Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Letters from Egypt: Forget Your Surroundings

Kormac's Big Band and Egyptian Percussionist show on the Nile Pharaoh

It’s hard not to be depressed these days. Crime rate continues to rise as the Egyptian pound continues to fall. There is an increase in the price of food and a decrease in gas supplies. Things aren’t looking too good, but there are some things that you can still do that offer a brief moment of sanity.

A friend called me a couple of weeks ago and enthusiastically told me about this Irish percussion band playing at a boat in Giza. I was not impressed, but I promised to go along and besides – it had been awhile since I’ve checked out the scene. Cairo nightlife can be a toss-up. Even before the revolution, you were always unsure of what you were going to get. It’s usually all marked by the same modus operandi: you run into the same crowd, see the same fights and struggle with bill inaccuracies. I’d been hearing about these “Nacelle parties” through various people, but I refused to believe they were any different. After all, I spent many of my earlier years out and about all over the Cairo nightlife scene – I know everything. Or so I like to think.

I was wrong (shocking, but don’t expect it to happen often). At least in this particular case.

Tickets for this show ran on the Nile Pharaoh boat in Giza went for LE 200 (around $28) with the opening act a five-man Egyptian percussionist group. I lost you there, right? I know I was daydreaming when the other person said it thinking – yawn. However, it was anything but a snooze-fest. In fact, the opening act really got the crowd all hyped. Take a look:

Then the next act, Kormac’s Big Band, is supposedly “Dublin’s hottest seven-piece orchestra (although their website says 11-piece) playing a funky mix of live turntables, samplers, drums, double bass, vocals, trumpet, trombone, tuba, guitar and live visuals. The shows really rock the joint, providing a dynamic, vivid incarnation for their leader’s tunes” (via the program’s FB page). And I love love LOVE hearing a DJ mix while there is some sort of live instrumental backup – it happens quite often in the Cairo clubs. Amir Sharara used to have a violinist that would regularly perform alongside back in my early days in the Sandpit. Even a few weeks ago at a going away party, a saxophonist came out playing through the crowds while a DJ kept spinning away.

The show was supposed to start at 9 pm, but this is Egypt and while we can maybe escape the problems outside momentarily, we’ll never escape the less-than-stellar idea of punctuality. Doors were supposed to be open at 8, but we weren’t allowed to go inside until after 9 and of course, the show didn’t start until 10 or so but hey – don’t sweat the small stuff. After the Egyptian percussion finished, there was a really long setup for Kormac’s (which turned into so many jokes like “How many Irishmen does it take to do a sound check?”) then finally the lights went out. A screen came on with some old man, I’m assuming a scientist (and if you know who he is, don’t be a jerk and just let me think no one else recognized him), discussing sound waves. And then the show started. 

Although I had to leave early, I will say that it was nice to get out, see something different and most importantly momentarily forget the problems throughout Egypt.

I found a well-written piece by Soraya Morayef in Egypt Independent that accurately describes the Nacelle scene. She discussed how party organizers charge between LE 250 to over LE 1,000 ($35 to $140 at today’s exchange rate) for New Year’s Eve events saying, “The risk of not getting your money’s worth is pretty high…” She detailed other problems, but I remember paying around LE 200 (at that time, the exchange rate was around $33) for a party once and what a disaster it was! First of all, it was at the villa of some man suffering a midlife crisis in Heliopolis. With the ticket, you received ONE drink which was local spirits (bleck) and the purchase of additional drinks was well above the average cost. The music was crap and the crowd was less-than-stellar. Basically this man, who randomly had monkeys in his home, threw a party to pay his bills. Not a bad idea. I should try it sometime because no way he spent that much on food that was seemingly made by his maids or a so-called DJ that played music live…from the CD of his choice. And that's only one experience out of many I've had, so I can completely back up Morayef's article.

She also said: “Nacelle was created by DJ Tito to fill what he felt was a market gap in Cairo; he wanted to deliver a series of parties offering diverse and less mainstream dance music to an easy-going crowd, recreating the intimate atmosphere of a house party — no fuss, no pretentiousness, no minimally dressed dancers or elaborate entertainment acts; just good music and a happy atmosphere.”

So if you’re tired of doing the same old things, I do recommend trying a Nacelle party. I can't say that they're always great, but I've heard a lot of positive feedback from many different friends that attend the parties often. And I had a great time although I'd like to alert DJ Tito that some of us have real jobs and aren't hipster-wannabes attending the American University in Cairo

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