This year’s Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival kicked off on Thursday with a screening of the music documentary Underground/On the Surface, followed by a night of experimental music performances.
The multidisciplinary festival, which for three weeks will bring artistic activities to a variety of downtown Cairo venues, was opened by festival founder Ahmed El-Attar.
The first event was a screening of Salma El-Tarzi’s award-winning documentary Underground/On the Surface to a full house at Cairo’s historic Cinema Radio venue. The film, which won Tarzi the Muhr Arab Award for Best Director in the documentary section at Dubai Film Festival, follows artists from Egypt's popular new electro musical genre, mahraganat.
El-Tarzi’s handheld camera takes us behind the scenes of the underground music scene, unveiling the contrast that exist between the raging nightlife and the thoughtful morning-afters of the musicians, Oka, Ortega and Wezza.
Their layered music is produced from the simplest of equipment, including pots and pans, or by twisting the microphones wires to achieve the auto tune effect.
The film follows the three musicians as they challenge competitors and face their own stage fright as well as the hierarchy of the Egyptian music scene.
Like the music itself, the documentary has a “homemade” and organic feel which does not detract from its intellectual content.
As part of the festival's mission to utilise forgotten spaces around downtown Cairo, the opening film was screened at Cinema Radio. This historical gem, which dates back to the 1930s, was renovated in late 2012 by building owners Al-Ismaelia for Real Estate Investments after a decade of closure.
It has now become the venue where popular satirist Bassem Youssef records his weekly show, El-Bernameg in front of a live audience – and a few voices in the crowd outside the building on Thursday night could be heard asking “Is El-Bernameg being filmed tonight?”
After the documentary screening to a full house at Cinema Radio, D-CAF's opening night continued with live music performances by Islam Chipsy and Dutch group Skip&Die at Sherazade nightclub.
Islam Chipsy, who regularly plays at Markiz nightclub, gained popularity through his YouTube videos, as well as a documentary about him on ArteTracks, a French and German website which declared him “the Jimi Hendricks” of the electro-shaabi music genre.
Skip&Die are a collaboration between South African artist Catarina Aimee Dahms, and Dutch producer Jori Collignon.
Their album, Riots in the Jungle, written while travelling through South Africa, involved spontaneous collaborations with many inspiring and rising musicians along the way. They sing in six different languages with lyrics recounting their experiences of South Africa: the sun, the dusty roads, riots, and love.
The D-CAF festival continues until 11 April at venues in central Cairo. It features theatre performances, music, exhibitions, and film screenings.
See D-CAF’s complete programme here.
Ahram Online is a main press partner of this year's D-CAF