Festivals are one of the elements that Egypt is (in)famous for in the region and regardless of purpose or character, music is always a key component. In recent years, music festivals, while always in fashion, have become the industry craze, whatever genre, random feeling, crazy idea or well-developed dream, we have managed to create a music festival for everything.
One Sham El-Nessim weekend: Three festivals, three beach spots
Sham El-Nessim, for the music industry, particularly the alternative one, is the super bowl of weekends. It falls on the same days every year, comes at just that exact beautiful seasonal moment of morning heat and evening cool, and is the grand kickoff to the summer. And in a country where a massive sector of music consumers lies between the ages of 15-25, this is the last weekend before the scene goes ‘ghost town’ as kids are locked up at home and forced to study for the long exam season.
So for very good business reasons, it’s no wonder that three major festivals are taking place on this exact weekend, from 10 to 12 April: 3alganoob Tondoba Bay, 3alganoob Soma Bay, and Oshtoora.
The three protagonists will all be descending on various beach spots and competing with each other for the few thousand in Egypt who are plugged into the alternative scene.
Naturally, the question that most people have been dropping online is: "why, why are three festivals taking place on the exact same days?"
While the warring parties each hold some version of a bigger truth, the general consensus seems to be that the idea of 3alganoob began with a gathering of friends, that included Amr Ramadan, managing director of 3alganoob Soma Bay and Karim Noor, owner of the Deep South Lodge and Diving Center (who is currently managing director of 3alganoob Tondoba Bay) on a Sham El-Nessim weekend at Deep South a few years back.
The generator providing the electricity for the camp blew up as the musicians in the group were jamming and, voila, the inspiration for a small festival-like gathering is born.
The first edition of 3alganoob saw three bands perform: Like Jelly, Abo and Youssra El-Hawary. Financially, it covered the costs of the broken generator and its success made the partners contemplate doing a second edition. And so, in 2014, a second edition of 3alganoob took place with a much bigger line up, more people, and the makings of a real festival.
The guys from Like Jelly, Yousef Atwan and Mohamed El-Quessny, were brought in to handle the stage and music. The happy marriage, sadly, ended in divorce with all three partners moving on with their own festival version of ‘3alganoob’.
Public statements confirm that the shared vision for what the festival is and where it should be heading was no longer a united idea, with each partner essentially choosing a different path on what their understanding of ‘alternative festival’ means.
3alganoob Tondoba Bay, the Original
In the virtual sphere, this 3alganoob has been promoting itself as the original. The last to come out in the festivals race, 3alganoob Tondoba Bay claims to be “ranked one of the best cultural musical environmental events that take place in Egypt yearly since 2013!”
In addition to having the exact same logo as 3alganoob Soma Bay, both parties claiming ownership and Soma Bay having beat Tondoba Bay to officially registering both name and logo.
The organizers at Tondoba Bay highlight the problem and their interpretation of the original concept by stating: “When we created 3alganoob all we had in mind was art culture music environmental, helping local community, supporting the neighbours and for sure we are not planning to go to war over name or anything else. We avoid conflicts and focus on our product. 3alganoob Tondoba Bay has other goals than the competition. We mainly focus on introducing new talented musicians and independent artists.”
Of its many aims, includes informing and educating the visiting audience about local cultures and tribes. The festival posters, created by Ashraf El-Fiky (who incidentally also created the logo which is the subject of a battle between the two 3alganoobs), advertise beach, diving, art, culture, camping and stars.
This year's lineup features two of the original 3alganoob bands, Youssra El-Hawary and Abo, and includes Sabrine Darbuka, Karam Mourad, Machine Eat Man, High Dam, Portrait Avenue, Telepoetic, and Ghalia Ben Ali.
Fragment of artwork from 3alganoob Tondoba Bay's promotional material
3alganoob Soma Bay
Having positioned itself as a swanky, sponsored festival, 3alganoob Soma Bay is probably the most commercial of all three. It has partnered up with some powerful allies, including the sound engineer, Essam El-Saharty; Prolite Event Solutions, an industry giant in lighting equipment, and the MO4 tribe for their social media coverage.
The festival claims to be the first camping festival in Egypt and the wider region, to support and promote tourism to new locations in Egypt’s south, and “to attract more guests to hotels, camps, and local restaurants, benefiting tribespeople living in the area.” The condescending vision of how they describe local communities aside, nothing thus far marketed indicates how they are helping local communities beyond flooding the area with a few thousand guests who will be benefitting the private beach of Soma Bay.
Nevertheless, 3alganoob Soma Bay is going for big this year with 19 bands participating. On the development side, they state “This year, instead of the artists supporting the festival, 3alganoob aims to become the leading festival in the Middle East supporting the artists and the alternative music scene in the region.”
The festival’s statements on environmental responsibility seem to have taken a more serious direction with the hiring of an "environmental consultant" with the role of making sure the location remains clean, the use of solar energy, and the donation of 10 percent of profits to an environmental or developmental cause. It remains unclear, however, who this cause/initiative will be.
While the festival seems more like a chic version of what a camping festival should be, the line-up is stellar and includes, Amel Methlouthi, Jadal, Autostrad, Portrait Avenue, Sharmoofers, Hawidro, Glass Onion, Cairokee, and the Gultrah Sound System.
Fragment of artwork from 3alganoob Soma Bay's promotional material
Founded by Like Jelly’s Yusuf Atwan and Mohamed El-Quessny, together with Heba El-Sherif, Oshtoora is all about the creation of a temporary state and describes itself as a “gathering of musicians, artists and anyone who is seeking alternatives. It’s a sponsor-free celebration of a generation of dreamers.”
Audiences are asked to imagine a different world for three days and “dream of a responsible community that is based on collaboration. A collective of young, forceful initiatives. By joining us, you are contributing to this sensible fantasy.”
On the music side, Oshtoora is all about the alternative within the alternative. Featuring four stages, two on the beach and one inside the Oshtoora village, and the eminent Mafdi from Dream Studio as the sound man, the musical lineup includes Zuli, Mehdi Nassouli, The Meteors Project, El-Rass & Munma, Tamer Abou Ghazaleh, Abdallah Abouzekry, El-Dor El-Awwal, Asia Madani, Massar Egbari, and Maryam Saleh.
But, they are pushing the envelope on festival making by having a full music program to emphasise exchange and collaboration and, which, includes a portable recording studio and a Dialogue Tent.
Oshtoora is also heavily expanding in other areas in an attempt to produce an integrated arts festival. Alongside the camping core of the festival is an art-music space they are hoping to develop. To emphasise this, Oshtoora branding was done by the talented Adham Bakry, and on the arts side, organisers have collaborated with the famed visual artist Bassem Yousri to curate an exhibition that will feature himself and Alaa Abd El-Hamid together with graffiti artists, Ammar Abo Bakr and Aya Tarek. Zawya is also collaborating and screening four films.
Other activities, include yoga and flamenco sessions, slacklining, geodesic dome making, Standup Paddleboarding (SUP), kayaking and fire spinning.
Fragment of artwork from Oshtora's promotional material
Ghosts of the past
All three festivals are generally pushing for the same things: eco-tourism (which seems to have become a brand name), environmental awareness (i.e. conserving water, leaving the beach clean), camping, music, arts, community development (albeit that it is a Cairene version of getting to know the ‘locals’), and the usual beach activities. It should be noted that the full list of collaborators (including food provision and bathroom architects) are detailed on the respective festival sites.
Failure in previous years in terms of organisation, cleanliness, environmental philosophy, logistics, financial stability, festival sustainability, and connecting with local communities, have forced each festival to rethink its strategy and heavily market the idea that ‘this year will be different’.
However, music remains the most visible component of focus for all three and, thus, it remains to be seen how different the experiences will be this year. Though, Oshtoora has made some very interesting moves towards expanding into the concept of an ‘arts and music’ festival.
Perhaps, the most glaring, pitfall is that none of the festivals have focused on audience engagement and development beyond social media posts and event pages.
The audience numbers interested in listening to alternative music bands compared to other rival scenes, like the Mahraganat, is largely inconsequential. Audience development has not been attempted, resulting in the expected audience likely to come from upper socio-economic circles and, largely, from Cairo. A sad contrast to what music festivals are usually built on: connecting with others through music.
It remains to be seen how much of the talk will translate into something exciting, different, or, at the very least, cool.