The Goethe Institute, God bless them, clearly understand the appeal of an accessible lawn in Cairo and are holding a series of cultural events in their sanctuary of a garden throughout Ramadan. Goethe’s Ramadan celebrations kicked off on Sunday with singer Basheer, who performed with moonlighting members of Cairo groups Wust El Balad and Black Theama.
This was the third time for me to see the excellent Basheer. The first time I saw him was also alfresco, but at 2 pm in May, in Cairo, and I recall that he did a fine job of keeping our spirits up as our heads melted in the heat, the organizers of the SOS Music Festival having taken the credo that one must suffer for art very much to heart.
The Goethe Institute was a different experience altogether. We reclined on giant cushions as the breeze gently lapped around us and sound-checkers blared out “Testing, testing at us for the half hour before the event actually started.
This leads to the unavoidable question of why in Cairo are sound-checks almost invariably carried out immediately before the performance starts rather than say, two hours beforehand? It ruins the mystery, like watching a stripper get dressed before the show.
Basheer, who has been singing for 10 years, describes his music as “modern folkloric. He combines Arabic, and Upper Egyptian, rhythms with elements of pop and jazz. On Sunday, Basheer brought his eclectic sound via a large band including a trumpeter, an Oudist, four percussionists and a violinist, amongst others.
“Modern folkloric in Basheer terms is what you get if you cross fellow son of the south, pop prince Mohamed Mounir with Stevie Wonder and Nubian drumming.
A song might open with an Oud solo before launching into a spirited drumming interlude before then morphing into an organ-led funk melody.
There are elements of reggae, jazz and Egyptian pop at work here, and in addition to the organ reminiscent of a 1970s Stevie Wonder, I was reminded of Lebanese composer Ziad El-Rahbani. The excellent trumpet solos brought to mind Egyptian pop legend Ahmed Adaweyya, arguably the godfather of modern Egyptian pop music.
I wondered what Basheer’s musical influences are. “Mohamed Mounir, Bob Marley and Michael Jackson, he told Daily News Egypt after the show.
He also expressed an unexpected liking for the music of mainstream artist Mohamed Hamaqy, a graduate of the Amr Diab school of pop, who is popular with teeny boppers, taxi drivers and people in discos, and who has nothing in common with Basheer and his more mature, accomplished and distinctive style. It’s a bit like Miles Davis expressing a liking for the Pussycat Dolls.
Basheer’s style is close to that of the Cairo-based Black Theama, as I remarked on to him. “People will inevitably draw comparisons because we are both influenced by the music of the south, he replied.
Sadly, Basheer does not have a recording contract and the only way to hear his music is in live concerts and on Youtube. Why is this, I asked him.
“No producer will take the risk, he replied, maintaining that the following his live performances command does not translate into a bankable investment.
Alas, he’s probably right, given the music-buying public’s predilection for largely uninspired mass produced pop, but there s hope that the excellent Basheer will one day be able to cut through the grey polyester of modern pop.