This reporter enjoys seeing shows that fall outside his comfort zone. Rap music falls into that category emphatically, so when I was told a phenomenal rap group named Soot El Share’e (or Sound of the Street) I couldn’t resist. Trying new things is the spice of life and an Egyptian rap group was something I had never seen before.
At first glance, no venue seems immediately apparent to me as I walk down the steps ever deeper into the bowels of the Sawy Culture Wheel. The Nile looks perfect, boats line the shore awaiting customers and while that’s all very good…where am I supposed to go?
A rhythmic tom-tom fill answers my query before a crash cymbal signals that the rest of the band is starting up. The guitars join the smooth sound, integrating seamlessly to form a laid-back backing track. As I push back the flap of the tent that marks the concert’s venue, the River Hall, the vocalists start up, all five of them.That’s right.
The entire band joins in to form a unique harmonious sound; and although there are a couple of lead singers, they rotate every minute or so to ensure one can never really get fully settled in a groove. Listeners can never know what to expect.
The band debuts some new material, or so avid fans tell me. The song I walk in on the middle of is called Balady (My Country), a slow and mournful ballad, an embodiment of the deep-rooted sadness and melancholy that afflicted every Egyptian who watched their country degenerate into chaos during a dark period.
Astute readers may have guessed, by now, I was not watching Soot El Share’e perform. This was nowhere near rap, nor was I sure I had the right venue in the first place. However, instead of rushing to find the correct stage (as I surely would have done if I was seeing it for work), I decided to just go with it. The music was entrancing, the atmosphere laid-back and feel-good and I felt I could not possibly have had a better time elsewhere.
The fans there were die-hard. While there may only have been around 80 people in the entire hall, every one of them sang along to some of the songs, while swaying rhythmically to others. Every so often, at a particularly emotional couplet or display of technical prowess, there would be a burst of cheers directed at particular band members, often calling them out by name.
The surprises were far from over. Midway through the set, a particularly soulful vocalist produced a violin from thin air and proceeded to complement the ‘til-then normal band’s collective voice. The effect was magical, lending an Oriental, almost transcendent feel to the regular drummer, guitarists and vocalists.
To conclude, this reporter is glad he stumbled into the wrong hall. This reporter is glad that he was watching a band perform with a completely open mind, without having read reviews, listened to music online or even looked up the band’s name. The experience of pure spontaneity is a divine one that is only achieved every so often.
Perhaps every so often we should venture down to venues like Sawy or the Cairo Opera House and ask for a ticket.
“To what, sir?” the vendor will probably ask.
“Anything” would be the ideal answer.