Singing it up in Harry's Pub

Peter A. Carrigan
6 Min Read

Karaoke draws a distinguished crowd

CAIRO: A balanced diet, a balanced weekend I thought. On Thursday night it was a rich steaming stew of ideas served up by author and historian, William Dalyrmple at an AUC lecture, and on Friday night, karaoke at Harry’s Pub provided the pudding.

Dalyrmple is an authority on the history of Christianity in the Middle East and the development of Islam and its influence on Western civilization. Such a resume makes him the perfect candidate for karaoke. A foreign professional.

On Friday night I met a doctor, two computer engineers, an economic researcher from the Arab League, teachers, a journalist, an Austrian tourist and two financial analysts. All but one are regulars at the British-style pub, located beside the northern car park in the Marriott Hotel, Zamalek.

Just after 11:00 pm, radiologist, Dr Michael Waguih, got the party started with Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World. The affable Waguih has spent the last two years as MC at Harry’s, and before that he was a regular himself.

“I was a regular karaoke singer, then a friend asked me to fill in for a month as MC and as you can see, I am still here.

In all that time, Waguih and his right hand man, DJ George Samuel, have ranked Frank Sinatra’s “My Way as the most popular tune. Closely followed by the Gloria Gaynor anthem “I Will Survive, and the rhythm and blues standard “Mustang Sally.

Good standard fare, but on Friday I didn’t hear any of them. Instead, one of the evening’s finest renditions of a song was by the computer engineer, Nader El-Naggar from Nasr City, who sang “Dr Feelgood. The jovial El-Naggar’s alter ego kicked in and he was transformed into a dark gothic figure, exuding a primeval sexual energy, complete with air guitar and rock-god pose.

And there it was, Waguih had correctly diagnosed the reason people love karaoke – because karaoke is fantasy. Not to mention that there is a dearth of live Western style music venues in Cairo, so creating your own gig is not a bad option, and that I thought was that.

Then with out warning, Derek Sands exploded onto the stage with the Jerry Lee Lewis number “Great Balls of Fire. Forget the fantasy, Sands who is from Washington, D.C. and works as a journalist with United Press International was taking no prisoners. His body spasmed, gasping for air, his tattooed forearm pointing frenetically like the hand of a clock gone mad, screaming into the microphone he pogoed around like the original wild man, Jerry Lee himself.

Sands, who had received his karaoke training in Japan, has been in Cairo since August and was also singing duets with his Canadian friend, Angela Johnston.

Johnston, hails from Vancouver and ironically sang the Thin Lizzy classic, “The Boys Are Back in Town, telling me that she had never been so aware of being female as she was in Cairo. But that doesn’t deter this English language teacher, who said she loves Cairo, “I see order in the chaos.

Any good karaoke night follows the rule of ordered chaos, but the equation wouldn’t be complete without a karaoke virgin (which I am still, by the way). It was the first time for Mohamed Labban, from Maadi, when he sang the Brian Adams ballad, “Everything I Do, I Do it For You. His voice maybe a little nervous and his stance a little wooden, but he was great. He was entertaining, he was fun and he was braver than me!

Some people regard Harry’s as too smoky and the air conditioning too cold. Though for financial analyst Fuada Sadi from Syria, Harry’s is “a real pub. It is laid back and has good music. His friend then offered two tips for the stock market – Raya Holdings and Orascom Telcom.

And like good tips in good pubs everywhere, the best course is to ignore advice given in a pub. A good pub is a local pub where you run into old friends and that is what happened on Friday night. A familiar figure, though sprouting a new beard, and former colleague, Paul Badham. A musician himself, he tells me that the Rugby Club also has karaoke and Bar Kilimanjaro in Maadi runs regular open mic evenings.

No good pub is complete without a good publican. And the manager of Harry’s, Alaa Hamid, moves around the crowd greeting regulars and welcoming new faces. He chats to one punter sitting alone, which is very kind, and that is the kind of place Harry’s is, your local pub, where every Thursday and Friday night you can enjoy a good ol’ fashion sing-along.

Notice Board

Free Australian films at the Cairo Opera House.Strictly Ballroom – Monday Nov. 20, 5:00 pmThe Man From Snowy River – Monday Nov. 20, 7:30 pmNed Kelly – Tuesday Nov. 21, 5:00 pmThe Dish – Tuesday Nov. 21, 7:30 pm

Further info: Australian Embassy – Phone: (202) 575 0444 ext. 103

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