As I walked into Makan, I saw a small and intimate crowd huddled together talking, laughing, smiling. Among the people gathered were the performers who seemed to blend in with the crowd and, in some cases, know them. That set the tone for the evening and when the Sudanese Sahra performers started, sitting among the crowd since there was no stage, the harmonious feeling was immediately set.
Makan is small but size has little to do with intimacy. This crowd seemed at ease with each other and some of the Sudanese or Sudanese Egyptians in the crowd knew the performers quite well. Even the Europeans were made to feel at home and the evening was spent more like a jam session at a friend’s house than an event at a cultural venue.
The relaxed and familiar atmosphere does have a downside, of course, when it leaves those who are new feel excluded. Nevertheless, the people who attended, the people who work at Makan, and above all the performers, were forthcoming and pleasant. The place looked a bit rundown, though you can make the argument it contributes to the feeling of an organic environment as opposed to other places that come off looking sterile.
The music itself stressed a collective experience and the social aspect was fascinating. The audience cheered and joined in the singing freely, and some even got up to dance. The performers were fast on their feet and would change their tune or adjust the rhythm in response to the crowd’s reaction.
The music sounded largely like a mix of traditional Sudanese music with loud thumping beats and percussion, complimented with guitars. What really brought the music to life was the voice of Asya Madany, the lead vocalist of the group, whose beautiful rich voice filled up the entire room with warmth and energy. The acoustics of the room were irrelevant against her dazzling voice. Even outside, people audibly expressed their delight when she suddenly started singing casually later on the street.
Madany said her music comes from different places in Sudan, “north, west, or south, this music is in our blood. Even though South Sudan is a different country now, we still have the folklore from the whole of the Sudan in our blood, be it south or north,” she said.
Madany has been in Egypt for a few years and she performs shows at the Cairo Opera House as well. A friendly woman, her presence and charisma is felt anywhere she goes. She directly engages the audience and her dynamic performance includes dancing and drums alongside singing and that is notwithstanding the other members of her group. “The reason I am here is because I want to represent my country in a place like Egypt, which is a window to the region and to let people get to know my culture of which I am very proud,” Madany explained, flashing a smile as she nostalgically reminisced about Sudan.
The crowd left happy and wanting more. Most went to the desk to ask about the group’s music and where they could buy it. Meanwhile, Madany and her group were standing casually in the corner; sipping tea, greeting audience members, talking, laughing, and most of all, satisfied with their performance.