The tunes that filled the home I grew up in were composed by Yes, Pink Floyd and The Rolling Stones, courtesy of my older siblings. One of my sisters had a neon-coloured pencil portrait on black paper of Alice Cooper next to her bed and it scared me terribly. I did not really like the music they listened to – neither did my parents for that matter – but those masters of music created the score of my formative years. At least until I bought my very own first record.
I must have been seven years old when I carefully counted out a stack of coins in exchange for a 45 single. I remember walking home in gleeful anticipation, feeling very grown up. As I danced around the room to the beat of what I then perceived to be the height of musical taste, my siblings sadly shook their heads. It was obvious their tutelage had been in vain. I realised I was alone in my happiness but did not care. I continued singing as loudly as I could while making shoop-shoop moves,“Heaven must be missing an angel.”
As I grew a little older, my treat of the week was watching bands performing their hits live on our version of Top of the Pops. Music videos were still a thing of the future and we thought nothing of seeing bands like Queen and The Police play live on Dutch television.
Concerts took place often and were easily accessible and even though my taste in tunes had changed, my sisters had not forgotten my foray into the land of Tavares, so at the tender age of 13 I got to experience my first stadium show. Surrounded by 49.999 other people I looked on in awe as the J. Geils Band rocked its way through the opening spot.
As the sun was setting an inexplicable exhilaration went through the stadium. A purple curtain hid the stage so there was nothing to see, but all of us held our collective breath and I felt like Christmas, New Year’s and my birthday were all going to happen within the next two minutes. A booming voice introduced the band, the curtain starting lifting slowly to the thumping baseline of “Under my thumb”… Ladies and Gentlemen: The Rolling Stones!
Suddenly all those people were my friends, Keith Richards’ face told stories of a life I could not yet imagine and Mick Jagger danced and sang only to me.
I knew I would never be the same.
When I moved to Egypt it took me some time to get used to the sound of the local music. Those half-notes come close to invoking feelings of nails and blackboards and I still do not understand why every line in a song is repeated at least twice. As a foreigner it gives me a bigger chance to understand it, but one would think the locals would get it the first time around. It took me time to find the gems in between the habibies and wahistinies, but I learned to love some Arabic music.
On my way to work my ears are usually treated to whatever the radio sees fit to spew forth, and the other day the radio-lords were kind. Melodic tunes, with lots of rhythm and a passionate voice, lulled me into a sense of relaxation and I sat back and enjoyed the view. The aircon did not hurt either.
I noticed a man crossing a busy street. Weaving his way through the speeding cars, his galabeya swirling in the wind, he seemed to be in perfect balance with the flowing traffic. A precise tango stance, shoulders back, belly sucked in and hips pushed forward, allowed a car to zoom by behind his back. A waltzing one-two-three, one-two-three got him across another two lanes. To the accompaniment of touting horns and clapping kids on the back of a pickup he made it safely to the other side, using a few moves that would have put James Brown to shame.
The smooth tones of Mohamed Mounir were still flowing gently through the taxi, yet I started to hear a different beat in my head. Suddenly memories of Jagger strutting around the stage filled my vision. Joined by Bowie, he sang to this man who had just so gracefully found a way to get where he was going, just as he had done to me all those years ago. I tapped my foot as I hummed softly: “They’ll be dancing, dancing in the street.”