After a series of successful events in Cairo, the Artbeat Festival moved to Minya earlier this week.
Acts from Germany (Robert Fischer and Zaebo), Spain (La Banda del Pepo) and the Netherlands (A Fula’s Call) as well as Egyptian performers hailing from Minya (El Minia Band for Folklore Music, El Warsha Theater Mallawy) and elsewhere in Egypt (El Dor El Awwal), took the show to the town known as “The Bride of Upper Egypt.”
In addition to musical performances, the festival in Minya featured an art exhibition with Hassan Shark — a local artist whose works have been exhibited at galleries around Egypt as well as in Germany, France and Switzerland — as well as other local and international contemporary artists.
Cairo is recognized as Egypt’s hub for arts and culture, but the organizers of Artbeat decided to also seek Minya in order to foster music and culture in other localities which events and performances tend to skip, said organizer Philip Hanna, cultural manager for Upper Egypt for the Robert Bosch Foundation and the Goethe Institute.
“In contrast to Cairo, the community in Minya has little access to international, regional, and even local performing arts. They feel more isolated than we here in Cairo can imagine,” he explained. By holding part of the event outside of Cairo, the festival seeks to balance this isolation, encouraging exchange within Egypt itself as well as between Egypt and the rest of the world.
Through the Artbeat Festival, the community in Minya can watch El Warsha Theater showcase the homegrown music and dance using the ancient art of tahtib, an Egyptian martial art form of wooden sticks. While the group has performed regionally and internationally, their participation in this festival marked their first appearance in their own locality. In this way, said Hanna, Artbeat has given the community a chance to enjoy and admire the beauty of not only outside culture, but also their own culture.
Despite its smooth execution, organizers faced a number of challenges in planning the festival.
“The financial crisis made fundraising for this event very challenging,” said organizer Mayada Said, a CIM expert supporting Darb 1718. “We got mostly in-kind sponsorship, which is very important, but we also need money to put on the event.”
For this reason, all of the participating venues have contributed funding to make the event happen.
There was also a lack of corporate sponsorship. “The concept of corporate social responsibility has not really arrived here,” said Said, adding that the private sector feels neither the sense of responsibility nor understands that support for an event like this is an opportunity for them to promote themselves as well as to support their community.
Challenges in fundraising also made the event less globally representative than originally intended, with musicians coming from Egypt and Europe only. “Most of the talent that came in from abroad was sponsored by their respective embassy,” explained Akram Al Sharif, co-owner and artistic director of Cairo Jazz Club. Due to lack of diplomatic funding, organizers’ plans to bring groups from other locations — including sub-Saharan Africa and the United States — fell through.
In contrast to the disappointing performance of the private sector in Cairo, the community in Minya was cooperative and helpful in organizing this event, said Hanna. The close cooperation with the local government and community in putting on this event has made organizing it something special.