A classical Ramadan
Ati Metwaly has an experience
This year's Citadel Festival for Music and Singing, the 20th, took place between 31 July and 10 August at a number of locations within the Salah Eldin Citadel.
The stages hosted a wide variety of events: the Marimba of Nesma Abdel Aziz, the Boghdady Jazz Band, the Oriental Ensemble and the qanoun player Afaf Shoukry, as well as Ahmed?s Al-Kahlawy?s Sufi chanting and the Al-Nour wal Amal Orchestra. From the classical to the light music repertoire, from jazz to contemporary Arabic songs, from harp to trumpet and from the Libyan to the Sudanese music performances, this was a veritable feast of music. Entry to all four outdoor stages at the Citadel was free of charge.
The opening on 31 July involved the Cairo Festival Orchestra under the baton of Nayer Nagui, with solo violinist Hossam Shehata, performing The Symphonie Espagnole, ?douard Lalo?s masterpiece in five movements. That is when it all started?
Sitting in the third row, I witnessed the effort of musicians effectively destroyed by every imaginable natural or human force. Due to its elevated position on the plateau in front of the National Police Museum, the stage was often exposed to strong winds. Further elevating the stage, in addition, only ensured that the natural distortions would be audible through the concert. Alas, the musicians? hard work was literally gone with the wind. Not only was the location unsuitably prepared for a classical concert, but being the opening event it also gathered numerous TV personnel who, on the pretext of documenting it, were loudly discussing their personal issues?
The biggest disappointment however was that members of the Indonesian groups bands who were to take the stage after the Cairo Festival Orchestra, instead of listening to their fellow musicians on stage, were loudly and disruptively distracted.
And that is not to mention that other Citadel locations suffered a variety of similar problems. However, as usual, the Citadel Festival for Music and Singing held some of its activities at the Cairo Opera House Open Air Theater which, despite the occasional technical glitch (mentioned in last week?s article), was heaven by comparison. ?ASAP Orbit to Planet 99? was one of the few Indonesian bands invited to this year?s festival and their concert in particular was advertised at the main entrance to the Opera Grounds, with a big banner as impressive as the one announcing Sobhi Bedair?s ?Love Songs? on 6 August.
The 2 August evening started after a considerable delay, introductory speeches and a few minutes of repetitive short patterns of Indonesian rhythmic drumming. The evening continued with ?ASAP Orbit to Planet 99?, who spent over 20 minutes on sound adjustments. Yet the moment they started singing, I realized that this time, even the best sound engineering couldn?t help the Indonesian vocalist in improving his output. The band played three covers: Shania Twain?s ?You?re Still The One,? Amr Diab?s ?Tamally Maak? and 4 Non Blonds? ?What?s Up?. And in not one of them did the vocalist manage to hit a single right note. The whole performance was out of tune and, definitely, out of place. ?ASAP Orbit to Planet 99? might be fun on Karaoke nights, but it is not a group to perform in a festival and on the Opera House grounds. ?ASAP Orbit to Planet 99? was followed by a more interesting music on Indonesian Gamelan instruments (xylophone, drums and gongs; bamboo flutes, bowed and plucked strings etc.)
On the following days, many artists continued to perform at the Citadel location to more or less interested audiences of various sizes. Moving between windy or badly equipped venues and Karaoke-style singers, I felt bad for the efforts of those good artists who were ?lost? in the mayhem. The real artistic joy only came with Sobhi Bedair's ?Love Songs?, performed on 6 August at the Cairo Opera House Open Air Theater.
Sobhi Bedair has a long and fascinating history. He started singing when still in the Jesuite School. Soon after (together with Omar Khairat, late Omar Khorshed, Hany Meimary, Wagdy Francis, Ezzat Abu Ouf), he joined the band Les Petits Chats, one of the most acclaimed bands in the history of Egyptian pop music. Touring with Les Petits Chats, Bedair?s career as a pop singer flourished. He joined the Cairo Conservatory where he completed three academic years in just one year and while there, at the age of 26, he played his first role, Pinkerton in Puccini?s Madama Butterfly. This was only the beginning of an equally interesting operatic career.
Bedair resumed his studies abroad (in Belgium, England and France) where he also performed in many operas. He was among the finalists in the International Pavarotti Singing Competition. At the beginning of 1990s, once back in Cairo, Bedair was appointed Director of the Cairo Opera Company, a post he has held more than once. Italy also decorated Bedair with the title of Cavaliere. Today he teaches singing and continues performing, mainly his pop repertoire. Among his music projects is the celebrated ?Sobhi and Friends?, a formation which has gained a significant following over the past years.
On 6 August, Bedair?s voice enchanted the Egyptian audience with ?Love Songs? ? one of the most popular projects performed by the Cairo Symphony Orchestra. This time accompanied by the Cairo Festival Orchestra and conducted by Nayer Nagui (who also played piano during the concert), Bedair invited the audience to the most touching songs in English, French and Italian, languages which he masters. ?O Sole Mio,? Nat King Cole?s ?Autumn Leaves? sung in English and French, Edith Piaf?s ?Hymne a l?Amour? and ?La Vie en Rose? also sung in English and French, ?Volare,? ?The Prayer? sung with guest soprano Jacqueline Rafik and finally ?Caruso? were among the many wonderful songs of the evening. Most of the songs were arranged by Nayer Nagui. John Denver?s ?You Fill Up My Senses? has one of the most attractive arrangements, which incorporates Baroque-like elements.
Bedair is a rare phenomenon ? definitely one of a kind in Egypt ? who manages to sing in both operatic and pop. With his activities, Bedair proves that the audience always recognises good art and keeps coming back to listen to it. The Open Air Theater was almost full, with the audience singing along. Even though Sobhi Bedair?s concert was one of the best elements of the Citadel Festival, the comparison is not completely fair as it was privileged with a better location (away from the Citadel) along with artistic expectations that the singer sets and definitely reaches throughout his performance.
As much as the Citadel initiative is promising, there is much to be done before it can be called a success at any level.