By Caroline Curran
Creativity and culture in Cairo managed to thrive in spite of the repressive atmosphere that reigned before recent events opened a new chapter in Egypt’s history. Post-revolution cultural life is a blank page, ready to be filled with expression inspired by recent events.
Thursday evening’s “Up on the Roof” open stage night was a celebration of this new artistic space, but also a reminder that creativity was always present here, and indeed played a large role in the historic events of recent weeks.
“Up on the Roof” is a creative platform organized by Linda Cleary, a performance poet, writer and artist living in Cairo. A gifted artist herself, Cleary has made it a mission to nurture creativity in Cairo, mentoring young writers and holding creative workshops. Held monthly at Darb 1718 in Old Cairo, “Up on the Roof” opens its stage to anyone and everyone who has something to say.
The roof of Darb 1718 was packed on Thursday evening: Audience members reclined on beanbags, sipping tea, enjoying a rare treat of unpolluted air and visible stars. Frequent technology glitches and the deafening din of wedding parties driving by on the nearby road pointed charmingly to the grassroots nature of the event and created a causal, relaxed atmosphere.
The packed program consisted of 18 performances with an opening and closing reading by Cleary herself. Contributions spanned genres to include creative forms from music to stand up comedy to revolution poetry and even a capoeira performance.
Performers were mostly young Egyptians and a few expats, with a roughly equal number of guys and girls. Some spoke in Arabic while others sang in English and a talented few contributed bilingual presentations. Many expressed regret that they’d not been able to write about the revolution, while others captured the spirit of those days exquisitely.
Two poets taking the revolution as their subject matter stood out. Amira Salah-Ahmed’s English-language poems captured the rhythm of the ‘slam’ poetry style with subtle rhyming and colorful language while expressing forceful messages about Egyptian unity and the strength and sacrifice that characterized the days of the uprising. Ahmed is also Daily News Egypt’s business editor.
Mahmoud El Shawaf delivered a powerful performance in Arabic from memory; two poems spoke about the conflicting opinions engendered by the revolution and the ultimate sacrifice of martyrdom.
Revolutionary sentiment was expressed in other ways as well. Akram Helmy and two friends delivered a clever skit about the everyday things that have changed since the revolution, and the confidence that Egyptians have gained, while Abdelnasser Gaafar delivered an allegorical story about the triumph of seedlings over a despotic farmer.
Emotional performances were interspersed with a lighter take on things. Rami Boraie treated the audience to a hilarious sketch that included a spot on impression of Barack Obama, likening his vacillation on Egypt’s revolution to a child’s “I have to pee but I don’t want to admit it” squirm. He also took a clever jab at the popularity of Al Jazeera’s Ayman Mohieldin, particularly among the female audience.
Mariam Shaalan sang and played guitar beautifully on two songs, one accompanied by her brother Yehia. Shaalan’s voice was clear and powerful as she sang self-penned lyrics about revolution, love and loss.
One of the most original performances was by Mohamed El Deeb, a colloquial hip hop artist and poet. El Deeb’s “Bilady” was a catchy tune that evoked the diversity and beauty of Egypt, managing to be both entertaining and deeply patriotic in a unique and youthful way.
Nawara Belal was the last performer of the evening, but her bilingual poetry, daring even in post-revolution Egypt, was worth the wait. Dealing with issues of divorce, motherhood, love and sex, Belal’s voice is creative and powerful, pointing to the need for a more open and tolerant society.
As more people find words to express what Egypt has been through, “Up on the Roof” will continue to provide a creative platform for them to share. Post-revolution and up on the roof under the stars, the sky, and not the censor, has become the limit for creativity in Egypt.
‘Up on the Roof” is held at Darb 1718 Culture Center on the first Thursday of every month.
Rami Boraie treated the audience to some hilarious stand up comedy. (Photo by Passant Rabie)
Mohamed El Deeb’s catchy tunes evoked the diversity of Egypt.