Egyptians have been enjoying performances of several international acclaimed artists brought together by Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival in Cairo.
Fathy Salama, a leading figure in contemporary Egyptian music, along with his band, Sharkiyat performed at the concert. His concert featured American guitarist Morgan Craft and Italian DJ Mutamassik who brought together the various sounds of instruments.
“I am against the whole idea of Egyptian versus international. I believe that music comes from the person himself, it emerges from the background of the person himself. Just because I’m an Egyptian I don’t have to wear a galabeya or play music like it was played a century ago. However, I have to know my roots and have learned a sort of harmony so that I can produce whatever is inside of me, which is many different things, but it’s originally Egyptian with new influences,” said Salama.
The alternative artist studied oriental music and classical piano and played in a number of rock cover bands throughout his youth.
During his concert, audience could be seen swaying and moving to the sounds of percussion, beats, base and several other instruments.
The organizer’s Music Program Curator, Mahmoud Refat, says artists like Salama are unlikely to be heard outside of Egypt, at the moment. However, a common theme uniting those on the festival bill is the fusing of sounds from Egypt and from far flung places.
“I think Egyptian music right now is not even Egyptian. It is the result of the dark ages that we’ve been living through, some say for the past 30 years but I say for the past 60 years, since the rule of former Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. It has been gradually going downhill since, so even the songs about the revolution became songs without meaning. We can’t listen to an American song like Hotel California in Arabic and say that these are songs about the revolution as they have absolutely no meaning,” said Salama.
Salama’s success as a pianist has given him an opportunity to play alongside some of jazz’s greatest artists like Barry Harris and Hal Galper in the United States. He has also performed with African legends like Youssou N’Dour and played around Europe. In 2004 he won a Grammy award, the only Arab musician to hold that accolade.
Currently, Salama is often performing with the Sharkiyat, however he is keen to bring in new artists to keep his music evolving.
A popular genre heard throughout Egyptian night clubs is “Shaabi” --which mixes local folk and Sufi music with contemporary international genres. This type of music was initially played at wedding parties but has evolved into Egyptian rhythms electronically.
8 Percent, a Shaabi influence group, combines Jamaican dancehall and Latin hip-hop. The group says fans can relate to their music through Egyptian sounds. They hope to become like Fathy Salama who has gone on international tours and won awards. Their YouTube page shows that they are gaining fast popularity two or three million hits on their tracks regularly.