It was an occasion that created a lot of buzz last September: Could Beyoncé Knowles, the multi-platinum selling American singer, really be coming to Egypt to perform, in Port Ghalib of all places?
To the amazement of many, the concert that took place last November went without a single glitch, and attendees spoke highly not only of Knowles’ performance but of the organization, beach-side setting and the top-notch technicalities of the show.
The success of the concert is attributed to weeks of hard work by its organizers. The coordination and logistics were all led by Ahmed Beltagy, who in addition to being an owning partner in one of Cairo’s most venerated night spots, Tamarai, is also a partner of Expose, an events planning company which brought the star to Egypt.
“The Beyoncé concert, in my opinion was a success,” Beltagy told Daily News Egypt. “Not only because she’s a superstar, or because it was a full show of 80 [performers], it was the biggest production in the history of Egypt from stage, lighting, to roofing equipment [used], but also on the organizational level, the logistics were well studied, things were very easy…everything was perfect.”
Beltagy’s partners too were impressed by the planning and management. The main sponsor of the event, Port Ghalib, a sea side resort development south of Hurghada and other co-sponsors that included Mobinil, Link, Riva and Range Rover, were also satisfied with the outcome of the concert.
Beltagy recently received recognition from the Middle East Event Awards (MEEA), a subsidiary of the Institute for International Research Middle East, that celebrates the organizational accomplishments of big events be it artistic performances, corporate events or conferences held in the Middle East. Award categories range the gamut from best lighting and best design to best hospitality, amongst others.
The Beyoncé concert was unique due to its setting on a constructed stage on a manmade island, garnering Beltagy and his company Expose a nomination for Best Use of Temporary Structures, one of three nominations that also included best design, and best music event.
His competitors shortlisted within the same categories included Flash, a company based in Abu Dhabi that has organized Formula One as well as concerts by Beyoncé and Jamiroquai.
Flash was ironically a sponsor of the MEEA. Politics seemed to have played a role in the final outcome, explains Beltagy; “It was really difficult for me to take these two trophies from them,” but instead, he was formally recognized as a runner-up, and told by the organizers that he had qualified as the second runner-up for Best Music Event, and first runner-up for Set Design, “I was close to winning this one but… politics.”
Yet, Beltagy had much to be proud of. “My name was called three times, my company’s names were on screens, and I went up to get my certificates,” recounts Beltagy who is highly aware what such recognition signifies within the greater context of regional entertainment culture.
“I was the only company shortlisted from the region,” Beltagy says. No other company from Egypt has ever been submitted, shortlisted or won at the MEEA, a subsidiary of IRR Middle East.
“All other companies shortlisted or won were based in the UAE. The UAE is a hub of events in the Middle East. They have loads of money, and the government of Abu Dhabi is addressing all the superstars in the world, and they host tournaments. This is ‘state thinking’, not individual thinking. Beyoncé was individual thinking on the part of her sponsor, Port Ghalib. I was running against those companies representing the UAE government, they’re the richest in the region. So only Expose and a company from Oman were shortlisted.”
No nominations from Tunis, Algeria, Morocco, Lebanon; the latter country often plays host to celebrities who help launch popular night clubs such as Sky Bar in Beirut. Marrakesh is fast becoming a popular concert destination due to the government’s focus of developing the country’s artistic and musical initiatives.
Concert organization in Egypt is not an easy matter, and Cairo was witness to a lot more failures than successes.
Consider the Sean Paul performance of 2004 which was so poorly mismanaged, the artist arrived in Cairo and didn’t perform. Or Sting’s infamous concert of seven years ago. Eager fans still recall walking for hours in the middle of the night to reach the concert venue and to return back to their cars which they were forced to park far from the concert site at the pyramids.
“We don’t have a great image worldwide in managing concerts,” explains Beltagy ruefully, arguing that the artists themselves and potential sponsors tend to shy away from concert events in Egypt. “We have a lot of bureaucracy, we’re not very trained in hospitality and we’re not really trained for mega stars. These people request delicate treatment. Particularly Beyoncé and Mariah Carey.” Such treatment and ease of organizing is facilitated in other countries such as the UAE.
Beltagy was also the man behind the successful Mariah Carey concert that took place last month as an invitation only corporate event hosted by Etisalat.
Stepping up to the challenge after Elton John was cancelled from the playbill, Beltagy secured Carey who performed within 10 days, “which was a miracle, it was like a commandos work. You prepare for events of this magnitude, three to four months in advance, not less. The power of my agent and their trust in me that this will be a real show guaranteed her performing. My credibility in the market and the credibility of Etisalat itself moved the artist, she took a mega decision; 10 days she’s here.”
An incident overshadowed the concert the next day when questions arose after Carey posted a tweet on her twitter account of a fire outbreak.
“Nothing happened,” Belagy says. “She was blow drying her hair in the hotel, and an electrical spark came from the plug, and so her assistant Eloise threw a towel on it and that’s it. Not even smoke. And this incident was described to me by her security manager Rob Payne he said there’s no fire, the thing that happened in her suite was something simple and no big deal.”
But the question remains, does Egypt have a real concert culture? So far, private corporate events with considerable financial backing from sponsors have subsidized ticket costs for invited guests, or else invited a select guest list for free.
“When you have regularity in shows, people develop a concert culture, and people will save their money to attend these concerts,” says Beltagy. He is confident that with the success of both the Beyoncé and Mariah Carey concerts, people will be swayed to see additional superstars perform in Egypt.
But despite experiencing serious anxiety and concern leading up to the shows, for Beltagy, concert production seems to be a sincere passion. “I love it, and I feel somehow that I am producing something for people that is different, Egypt is a great country. If I can create opportunities to bring these people here, [it’s because] our people deserve it.”