown man leaped on stage to the rippled murmur of “who who who who who??” and weak clapping.

Hassan Motez actually turned out to be a gifted cello player who gave a wicked and passionate solo and I’m certain that he left the Opera House with a thousand new fans.

I’ve seen mozza Marcel twice now, once last night, once in London, and while his performances are always technically brilliant, they lack soul, and are slightly dull as a result. He is the Pete Sampras of the music world.


Eventuality said...

lol "a passing flea expectorated phlegm softly"

la2 gamda :)

Glad you had THAT MUCH fun :)

Personally, I never understood all the hype about Marcel. It seems that people these days get excited about ideas rather than actual artistic output. It's just 'in' if you are interested in Marcel Khalifa or if you are going to his concert.

We ba3dein Mahallet eih? Da beta3 Mahalla da? Da yettakel fel Mahalla asassan :)

Anonymous said...

Hello Amnesiac,

Marcel Khalife. Words escape me when I want to express my admiration for his music, his voice, his message. a genuine artistic revolutionary and cultural icon. His music transcends to a higher level. He shares his soul center stage leaving the audience with a resonant message filled with depth, inspiration, grace, hope, life, aspirations, peace. His soft spoken voice has behind it immeasurable weight of moral, social and just strength evoking in us a conscience revolution.

Your review of the concert is very detailed but your way of delivery – though humorous – is rather very insulting. I admit, you give some credit and seem to relatively appreciate his message...however, I’m just curious to know why you would attend his concert and perhaps ‘waste’(?) two hours of your time if you don’t seem to fully appreciate his music and work?

Eventuality: In a world full of injustice like the world we live in, people search for and are in need of inspiration, hope, peace. Marcel Khalife's music and voice is a glimmer of hope in our struggle for liberation.

In Solidarity,

Scarr said...

Eventuality & Iman: I like some of Marcel's stuff, and went to this Cairo concert to see if it would be an improvement on the London performance. It wasn't.

I'm glad that Marcel inspires you, Iman. I long ago realised that it's pointless debating something as subjective as music. So I wont.

Not sure who or what I insulted though I'll admit I cock a few snoops here and there, as is my wont.

fully_polynomial said...

lol@ the Hassan Motaz bit :D

I personally dont like Marcel's 'music' at all.

"I’m just curious to know why you would attend his concert and perhaps ‘waste’(?) two hours of your time if you don’t seem to fully appreciate his music and work?"

Iman -- Things are not always as straightforward as that. I have been to concerts by artists whose music I completely loved but the concerts left me very cold. I have been to good concerts where I didnt care much for the artist before hand.

(But A - what were you thinking paying a 100 pounds to see this guy?) A 100 pounds for a shitty ticket in a concert sponsored by a socialist party? bah!

Seneferu said...


Anonymous said...

It was a complete turn off when the song dedicated to all Arabs from the ocean to the gulf turned jazzy halfways. And Ramy was 'doing the piano' a bit too much. Alas, if daddy's idea of playing the lute and the double bass is drumming on the sound boxes...

The scarf was aqua blue, and the crowd is rude.

Anonymous said...

"I long ago realised that it's pointless debating something as subjective as music."

You're relatively right, amnesiac, . But it's always interesting hearing other views ...and what I find even more interesting is the logic behind those views.

"I have been to concerts by artists whose music I completely loved but the concerts left me very cold. I have been to good concerts where I didnt care much for the artist before hand."

fully_polynomial: Yes, I can identify with that...

"...a concert sponsored by a socialist party? bah!"

being sponsored by a socialist party is supposed to have been a turn off?

Seneferu , hi. I wasn't trying to be humorous by expressing my opinion! ;)

fully_polynomial said...

"being sponsored by a socialist party is supposed to have been a turn off?"

When the cheapest tickets are LE 100, then yes, it is a major turn off and downright hypocritical. To hold this concert in the expensive opera house instead of many other available and cheaper venues is either hypocritical or insanely stupid. As people observed, it did not sound too good either, and there were lots of empty seats. Those seats would have been filled if tickets were reasonably priced. So in essence, this is a concert organized by "the party for the people" that makes it impossible for the majority of people to attend. If you don't find that ironic enough then, well, fine.

Anonymous said...

This says more about my shallowness, then it does about your blog, but when I read the words 'Tina Turner dance', I thought "This blog is going on my blogroll".

Now for some pedantry.
A periscope is for looking at something situated above you (e.g. the surface of the sea when you are in a submarine), since you were located far, far above the stage a telescope or binoculars may have been more useful.

Deeeeeee said...

That concert was so different from downstairs and the reviews vary vastly from one person to another, which is somewhat surprising. Personally, that concert was almost flawless. I hope you had as much fun as I did! :)

Anonymous said...

Hamalawy has been pulled off line :\ It's starting......brace for impact....

Scarr said...

Safiya: Thanks for pointing that out!

D many Es: I did.

Anon: Hamalawy is still online in my part of Cairo as far as I can tell.

Anonymous said...

Interesting post!
Though I am actually a fan of Marcel, and his mozza sons (especially Rami) I enjoyed reading this very much!
I still hold my opinion though that he gave a better performance two years ago at the Culture Wheel, it had a magical air about it. As much I enjoyed this one I was disturbed by the rudeness and loudness of the crowd. The guys sitting behind me were singing soo enthusiastically it almost made me laugh and it was just a mood wrecker!
I had a great time though, I allowed myself to be taken away for a while and admire the whole thing!

Fully_Polynomial, I TOTALLY AGREE with the whole hypocrisy thingy! But actually the cheapest ticket was not for a 100, it was for 25! Still however, the whole thing was highly ironic!

Natalia said...

Oh my, how cool to read you've been in Marcel's concert. He was like my idol during childhood in Syria and I still enjoy his old songs.

I did see some of his concerts on TV and I don't care much for them.

But I understand he's still an icon for the leftis "youth" :) As apparent through your comments. You know back in the day (eighties) they used to jail young guys in Syria who were listening to him too much?