African rhythms took over Al Azhar Park’s Geneina Theater last Friday as South African band, FreshlyGround, made their Egypt debut at the Spring Festival 2008.
The theater was filled to its capacity with an eager audience, sitting on the surrounding walls or wherever else they could manage to squeeze in to catch a glimpse of the feted, platinum-selling group.
FreshlyGround, formed in 2002, is the brainchild of seven young talented musicians from different cultural backgrounds, who serendipitously found each other without the aid of a record company.
With both black and white races represented, band members hail from South Africa, Zimbabwe and Mozambique, and this fusion of cultures is clearly manifested in their music. Songs are a mix of African beats, rock and jazz, creating an original sound full of a contagious energy that reaches out to its audience.
“People have different responses to our music and to the band, keyboardist Aron Turest-Swartz told Daily News Egypt. “It’s quite amazing. Back home in South Africa, we have black people, white people, colored people, kids, grannies – people who enjoy our music across the board.
Turest-Swartz then explained that it’s quite rare in a South African context to have both black and white musicians playing together in the same band, and this has powerfully affected FreshlyGround’s audiences, furthering the idea of unity despite racial differences.
FreshlyGround’s message tied in perfectly with the theme of the Spring Festival, a month-long event that promotes various forms of art from around the world. Many of the different races and ethnicities found in Cairo were seated in the audience at the Geneina Theater.
“People seem to feel a connection.regardless of culture or race, said Zolani Mahola, of the band.
When asked about the personal message she wants to spread through FreshlyGround’s music, Mahola replied, “It’s as simple as love really, between more people.
The lyrics of several of FreshlyGround’s songs are in Xhosa, a widely-spoken language of the native black population in South Africa, also Mahola’s mother tongue. This has contributed to the way in which the band connects with its audience in their home country.
“A lot of people have come to me and said that they are so grateful I sing in this language, Mahola said, “because there aren’t a lot of popular artists who do.
The positive reaction of the Egyptian audience to FreshlyGround’s performance, and even to the songs sung in Xhosa, proved that if it is quality music, people will definitely respond to it, regardless of what country or cultural context from which it originates.
“That is the great thing about music, it’s the great leveler, Mahola said, who also attempted to speak some Arabic phrases between songs during the course of the concert.
FreshlyGround achieved much success in South Africa relatively quickly, and their breakout song “Doo Be Doo was the most played song in South Africa in 2005. The band has been touring Europe over the past three summers. They snatched the Best African Act award at the 2006 MTV Europe Music Awards, and earlier this year they won three SAMA (South African Music Award) awards including the coveted Album of the Year trophy.
Although they’ve yet to break into the American music scene, the world will likely be hearing much more from FreshlyGround after the South African Football Association selected them as its cultural ambassadors for the FIFA World Cup 2010 in South Africa.
Because this was the band’s first performance in Egypt and even in the Middle East, and due to the fact that their albums are not sold in the Egyptian market other than Friday night at the concert – Mahola admitted that they all had some pre-show jitters.
“It’s quite heartening to see the audience here, she said after the concert.
“I’d like to say thank you to the people who did come to our performance and may they spread the word.
For more information about FreshlyGround, as well as samples of their songs, visit the band’s official website www.freshlyground.com.