Of Cairo’s many unique concert venues, among them the Pyramids and Al Azhar Park, one in particular has always stood out. Standing augustly at the Eastern edge of the city, the Citadel is something of an outpost between civilization, and the wilderness of the Sahara.
The Citadel is spectacular by day, but waits for night, when the panoramic views of Cairo are obscured by darkness, to truly reveal itself. Only when lit up can one fully appreciate its cobbled courtyards and towering, centuries-old mosques. Amidst the layers of so many histories, you feel you are just the latest in the procession of peoples to pass through its majestic stone walkways.
It creates an atmosphere in which everything seems a little bit special; and on Tuesday evening, the open-air setting for Fathy Salama and ‘CubanaSon,’ tucked away in the Citadel’s Sareyat Al-Gabal quarter, felt just that.
Salama took to the keyboard, providing the platform for five gorgeous bongo-playing, Maracas-shaking, Cuban singers and dancers, known as ‘CubanaSon,’ kitted out in neon pink t-shirts and hot pants. Along with an Upper-Egyptian folkloric dancer ambling around the stage, there was plenty to look at, as well as listen to.
From start to finish the performance was one of mixed quantities. In parts the ensemble drew on all their Latin flair to produce electrifying vocal numbers, the feisty lead singer in particular, thrilling the crowd.
In other parts, however, the sets were long and meandering, without purpose or direction. People began chatting amongst themselves or sending text messages. I’m sure some of them read: “I wish they’d start singing again.
One of Cairo’s most diverse talents, Salama’s musical upbringing heavily influenced a career that has broached several major genres. Salama got his taste for classical music at an early age, beginning piano lessons at just six years old. At the same time he grew up listening to popular Oriental crooners like Oum Kalthoum, and credits the radio – which he listened to avidly – with his early education in Jazz.
His stylistic versatility, rooted in a strong Oriental background, has seen Salama play to audiences in venues everywhere from fields to stadiums to Opera halls all over the world.
Tuesday night’s performance was the product of his latest foray into salsa, before an expectant crowd of about 150 fellow Cairenes; though on the keyboard he was more of a facilitator to the Latin ladies than the main event.
Toward the end, and during one of the slower sequences, the humdrum gave way to a series of bongo drum solos, before uniting to create a rousing cacophony, giving the failing audience a necessary shot in the arm, and providing the concert with a worthy penultimate set.
It restored a deserved sheen to a performance, which did provide great entertainment at times, but whose vibrancy was never fully realized