Last Sunday evening, I headed to the Culture Wheel on a whim with some friends to see Mraya Band. None of us had heard Mraya Band, or even heard of them, before that night. We paid LE 10 each for entry, and then strolled into the cool darkness of Wisdom Hall, where we found Rami Abdel Moneim, bathed in blue light, gliding through a long solo on his oud.
The oud’s ancient, somber melody filled the room with the spirit of a simple, enchanted past – but the young musician strumming the instrument, clad in blue jeans, sneakers, and a t-shirt, instantly recalled the present.
Mraya is a thoroughly modern act, at ease with a style drawn from sources all over the world, mixing musical traditions ranging from classical Arabic to reggae to rock. Taking a cue from Wust El-Balad – one of Mraya’s obvious influences – the band includes two drummers, one playing a contemporary drum set, the other playing an assortment of bongos and jimbés.
The oldest of Mraya Band’s eight members, vocalist Tamim Badawy, is a mere 21, while the youngest, acoustic guitarist Amir El Masry, who also plays the recorder, is just 19. Despite their young age, Mraya’s members have three years of experience playing together in various bands.
Their connectedness as a band shows in songs like “Maa Sewak, (To Be with You) in which oudist Rami accompanies the two primary vocalists in three-part harmony.
Of course there was the occasional missed note, followed by a grimace from the offending band member, and there were times when the show lagged between songs, but all in all Mraya gave a wonderful performance.
Not perfect, but perfectly respectable. Much more important, they were fun.
Seeing a LE 10 show at the Culture Wheel is not seeing Mohamed Mounir’s grand, stadium-like gigs at the Cairo Opera House, to be sure – but it’s undoubtedly better that way. Mraya’s performance was accompanied by technically sophisticated, artfully deployed lighting; seating was ample and comfortable; the theater’s staff was cheerful; and sound quality in Wisdom Hall was excellent. Another plus: the audience was great, generous with cheers and whistles.
El Sawy Culture Wheel’s October calendar is packed with live music, poetry readings, theater performances, and fine arts seminars and exhibitions. With such a packed calendar, it would be easy to put off going to the Culture Wheel until the next big event but low ticket prices and the charming atmospheres of smaller events are encouraging enough to drop by any time. After all, you never know what you might find.