I went to a great concert on Friday night: Fathy Salama at the Cairo Opera House. The Opera House itself is quite a site. It was built (as I know from reading Edward Said’s Culture and Imperialism) for the premier of Verdi’s Aida. The original building burnt down a long time ago, but a great arts complex has been rebuilt in its name at a different site. The concert that I saw was not in the main opera house, but in a smaller “open-air” (actually fully tent -covered) amphitheater. Great space if the fans were blowing a bit loud. Tickets were 20LE (less than $4).
Salama is best known to me as the producer of Youssou N’Dour’s great album Egypt, which you can find easily in the US. Here in Egypt, he is very well known, having worked with many popular artists. He is a fascinating guy who spent some time with the Sun Ra Arkestra in the late 1980s/early 1990s. I could definitely hear some of it in his electric piano-playing, which was a treat. The first set featured Salama with his band Sharkiat, which features an electric bass, accordion, and three percussionists--one on Sufi finger cymbals! His music is very eclectic, and draws on jazz, reggae, and everything in between. The bass gave it a really soulful rhythmic sensibility. Melodically there was a definite Middle Eastern fusion and the percussion was hypnotic. It included the best and only finger cymbal solo I have ever heard.
The second set was Salama’s electronic music ensemble which featured oud (a Middle Eastern stringed instrument similar to a lute), electric bass, soprano saxophone, and Mahmoud Refat on ibook and percussion. Refat seems like someone to watch; he is experimenting with lots of different sounds and creates a really rich and multi-layered landscape. Most of the music this ensemble played was from a film soundtrack they are recording. Its ambiance was really vivid.
Unfortunately this blog entry is not as vivid as I had hoped. I brought my camera but was told repeatedly by security guards (who let me keep my camera in my bag) that there was no photography allowed. A friend I went with thought the rule was a result of the kitschy stage décor. Nonetheless this blog doesn’t have any pictures. Salama does have a myspace page you can check out though I am not sure if the recordings capture the live performance.
I did take a picture of the poster. The colorful background is a Ramadan fabric used for iftar tents around Cairo.