When rap and dance collide at DCAF

Angie Balata, Sunday 29 Mar 2015

On Thursday, 26 March, Egypt's Abyusif performed with Copenhagen/Berlin based DJ Why Be in an energy infused night at Sherezade

(Photo: courtesy DCAF)

The second installment of the DCAF’s music programme on Thursday night, 26 March, featured famed Egyptian producer and rapper Abyusif and Copenhagen/Berlin based DJ and producer Why Be.

The event began with Abyusif's rap/experimental performance, which illustrated DCAF's vision on contemporary art. The evening, however, soon diverted into club night mode with Why Be's somewhat typical DJ performance.

A large crowd stood outside Sherazade Nightclub trying to negotiate tickets, but to no avail. The evening was already sold out hours prior. Walking into the smoky venue, the crowd was a mix of the usual downtown crowd, people from Cairo’s niche arts circles, and an assorted presence of foreigners.

On the stage, Youssef Altay, better known as Abyusif, stepped into his set, hitting the crowd hard with lines at furious speeds and high energy. He’s not an easy act to keep up with, often giving the audience a sense of instability because of his spontaneous reactions. After the first few tracks, he jumped off the stage and walked into the crowd below, rapping at the audience — almost daring them to engage or back off. Abyusif obviously cares more about music than running after fans and the spotlight. “Are you guys here to listen, or are you here to hang out and talk?" Abyusif asked the audience directly at one point.

In reality, Abyusif has achieved more fame in the virtual world than from doing live shows. Three years online and his Soundcloud page boasts anywhere between 5,000 to over 60,000 plays on any given track. Ask about rappers in the Middle East and Abyusif is likely to be in the top 10, if not the top five. And, unlike common music industry protocol on fame, he has not produced many video clips and has relied mostly on just sound, producing altogether about 300 tracks, only 82 of which are available on his SoundCloud page.

(Photo: courtesy DCAF)

Back up on stage, Abyusif pauses between tracks and looks at the audience, having become slightly annoyed with all the chatter at the back of the room. Surprisingly, he wasn’t at all in a rush to finish the gig. Joining him on stage about half way through the set were two other rappers: Bam Bam and Smash Beats. As DJ Farghaly prepared the beats for the next track, Abyusif took a minute to explain how his foray into rap was largely due to Bam Bam.

Unlike most rappers in the local and regional scene, Abyusif came originally from the heavy metal scene. Learning drums as a kid from his father, a prominent drummer in the jazz scene, his musical path moved into heavy metal where he switched between drums, guitar and writing lyrics. He played with many bands, including Idle Minds, even touring in Europe with Mascara. Meeting Bam Bam changed his whole musical career. From him he learned everything about rap.

As it turns out, Abyusif would be a far more interesting and more creative rapper than musician in the metal scene. Even so, his music is affected by this background, with many of his tracks having guitar infusions and heavy metal riffs.

His lyrics are witty and not for those looking for commercial puff or mainstream Western hip hop. He has managed to keep his rap to the basics of storytelling, each track having some point (even if completely unserious). His originality and his ability to quickly pick up the two benchmarks of any solid rap, lyrics and flow, led to a very successful collaborative relationship with highly respected producer Ahmed El-Ghazoly.

More popularly known as Swag Lee, El-Ghazoly brings an electronic undercurrent with a hint of dance that is found in many of Abyusif’s tracks. The successful mix between innovation and experimentation, along with his willingness to constantly collaborate, has led Abyusif to record various joint tracks with producers and rappers from Egypt and the region. As such, it’s hard to characterise what Abyusif does. He has been wise enough to remain relevant by constantly stepping outside of the box.

While Abyusif’s career began — and largely remains — the outcome of bedroom productions, his onstage performance showed off his creative capabilities and a certain presence. Probably also the reason that he is now signed to the 100 Copies label.

(Photo: courtesy DCAF)

This may have a lot to do with the versatility and the energy he brings to the stage. Surprisingly, the DCAF show was only his third live performance as a rapper. And while it was uncertain that night whether the foreigner crowd connected with his words, his experimental sound and overpowering personality, even as at times during the set it seemed to border on offensive in attitude, definitely made people pay attention. For the Egyptian audience, however, Abyusif, was the star of the night.

The second set of the night belonged to the South Korean born and current Copenhagen/Berlin based DJ Why Be (Tobias Lee Christensen). According to his bio on the DCAF event page, Why Be “... is part of the Danish label SYG NOK; [tours] with like-minded artists such as E+E, Chino Amobi, DJ Hvad, and Total Freedom; [soundtracks] various catwalks and a handful of performances; and curated an annual club event called Foam as part of the Copenhagen based festival Distortion, which have brought artists like Lotic, Primitive Art, SFV Acid and Venus X to the Danish capital.”

With very little online information in the English media, it was impossible for any audience member to understand who this artist was beyond his SoundCloud and Facebook links.

In a very unusual musical pairing, with the only link being an electronic thread in the music, Why Be’s set transformed Sherazade into a typical club night. Alone on stage with his laptop, Why Be spent the night head down in front of his machine as a failed attempt at visuals displayed behind him on the massive stage. Too much collision in lighting affected the clarity of the visuals. By the middle of the set, the entire venue had been engulfed by happy dancers as the audience became intoxicated on music and drink.

(Photo: courtesy DCAF)

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