Imagine walking by the breezy Alexandrian Corniche, the weather is cloudy and the mood is great. Suddenly, you stumble upon a street band playing all sorts of songs. You stand among a crowd of people and listen to the enthusiastic musicians while eating grilled corn that you have just purchased from a street vendor. Life cannot get much better.
This is the concept of the Mini Mobile Concert project created by Ramez Ashraf, who also acts as the main organiser and artistic director.
“The idea came to me late 2011; I felt that artists need to reach out to [a] wider public. Also, the idea that our streets are filled with ugliness, eyesores and unbearable noise that renders us Egyptians intolerant and aggressive. Seeing how music and arts supported the core value of our revolution and how we have been dragged out of our domain of influence to other political battles made it clear for me how necessary such a project is,” explained Ashraf.
Ashraf is hoping to start a musical revolution of his own. “[I hope to] start an ‘Art in the Street’ movement all over Egypt, one that deepens the connection between artists and the public , and act as a course changer for arts and culture in Egypt, point out and reassure the importance of arts, not just as a luxurious quality enhancer but also as a necessity in our lives,” Ashraf said.
In addition to the musicians that perform in the street, the initiative was supported by many parties. “The British Council was the first to support this project through [their] Grant for Artists in 2011-2012, and AFAC, the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture, supported the project for the year 2013,” Ashraf said, “and the many volunteers who help in loading and unloading the sound equipment and other logistics.”
He credited several projects in which he participated for giving him the needed experience to begin this initiative. These projects included Gudran for Arts and Culture and the National Project for Theatre of the Oppressed. “These projects preceded Mini Mobile Concert in the idea of Changing through Arts and street movements,” Ashraf explained.
The people’s reaction has been very positive. “It’s becoming more and more obvious that the people are in desperate need for premium arts; ones that respect the audience and continue to evolve. People [usually] offer us drinks, money or any kind of help,” Ashraf said.
The concerts have a lingering effect on people: “When passing by locations we played in before, people with a wide smile ask about us and if we will play there again,” Ashraf said.
So, how are the locations usually chosen? “Places where there is a considerable amount of passersby like stations or big streets, and ones which are big enough to hold the crowd without making any trouble to the flow of vehicles. Also it’s important that people living and working in these locations welcome us,” Ashraf explained.
When it came to choosing the name, Ashraf opted for something that is short and to the point: “Mini: the concert consists of small number of musicians, two to three, with professional minimal sound equipment. Mobile: The idea is to move around in order to have the widest reach we can. The Arabic translation Mazika fe el Shar3, Music in the Street, is not a literal translation but a conceptual one,” Ashraf said.
The first concert took place in April of 2011: “We held almost 40 concerts until this day, featuring almost 35 artists playing diverse musicals genres,” Ashraf stated.
As the project developed, the organisers realised that they needed a mode of transportation: “The tricycle helps us in moving around, it was quite an experience to turn a regular tricycle, like any one you see in the street, to the professional one it is now. It sets an example that inexpensive machinery can look good; we see it as a part of our art spreading mission,” Ashraf explained.
The team is also working on an events website called Events Run to further connect audiences with artists. “It provides complete and accurate information about all artistic events happening in each city,” Ashraf explained. The website should roll out in a week.
As a parting note, Ashraf wanted to stress on the fact that the Mini Mobile Concert project stays clear of politics. “While we as individuals do have political preferences, we believe that art alone can convey our higher political message; where if art fails, nothing is expected to ever succeed,” he concluded.
More information about Mini Mobile Concert can be found on their Facebook page.