Al-Ahram Weekly Online   7 - 13 August 2008
Issue No. 909
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Coast of rhythm

The Tiesto spell captures Salonaz Sami

Click to view caption
Tiesto in action among his fans

It's time to pack your bags and head to the shore. And what better place than the North Coast, where sun meets fun. In comparison to the Red Sea resorts of Sharm El-Sheikh and Hurghada, and other coastal destinations, the North Coast, or Al-Sahel, has been the perfect weekend getaway for years. Only a couple of hours' drive from Cairo, it is very accommodating by offering a range of picks from budget to five-star.

While traditionally Al-Sahel was only a destination for relaxation and quiet enjoyment of the Mediterranean Sea, it is slowly but steadily changing this image. Today, it marches to another beat so vacationers can party all night without risking a two-hour drive to Agami, where the only night spots were once located. New attractions such as Ghazala Charm Life Hotel, Marassi Resort and Marina's newest spots Max 24 and Cuba Cabana, have stolen the limelight from Agami.

Last weekend witnessed a 12-hour non-stop event featuring DJ Bob Sinclair at Marassi, followed by a live performance from DJs David Vendetta and Rachel Star at Max 24. Meanwhile, names like Outwork, Alex Gaudino and The Cube Guys are on El-Sahel 's calendar for weekends to come. In 2007, Ghazala set the rhythm for the competition by hosting exclusive theme parties every weekend, day and night.

This year, it raised the bar by kicking off summer with a stunning event. DJ Tiesto was in town.

As anyone who listens to trance and house- music knows, Tiesto is a legend. He was voted Number One DJ in the world for three consecutive years by DJ Magazine, the most respected publication in the business. The appearance in Egypt is part of Tiesto's In Search of Sunrise summer tour, which kicked off last month with the official opening party of the Ibiza Club Privilege, the biggest in the world. Besides the Middle East, Tiesto is also going to tour Europe and Canada.

I was in disbelief that he will be performing in the North Coast at Ghazala Charm Life Resort. News of this incredible gig quickly saturated the blog sphere; in no time the events page on Facebook showed an astonishing number of 12,395 confirmed guests. The numbers were clear proof of the popularity in Egypt and the Middle East of the official ambassador for the Dance4Life campaign against AIDS. Tiesto's only other concert in Egypt was last December at Le Pacha in Sharm El-Sheikh, the most celebrated club for house-music lovers.

Much to my disappointment, I couldn't make it to that event and was envious of all my friends who did. It was a real treat that this time Tiesto will be playing at nearby Al-Sahel instead of the more distant and expensive Sharm El-Sheikh. What was even better, is that it signalled that the North Coast was becoming the new home for house-music lovers, especially that throughout August it will host similar events -- even if performers are of less fame.

Unlike most shows which would usually take place on the weekend, Tiesto was going to awe his fans on Sunday 20 July. Devotees didn't even think twice that it's the first day of the work week; they wrapped up work and immediately hit the road -- replicating nightmarish Cairo traffic on the Cairo-Alexandria Highway.

My father questioned my sanity. "You'll spend five hours on the road just to hear a man sing?" "But he's not singing, dad," I explained calmly. "He's a DJ; he performs with tunes, not words." I think the concept was a little beyond his grasp. "But why pay LE350 to listen to music you already have at home?" he probed further. "It's not the same," is all I could blurt out, instead of digressing into a lecture about how Tiesto is the first DJ in the world to change the way people viewed disc jockeys and the entire profession. I could have also shared that the Dutch music genius was the first to sell out a solo stadium event for 25,000 people in his home country, and that he was also the only DJ to play live in front of billions of people at the official opening ceremony of the Olympic Games in Athens July 2004. But I didn't.

A few days later, we arrived in Marina Resort at around 10pm to freshen up before the next leg of our journey to see our music idol; everyone was either already at Ghazala or on their way. The resort was the place to be since the day before; in fact, it's the place to be any day of the week.

Initially, the North Coast as a tourist destination was neglected while the government focussed on the Red Sea as the primary source for growth in the tourism industry. But the winds of change are here. Al-Sahel is now high on the government's list for promotion as a travel destination year round. Ever since this change of heart in 2004, numerous tourism development projects were launched, including Ghazala.

Marina is no longer the sole hotspot on Egypt's Mediterranean shoreline since now all eyes are on what is being dubbed as the "new" North Coast. As Marina and other resorts fight for the title of favourite destination, the competition is bound to benefit visitors.

But the battle of the resorts was the last thing on our minds as we hit the road once again for the last 37km to Ghazala. The entire Ghazala Bay area, including the hotel, Alamein Airport and some private compounds are owned by the Ghazala Tourist Company, a subsidiary of the KATO Investment Group. The group is a diversified corporation with interests in industry, construction, real estate and tourism.

As we approached Ghazala, my heart sank. The gates were closed in the face of frenzied fans, while thousands crowded a tiny parking lot trying to persuade security to let them in. "If you already have a ticket, hold it up in the air," one guard suggested. And instantly, all hands shot up. But the doors blocked our entrance for another 20 minutes, after which they opened and let the crazed fans in.

Not missing a beat, or money-making opportunity, the hotel offered shuttle buses to the concert location for LE2.50 per person, but our raging adrenaline could not take a minute of sitting still. After a short trek, we were blocked again for another 15 minutes to get our hands stamped before entering into Tiesto's world of musical magic.

The tunes were already dancing out of the doorway, and we had missed a one-hour warm up by DJ Junior -- twice voted Egypt's number one DJ by Lounge and Charisma magazines. By now, Tiesto had taken the floor and began his repertoire with Feel the Sunrise. My heart was pounding as we walked closer to the stage, and finally believing that I have actually arrived, a big smile drew itself on my face. Almost all my friends were there, even the one who was visiting from London for only a couple of days.

Thousands were jumping up and down, shouting Tiesto's name. I, naturally, joined them. "If I wasn't a DJ, I would be a chef," Tiesto was once quoted as saying. "I love cooking; it must be the mixing element." And, of course, he is right. It is all about the mixing.

"Tiesto has the sense of creating seamless transitions between back-to-back tracks, which is called the beat matching technique," explained DJ Mohamed Sorour. "If you don't stay long enough on the dance floor, the DJ is not good enough." Sorour added that Tiesto "has the ability to spontaneously manipulate or restructure existing recordings to create new compositions, unrecognisable from their original form."

And that is the truth. At the concert, a set of euphoric melodies ranging from trance and house to techno filled the air and kept the energy flowing. Tiesto's music had it all, soaring vocals, spine tingling breakdowns and exhilarating melodies from across the spectrum. It is simply the best of what the world of dance music has to offer.

Although Tiesto launched his career as a trance DJ, touring the world has influenced his style and now he plays a little of everything. "I think the only way forward for DJs is to play a diverse mix of sounds," he was quoted as saying. Undoubtedly, the future promises much more success for this talented 39-year-old, both as a solo artist and a DJ.

And it's not just Tiesto's star that is climbing higher. The location where he was performing, Al-Sahel, is attracting many investors who are keen on reaping profits from the newest cash cow of the tourism industry. Egypt hopes to host 16 million tourists in the next six years, according to Minister of Investment Mahmoud Mohieddin. To achieve this goal, the government is working on creating new opportunities in the tourism industry, much of which are on the North Coast due to its consistently good weather all year long.

At one time, this region was considered a popular holiday destination for domestic tourism, but with better infrastructure, accommodations and accessibility, that is soon becoming past tense. More foreign investors and developers are now willing to pour money there, especially with the recent opening of Matrouh International Airport.

As for my Tiesto trance, that July night was perfect. He played for four hours straight and by the time he reached the last track, Breathing, the sun's rays were breaking through a thicket of clouds. It felt like the sky was, indeed, breathing.


Kilometre 142 Matrouh-Alex Desert Road, +204641900060, 61km from Marina 1 and 37km from Marina 5.

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