On Friday night, the red and white arches of the American University in Cairo’s downtown campus were awash with flood lights for “Paint a Smile with Musical Tunes, the 12th annual Volunteers in Action charity event, featuring revered Egyptian music composer and pianist Omar Khairat.
VIPs were sequestered in a small grassy area while the general audience crowded the campus lanes, waiting for the doors to open at 7 pm. The night promised a special performance by Khairat and his group as well as an auction, all to raise money for the entirely student-run charity Volunteers in Action.
Volunteers in Action (VIA) was established 13 years ago to work with orphans in and around Cairo. The organization is comprised of 150 students from different universities across Cairo. Programs focus on visiting underprivileged children, overcoming illiteracy, providing housing and supplies to newlywed orphans, and micro-credit projects.
“Throughout the year . we get donations from our friends, from our families, from university students, but this is our major event in order to raise money, said Ahmed Ehab, assistant director of public relations. Ehab said that last year, VIA’s charity event raised LE 60,000 while this year, they managed to sell 900 tickets for the event.
A number of Cairo’s A-listers were among the attendees. Ingy El Mokadem, OTV presenter and actress, was overjoyed to be present. “I find it great that the students are active, they are trying to do something for their society. Especially when it comes to orphans, they need all the help in the world. I’m glad I’m here, she gushed. “I like the fact that these guys here, they are mature, they are aware, she said of the volunteers.
Booths of sponsors were clustered outside the entrance to Ewart Memorial Hall. Festooned balloons and well-dressed VIA volunteers guided everyone to their seats before the event commenced.
After a short introduction by VIA members, Khairat took the stage with his band. The high ceilings of the hall provided good acoustics and Khairat lived up to the hype, giving a beautifully textured performance. His band created a myriad of instrumental effects and the sonorous compositions of fused Eastern and Western techniques engrossed the audience.
Following the end of the first set, Daily News Egypt ventured backstage to meet up with Khairat. In response to why he had chosen to support VIA, he said; “I like what I’m doing, you know, it’s a pleasure for me to do good things for people. . I respect the community of the American University. I respect what they are doing. And they are professionals . the preparation and everything is very good.
The audience resumed their seats and a bouquet of flowers was auctioned for LE 5,000. Khairat and the band took the stage again. The second set was even livelier than the first. The biggest crowd pleasers were compositions heavy on drum beats.
Volunteers lined the aisles, relishing in their hard work. Khairat often smiled into the audience as the students cheered and danced at each other from across the auditorium. The frenzy of the crowd reached a crescendo when an AUC alumni took the stage to sing the Khairat-composed tune “Yeb’a Enta Akeed El Masri. Although her hauntingly beautiful voice was sometimes overwhelmed by the instruments, the song was one of the main highlights of the night.
It might seem cavil, but a major hitch in an otherwise excellent night was the band’s cramped seating arrangement on the stage. It was difficult for the audience to see who was playing which instrument, as the band members were sitting almost on top of one another. For instance, this reviewer missed Alaa Saber’s quanoun solo, craning my neck, only to catch a glimpse of his forehead. This would not have bothered me, had it not been for the sheer joy of observing Khairat’s rapport with his band; their interaction was as harmonious as the music they produced.
At the end of the second set, Khairat and the band left the stage to a standing ovation. He returned to present the winners of a Qatar airline tickets and iPod raffle. The night drew to a close and as the audience departed, the volunteers crowded around Khairat for photographs. This year’s event raised LE 100,000, exceeding last year’s concert. Young and old audience members streamed out of the auditorium in satisfaction after the delightful performance and a night well spent for a good cause.