This month’s SOS (Save Our Soul) Festival seemed to go off without a hitch, but what else is new? In its seventh installment in just over a year (including a smaller-scale festival that promoted the Stand Against Hunger campaign), SOS has developed quickly.
The man behind the idea, musician and founder Mohamed “Ousso Lotfy, said, “This festival is not just for music. My main goal is for this festival to somehow create a democratic scene. In this garden everyone respects each other.
They received 10 demos in September 2006. A year later, 60 bands sent in demos with all original music. Now Ousso is planning lineups months in advance, which gives him the freedom to diversify and improve the show each time.
“The growth and development in the scene is fast, he says, namely referring to rock music.
Omar Brazily, lead vocalist for heavy metal group Wyvern, says metal music is finally being liberated from the underground and “coming back heavier than before.
The ebb and flow of artistic expression is at work, and the music is apparently drifting back to this genre. Of course, the SOS Festival features more than rock music. Any group with original material is welcome to perform.
Jokingly, Ousso adds, “I’m a bit racist in my festival, there must be at least one Arab in the band. Anything else goes.
Nasser Elnoubi, poet and founder of the group Guemeza, echoes Ousso’s approach. “Every country, every place has to find its roots. If they [embrace] their heritage and identity, they will reach people’s hearts.
While the poet says he wants to first collaborate with Egyptians, he adds that you have to keep an open mind when it comes to art and music.
Ousso makes it a point to keep the groups as diverse as possible to cater to different musical tastes.
Still, since “you can’t please everybody, there are booths serving food, coffee and refreshments to keep people entertained if they are not enjoying the music playing at any point.
What made Ousso especially happy was the fact that the audience is “learning to appreciate the effort [by the different groups], even when it [the music] is not that good.
Is he implying the music is bad?
“Poor country, poor people, poor art, poor music, the seasoned musician says when asked about the state of Egypt’s music today. Still, he says it is progressing.
“You can only change people with culture and art, Ousso said. And that is what he intends to do. For one thing, he slipped distorted rock samples into fast food and soda ads when it was an unacceptable musical taste.
Mostafa Moagdis, one of the thousands who received a free ticket to attend SOS, said, “It’s amazing every time. He mostly praised Ousso’s guitar skills after hearing him play with the recently reunited Nagham Masry.
Reactions towards Mascara’s performance were also positive.
Ousso said the group sent their demo in for previous SOS festivals but he did not feel they were ready. He decided to give them their first shot this time around, and the crowd responded positively.
“This kind of music is not heard here. It’s not popular. They are the first all-girl band, said audience member Hassan El Sedaiwy. “They are very special.
The final performance at this month’s SOS was Ruba Saqr, described by Justin Adams as “the Jordanian Joan Baez.
Saqr, like Ousso, remembers a darker time in the local music scene. “The music is not what they wanted, but they wanted my voice, she says, so she avoided it all together for four years, working instead in media and public relations.
Today, she says, she is able to write and perform what she wants because of events like SOS. She is currently working on her first album.
Even though the show is developing, there are still some bumps along the way. For example, the major sponsor backed out of this latest edition a week before the show. Ousso managed to find another sponsor, but just enough to cover costs.
Tickets, of course, were still free.
Without enough money to pay the performers, Ousso invited the musicians to his Zamalek apartment so they could see the contract with the new sponsor firsthand to prove that there was not enough money.
Rumors were spreading that Ousso was taking advantage of the bands, and to quell these rumors, he decided to be as transparent as possible.
In the end, the musicians performed to around 19,000 attendees. After all, the show must go on.