Thousands of Cairenes – the young, families and a few elderly – made it to Al-Azhar Park on Thursday 25 June for the French Institute's Fete de la Musique (World Music Day). Many were holding out their phones to film the music which overall was exciting and an evening enjoyed by most who attended. A gentle breeze was blowing and water from a nearby fountain was spraying the crowd nearby.
Dina El-Wedidi and her band, the most popular performers of the night, played slow and oriental grooves, causing the audience to cheer loudly. Most of the audience was young but even some of the elderly who waited around really seemed to be moved by El-Wedidi’s music.
Smoke machines on the back of the stage caused smoke to stream off the front, while flashing and spinning purple, yellow and green lights lit up the performers.
El-Wedidi stood out on the front of the stage confidently, coercing the audience to clap –and for the most well acquainted – to sing along too. The bass was heavy but her voice soared above. The accompanying violin scattered. Young Egyptian couples flirted and courted and groups of friends danced enthusiastically.
Mohamed Ali mosque loomed above the park, as did half a dozen other mosques lit up with red, yellow and green lights. In the west a half moon shone above it all. Much of the crowd quickly left as the singer finished.
Such is El-Wedidi’s popularity that after her show almost a dozen journalists surrounded her behind the stage immediately and tried to interview her.
Ahram Online spoke to El-Wedidi in a locked car flanked by security guards with some eager fans outside hoping for a photo with the popular singer.
Dina El-Wedidi has in recent years gained not only success and popularity in Egypt but also abroad, playing shows in America, Europe and a number of countries in Africa such as Kenya and Uganda. A yearlong mentorship from 2012 to 2013 with Brazilian musician Gilberto Gil and her own debut album Turning Back established her as a professional musician in her own right.
El-Wedidi’s style of music is deeply rooted in Egypt, as well as Africa – evidenced from her collaboration with the Nile Project which includes musicians from Nile basin countries –though she has a following in Europe and America, touching on many often contrasting cultures.
“What I’m trying to do is to move from a local sound from my country and present this sound and this kind of music to outside. I had the chance to have a mentor – Gilberto Gil for one year – this kind of scholarship inspired me very much. My experience with the Nile Project – which is a collective between musicians in Africa – made me more flexible – so that is the reason that there is some wide appeal.”
El-Wedidi reveals also what it is to be a female artist in Egypt and the difficulties that go with this.
“It’s not easy actually. Though at the same time not that hard either. The problem is that you need to be responsible for what you are doing. For example, you need to understand your country and your audience and the musicians. Musicians should appreciate your music and take you as a serious artist,” she explains.
She goes on to outline the specific work involved. “In this country [Egypt], you cannot find a lot of theatres to perform in, it’s not that commercial. We are taking the alternative way. What we are trying to do is high quality but I’m trying to do it by myself – you have to compose your music, to write your lyrics, to do your music live and also to do a lot of shows.”
Although El-Wedidi’s first solo album included a number of collaborations – and offers of even more – she stressed her own independence in its creation and what its title Turning Back meant to her.
“We called it Turning Back because it was my first album and it was for me my first baby that I brought to life. For me to have a baby I had to turn back from how the song was, how I have to get out to the life. So I just turned back.”
“I needed to discover myself. Return back to my room and how I was composing these songs before. It was about the period in Egypt also. How we started the revolution and how we are rich from it… I cannot deny this period,” she says.
Francois and the Atlas Mountains
The night finished though with French band Francois and the Atlas Mountains. Undoubtedly a large chunk of the crowd had left by this stage but this didn’t change the energy of the evening. In fact, it freed up more space for those left to enjoy dancing even more.
Ahram Online spoke to the front man of the band, Francois, immediately after he came off stage. He was impressed by the energy of the crowd and said that it was more lively than several European crowds he'd encountered, who he described as being over exposed to music.
Francois and the Atlas Mountains style is difficult to pin down but has indie influences as well as from African percussion. Though this does not do justice to the amount of energy in their performance that is perhaps one of their best assets.
Explaining the diversity of their sound, Francois said: “We wish to have every member of the band have their own input. We all listen to a wide variety of music so this is why our sound is like this.”
The band’s stop in Cairo is part of a larger Middle East tour which included Lebanon, Turkey as well as Alexandria a couple of days before their Cairo performance.
He spoke positively of the Cairo city saying “I loved it. I think we are very lucky to be introduced to the youth, tonight there was a lot of young people here. This was the side we wanted to see of Cairo. I’m glad we had the opportunity to put on a show like this.
He concluded by saying: “I felt like here its…maybe I’m wrong, but I had the vague feeling that young people want to dance and want any opportunity to do it.”