El-Genaina Theatre was launched in April 2005. It was “designed by the Young Arab Theatre Fund, which also oversaw its execution. It is the product of collaboration between Al-Azhar Park's administration and culture resource, in their joint quest for cultural development.” So says the website of Al Mawred Al Thakafy. Under the current manager Ashraf Kenawy, El-Genaina’s main purpose is to provide its young audience with quality musical performances.
This year, the concerts filling El-Genaina's summer programme are inspired by the current events and the revolutions going on all over the Arab world. The Theatre will host many Arab artists representing the countries undergoing these political struggles. El-Genaina administration planned to include a Libyan artist in the line-up, but unfortunately it became impossible, due to the difficulties in travel arrangements.
On Friday 22 April, the summer concert series opened with an ambitious-sounding free event. According to the programme, it aimed to present “Egyptian artists working in different fields: theatre, poetry, graffiti and other visual arts.”
Although all these art forms were duly represented, sadly - as is usually the case with these overly elaborate-sounding events - the graffiti section was limited to a few boards on which people spray-painted stencils satirizing political figures. There was also an area cordoned-off for children with a potter's wheel, where they could make vases or paint ceramics. Moreover, a few large sheets of paper were provided with paints and other art supplies for anyone to draw whatever they fancied.
One obviously amateur poet, Ahmed Gamal, came up to the little area in which the children continued to paint and performed a patriotic poem while two men - one with a turban wrapped around his head pretending to be an Indian - presented a wildly unfunny “comic” sketch lampooning Egyptian officials.
Supposedly these were the representatives of the poetry and theatre segments of the event.
The query which comes to mind is why bother with all these so-called artistic trimmings if they are not properly prepared?
Consequently, the two hours prior to the main concert felt like a slap-dash job which poorly represented the Egyptian culture scene as it stands today. Admittedly, the children seemed to be having fun.
However, the music programme more than made up for the disappointing "cultural event" portion of the evening, with excellent performances from all the participating musicians.
The band Taxi began the programme with their pleasant, effervescent, soft-rock numbers, which, like the band members themselves, were boyishly charming, gently boisterous and thoroughly Egyptian.
Mariam Ali and new band mate Abo were quite the revelation. The entwining of Abo's acoustic guitar strummings and Ali's strong but sweet vocals made for a powerfully beguiling mix, which was wonderfully showcased in their very fun adaption of Nancy Sinatra's These Boots Were Made for Walking, with the lyrics subtly altered to put down our former head of state. It was sung half in Arabic and half in English to great effect. Also particularly noteworthy was their original track Scherazade, a slow-burning, heart-wrenching song, beautifully sung by Ali.
It seemed like Friday was a night dedicated to the unveiling of new collaborators as Rami Essam appeared not alone as expected but with a surprising hodgepodge of well-known underground musicians, including Noor Ayman of the band Zabaleen. They took the stage to present jazzed-up versions of Essam’s music, including Edhako ya Thawra (Laugh, Revolution!), Yawmiyat Batreek (Diary of a Penguin) and the haunted and rather stormy Deh Thakafa (That’s Culture).
The evening closed with a performance by Eskenderella which took a great deal of time to set up and was beset by technical difficulties, already evident during Essam’s performance. Nevertheless, as usual Eskenderella's performance was invigorating, while favourites by Sayyed Darwish, Ahmed Hadad and other poets won them at one point both a standing ovation and requests for encores.
Save for the technical glitches and the rather poor cultural offerings prior to the music performances, this was a promising start to this season's series of concerts that you would do well to check out. And for devotees of the El-Genaina theatre, Al Mawred Al Thakafy has discounts available for those who purchase membership cards for LE75, which can be obtained at the theatre.
El-Genaina Theatre is located inside Al-Azhar Park.