By Maha ElNabawi
Midway through Italian DJ Marco Passarani’s performance this past Thursday at the Cairo Jazz Club, two things became instantly apparent about the local dance music scene.
Firstly, and sadly, there is no legitimate dance music scene in Egypt. The eager party-goers filling up the club were mostly in attendance as a result of their patronage to the Jazz Club, while very few were even aware of the special musical treat that was bestowed upon them. Secondly, in the right atmosphere, with the right sound, and contrary to public belief, people will boogey-down to categories outside of trance or commercial dance music.
As part of the annual Red Bull Music Academy, DJ Marco Passarani visited Egypt to give an interactive lecture regarding the Academy, technical tips and the essential pillars needed to develop an electronic dance music scene.
Now in its 15th year, the Red Bull Music Academy has been popping up around the globe, curating workshops, concerts, art installations, collaborations and studio sessions; successfully creating a vast network of emerging and established musicians alike.
Each year, 60 selected applicants from around the world are invited to attend the two-week academy where they hob-nob with legendary artists, producers and icons from across the music industry. Past lecturers have included Chuck D from Public Enemy, Erykah Badu, and the venerable musician and record producer, Nile Rodgers.
“This Academy is one of the most beautiful things I have ever been involved with musically,” Passarani told Daily News Egypt. “It’s open to anyone who is active in the music field including vocalists, guitarists, percussionists, sound engineers, rappers, producers and so on.
“We look for 60 characters to put together 10 custom-built studios and see what happens. It’s not a school, it’s more of a hands-on think-tank where you share knowledge and collaborate on making music.”
To apply for the Academy, one simply has to download the application from www.redbullmusicacademy.com, fill it out and send it back before April 2, 2012. Each applicant must send an audio CD including a sample of their music.
This year, the world-traveling workshop and festival will touch down in New York City in September, setting the stage for musicians to interact with each other while also having the opportunity to perform in various venues through out the city.
“I’ve been working with the Academy for 12 years, and I’ll tell you, the most incredible part is the networking capabilities,” Passarani said.
On Thursday, downtown’s Makan was transformed into an engaging labyrinth of musical dialogue and experience as Passarani engaged in a Q+A series moderated by Nile FM’s program manager and host, Safi.
“End of the day, I think the people in that room [in Makan] are the future of the Egyptian sound,” Safi told DNE. ”It was a very musically diverse gathering. The audience was made up of percussionists, DJs, folk singers. That was the whole idea — to get these people in the same room. That doesn’t happen often in Egypt — it was inspiring to hear everyone asking questions and engaging with one another, despite their different musical backgrounds.”
Some of the local artist in attendance included, rapper MC Amin, Akram Al Sherif from Soopar Lox house band, rising electronic star, DJ Aly Bahgat, and Mohammed Gamal El-Din, otherwise known as Mizo, the percussionist from Wust El Balad band.
According to Passarani, who was a major player in starting the Italian dance music scene back in the early 1990s, house parties are an essential element in further developing local dance music.
“If you want to start an alternative music scene, then do what we all did — deviate from the commercial market, throw some underground parties and bring the people to your music, instead of the other way around,” Passarani said.
“Right now, it seems like Egypt is stuck in the trance wheel. This is typical in emerging dance music scenes because trance, known for its speedy tempos and sensationalized sounds, usually dominates every city where the scene is new. Those kinds of sounds resonate quicker with a younger market. All the other electronic music variations, the deep stuff, the minimal, that takes maturity,” he added.
When looking back at the emergence of every great dance music scene — Detroit in the late 1980s, Berlin in the 1990s and New York in the early 2000s — a common link rings throughout: an alternative music scene requires alternative outlets and adventurous participants.
According to Safi, there has always been a good wealth of house parties in Egypt. But since the Jan. 25 uprising, there has certainly been an increase because people seem to be less inclined to go out clubbing, out of fear for their safety.
Known for his unique blend of deep house and techno, infused with 80s sounds, break-beats, and bone shaking bass, DJ Bahgat told DNE, “The dance music scene is slowly maturing in Egypt. Five years ago, my type of music would have never have gotten me booked in popular venues like Cairo Jazz Club or Yasso [on the Nacelle boat in Giza]. I definitely still keep the crowds in mind when playing my sets, but it’s inspiring to see that people will dance to alternative sounds now.”
When he’s not playing in local clubs, Bahgat can be found popping up at a range of local house parties and underground music gatherings. Word on the street is that Cairo’s famed event planner, Ahmed Ganzoury, has even booked him for small, private parties aimed at bridging the gap between a music savvy audience and more experimental sounds.
While it is premature to label or categorize Egypt’s non-existent dance music scene, it has become apparent that there is a dire need for alternative music outlets, a need that can easily be met with a little thing called house parties.
“In a country of 80 million people or more, there is nothing but musical opportunities everywhere you look in Egypt,” Passarani said. “Local DJs should follow the path set by the revolution and break all the previous musical boundaries. This will inevitably birth Egypt’s own unique electronic sound.”
Passarani and Egyptian radio host Safi in Makan.