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Egypt's Fayoum meets brave new world: Countdown to 2nd Oshtoora Festival

This year Oshtoora Festival will take place in Fayoum, inviting audiences to event-packed days in the national protectorate

Maria K, Sunday 17 Apr 2016
(Photos by Karim Alwy, Sherfi Sharkawy, Maja Wadin. Courtesy of Oshoora)
Views: 4165
Views: 4165

Following last year’s successful edition that took place in Sinai’s Kiteloop, Ras Sudr, this year, between 28 April and 2 May, the Oshtoora Festival will infuse the region of Fayoum, 100 kilometres southwest of Cairo, with a thousand like-minded people from different countries.

The festival organisers promise a rich programme that will include music performances ranging from traditional Egyptian tunes by Mohammed Abozekry to electrotarab by Hello Psychaleppo, the much awaited alternative star from Syria; arthouse movies by Zawya cinema, giant El-Kousha puppets, architectural installations, storytelling, and much more.

The festival’s move to Fayoum aims at shifting the event from yet another campfest in the desert, as the team aspires to create a dreamworld where artists are properly paid, waste is ecologically managed, and all people are kind to each other.

In its second edition, the core team of organisers, namely Youssef Atwan, Muhammad El-Quessny and Heba El-Sherif, told Ahram Online how they will capitalise on last year’s experience and move the event forward.

“One of the most cherished observations we got in feedback was the remarkable atmosphere and a community spirit of Oshtoora,” comments Youssef Atwan, pointing to the “seven hundred participants [who] were so nice to each other, so helpful and generous. For many people this is the best thing that could ever happen to them. Music was not the main thing.”

Atwan recalls how appreciating this experience, last year, listeners stayed in the camp despite the tough weather during the festival.

Despite the move of location, the organisers remain faithful to the core philosophy of Orshtoora. But organising the new edition did not come about without facing numerous obstacles characteristic of Egypt’s arts and culture scene.

Tens setting at Oshtoora 2015 (Photo: Maja Wadin, courtesy of Oshtoora)

Reshaping festival funding culture

“The main problem is that the entire scene in Egypt is sponsored by grants, embassies or corporations, or is subsidised by the government. If the grants and sponsors leave, we will have no cultural scene in Egypt. That is scary,” Muhammad El-Quessny told Ahram Online, adding that he hopes more individuals and small entities invest in the arts.

Atwan revealed that having sponsors’ support is not always easy. “The sponsors come with their own terms, telling you what to say and whom to work with. And, of couse, you have to put their brand logo everywhere — stage, flags, tickets, ushers in branded costumes.” Oshtoora is proud not to bombard its audience with brand messages.

Taking an altenative approach to festival organisation has its setbacks. The organisers reveal that so far they haven’t made any money on Oshtoora. “But we are not doing it for quick cash," Atwan says swiftly.

What the Oshtoora team is aiming for is a self-sustainable, sponsor-free arts platform, giving fertile ground for artists to meet and collaborate. They claim there is no economic secret to it, other than the collaboration of many small entities. Musicians, architects, sound people, cinema people — they all come together as small tribes of professionals sharing the same idea, providing their services and meeting their interests.

“We look for people like us; small local Egyptian companies in different fields. Like Zawya cinema. When we went to talk to them, we knew they would be onboard immediately. Big guys like City Stars or Mall of Arabia would not be interested.”

Individuals also participate in different ways, from volunteer work to paying the whole ticket price.

Signicant support comes from Fayoum itself. The Egyptian artist Mohamed Abla, whose art centre and museum of caricature are not far from the festival site, has helped in many matters.

The organisers also reveal that the Bedouin family that is lending its land to Oshtoora is being very welcoming and protective about the participants.

On the other hand, the government this year also proved positive and understanding when issuing permits to the festival that is designed to promote internal tourism and attract foreigners also.

“We are sure that the old tourism system is dying,” the team says unanimously, and cheerfully. They believe they have come up with a better alternative: cutting down on material comforts in favour of art activities.

According to them, many people who were wary about living in a tent before converted into avid campers after Oshtoora last year.

However, “The ticket is not cheap,” Atwan admits. A full four-day pass costs about EGP 1500 and includes a place for a tent (which the participants can bring with them, or rent on site), access to drinking water and free entrance to any of the many performances and workshops of Oshtoora.

Together with food, tent rent and parking, the expenses may be comparable to a traditional consumer hotel vacation over the weekend. “But it is an unfair comparison,” comments Heba El-Sherif, who is very enthusiastic about getting people involved in festival activities, from the musical studio sessions to workshops on recycling beer cans into art and useful accessories.

Oshtoora 2016 Location North Lake Qarun at Fayoum (Photo: Nada Elissa, courtesy of Oshtoora)

Gearing up for a success-hopeful, environment-friendly event

Moving Oshtoora to Fayoum’s national protectorate comes with environmental responsibility.

The organisers explain on their website that, “Fayoum is home to some of the few waterfalls around, wonderful rock formations and Egypt’s annual pottery festival. It is also considered a resting ground for thousands of migratory birds, especially around Lake Qarun where large numbers of flamingos, grey herons and grebes can be spotted. The northern side of Lake Qarun also hosts important fossil records of terrestrial primates, marine and terrestrial marshland mammals from the Eocene and Oligocene sequences.”

With those elements in mind, the Oshtoora organisers take environmental issues very seriously.

El-Sherif explains: “It is a real challenge for us to leave the place unchanged after we leave. We forbid plastic bottles. We ask people to bring their own flasks or buy Oshtoora flasks on site. We have large dispensers of water, and water is free. It reduces the garbage significantly. All plastic that will be sold will be turned into something else on site, and the organic waste is arranged to become animal feed. We already made deals with partners for that.

We have an entire water management system with greywater flush. Shower water goes into the toilet flush. Flush water goes into a tank. Then we suck the water from this tank and take it to a place where it is treated. We use no cement. We don't change anything. We don't dig. In theory, we will leave this place as if no one was ever there."

The organisers’ strategy already proved successful last year when in Ras Sudr they made sure to leave the environment intact, except for leaving a large art installation at the request of the land's owner.

Having been acquainted with the organisation of festivals as facilitators and performers, Oshtoora's team knows all the minute nuances that can spoil the whole thing, and they tried hard to take care of them well. They reveal that their work has in fact already begun many months ago.

“Many people get surprised when I tell them we've started working since July. We took a very conscious decision to commit ourselves to it for eight months fulltime, to make all our dreams come true in just four days. I don't think anyone in the event field has this approach, or gives so much attention to all details,” El-Sherif comments proudly.

All is set. Now let us hope for good weather for the days of the festival.

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