While many waited for the much anticipated presidential election second round results on Sunday 24 June, El-Cabina Cultural Centre’s stage was occupied with Puzzle, an electronic musician from Cairo, sound checking for his performance that evening. Later, as some were in shock at the results and others celebrated, El-Cabina put on Oliver Stone’s film The Doors, which definitely defied every sort of censorship law that might exist.
The performances and film were part of the Oufuky Music Festival, brainchild of Ayman Asfour and Khaled El-Kaddal, musicians who also work for the Gudran Association for Arts and Development.
Throughout the five-day festival, Oufuky screened films about music in the late afternoon, followed by two performances by musicians from Cairo and Alexandria.
The festival’s name "Oufuky" directly translates as "horizontal." “Most festivals that host live concerts come in the form of a large condensed event over a short period (1-2 days) with many musicians and different genres playing one after the other,” Asfour told Ahram Online. “This creates a vertical accumulation of music, which musically confuses the audience, where they end up listening to some of musicians and not all.”
Part of the "horizontal" approach is to give the audience the opportunity to integrate the festival into their daily activities, according to Asfour. Earlier this year, Asfour recieved a grant from the British Council to live in London for a month, and to be exposed to London’s vibrant music scene, which is where the idea of hosting the festival in a horizontal manner came together.
The festival kicked off with the oscar winning feature film La Vie en Rose on the life of Edith Piaf, followed by concerts by Wasla band (alternative music from Alexandria) and Meshwar Band (reggae music from Cairo). On Friday, 22 June, after the film Bird was screened on the life of Jazz musician Charlie ‘Bird’ Parker, the festival took a more progressive rock turn, where it hosted Cairene bands Simplexity and Darwasha.
On Saturday, 23 June, Immortal Beloved, a film on Beethoven, was screened followed by eight member band Storm, from Alexandria, and then Cairo’s Like Jelly, who played their high energy satirical music and got audiences laughing and eventually dancing along. The Sunday, 24 June, programme included The Doors followed by Puzzle and Telepoetic from Alexandria. On it's last day, El-Cabina hosted Amr Galal’s musical workshop "The Drum Clinic," where he gave a lecture to the beat of a drum.
The festival had many visitors, roaming around El-Cabina’s relatively small concert space, enjoying the music, socialising and getting to know the musicians. “I hope in the future we see more musicians attend these film screenings,” Kaddal said. “Music is about more than just playing; there is a lot of concept and theory that will inspire them.”
Perhaps what made the fesitval even more special was the fact that aside from the small number of staff from El-Cabina it was volunteer run. Even its poster was designed by a volunteer. Some volunteers captured every minute of the event to document the festival.
A partner in the festival is music label Ekaa’ who produce and have a network of some of the best underground musicians in the Middle East. The Ekaa' table selling their CDs was also run by friendly young volunteers.
Radio Tram, a local online Alexandrian radio channel, was live streaming the event, as they do most underground music concerts in Alexandria, according to one of their presenters.
In one year, Alexandria’s independent music scene has started to boom. It went from a few bands playing here and there, mostly unable to sustain their musical projects, to almost 37 musical groups meeting, practicing and performing regularly.
“Bands face many struggles: from lack of access to musical education, limited funds, organisational and logistical struggles, little communication amongst other musicials in the scene, to lack of performance spaces,” Asfour told Ahram Online.
Asfour, among others, is working on a project called "El-Mashtal" (The Greenhouse) within El-Cabina Cultural Centre, of which Oufuky is a part. The project, which has been running for over a year now, aims to address the challenges musicians face to allow the independent music scene in Alexandria to flourish.
Asfour and his band Station have been working on the different genres represented, and not represented, in Alexandria’s music scene and have started mapping out the different and yet common issues bands face. From there, the Gudran Association for Arts and Development, who run El-Cabina, took up the project. El-Cabina’s mission was to provide a space for literary and musical arts, with the studio space in the basement of El-Cabina.
“Most music studios cost LE75 per hour to rent, and for a band to survive they need to practice at least three times a week, which puts a huge burden on the bands,” Asfour said. “The studio in El-Cabina costs LE5 per hour to rent, which is just a symbolic fee and it gives space for bands to meet and see what others on the scene are doing.”
The project is not just about hosting the festival and providing the studio space. El-Mashtal is meant to be a musical hub, in every sense of the word, to sustain the growing independent music scene in the city through musicians meeting in the space and participating in workshops together.
The next phase of the ongoing project includes connecting different musical spaces and studios in Alexandria and Cairo to help support and enlarge the music scene overall, along with hosting bigger festivals but on the streets and in popular ahwas (cafes), to really bring music to the people.
Larger dreams yet include someday having a music label, “but not like any label producing music on the scene,” Asfour said excitedly.