Lots of faces popped out of their windows to enjoy the autumn breeze tangled with songs, stories and drumbeats of the neighbouring open air stage. Welcome to Teatro El-Maadi, Cairo’s latest cultural hub, as of last night.
The venue promises a mélange between space for independent theatre troupes, authentic handicrafts and numerous capacity building and artistic workshops in an attempt to find the usually missing link between human development and art.
Teatro ElMaadi (Photo: Amira Noshokaty)
The brain child of founding member Mahmoud Abu Doma, a creative director who funded numerous cultural/development initiatives in Alexandria (his home town), such as Lazem Masrah (Theatre is a must) and the Mediterranean Forum for Independent Theatre Troupes, and lately Teatro Alexandria (2012), which also serves as a cultural café.
Teatro comes indeed as a beam of hope for independent troupes that suffered lately from the shut down of one of the main funding and support entities for their work, Al-Mawred Al-Thaqafi. Add to it the ban on Al-Fan Midan (Art Square) that was located in Abdeen Square every month, featuring the latest performances of numerous independent artists.
"We aim to help manufacture culture like the new cinematic wave in France. This emerged from cafes with their gatherings and interactions, which gave way to new art and cultural trends like the New Writing movement," explained Abu Doma.
The night opened with El-Warsha (the first independent theatre troupe revisiting folk traditions and inspiring new ones) performing Saaet Haz (Happy Hour), which is an attempt to break away from the gloomy status quo of independent artists, explained founding director of El-Warsha Hassan Al Geretly.
The drums of the Malwai Centre, from Minya governorate (and affiliated with El-Warsha) opened with familiar folk beats that have their own dance theme. Their traditional saedi (Upper Egyptian) rhythm made lots of heads swing softly to the beat and set the tone for the next El-Warsha performance. El-Geretly then sailed with us into the wit and wisdom of Al-Sira Al-Helalia (Epic of Beni Helal), which is a long verse epic of Arab folk heroes and legends.
“There will come a day when the innocent will no longer suffer from wrong accusation, a black day for all the tyrants. So never praise the nontrustworthy, even if he was well settled on his horse, for nobody is completely rid of hardships, even the sails of ships.”
The epic ride drifted into the largely vanished art of monologue, singing two pieces of Egypt’s monologue icon Mahmoud Shokoukou, then passing into to La Fountain’s famous story, 'The Wolf and the Dog,' that tells of the importance of the unconditional freedom of the wolf verses the tamed life of a domestic dog. Then came Ibrahim Aslan’s story of a man’s daily struggle with Egypt’s infamous bureaucracy and Arfa Abdel Rassoul’s personal account of Alexandria in the 1960s through her story 'Baked Potatoes.'
El-Warsha then picked up the nostalgic theme once again in music that swung between Nubian folk songs followed by one of Egypt’s famous 1920s café songs, Eh raayak fi khafati (Do you see me cute), originally sung by Abdel Lattif Al Banna, and closing with Ya Halawet Al Donia (How beautiful life is) written by poetry icon Beiram Al-Tounsy and composed by Zakaria Ahmed in the mid-1940s.
After El-Warsha's performance, the evening continued to inspire, through young independent and modern artists such as Masar Egbari singing troupe, Yousra El-Hawari and CairoKey.