Audiences at Cairo’s El-Genaina cheer for musicians Maryam Saleh and Zeid Hamdan

Amina Abdel-Halim, Tuesday 2 Aug 2016

Ahram Online followed Maryam Saleh and Zeid Hamdan during their Cairo concert on 29 July

Maryam Saleh
(Photo: Rawan Ezzat)

The usual hubbub of car horns and street vendors seemed to fade into the distance as Egyptian underground singer Maryam Saleh's warm, peculiar voice rose above the chaotic din of Old Cairo, intertwined with the cold metallic sounds from Lebanese music producer Zeid Hamdan.

It was on Friday 29 July, that the duo -- accompanied by three musicians on bass, guitar, and drums -- played to an ecstatic crowd at El-Geneina Theatre in Al-Azhar Park.

The show opened with the musicians' humourous rendition of Sheikh Imam's Nixon Baba with the entire audience singing the lyrics by heart, much like every other song they performed. Saleh (who is also a theatre artist), was exceptional stage with her stage presence, and brought the crowd to the edge of their seats.

Her exaggerated tones of voice and pronunciation, coupled with accentuated body language and occasional dancing, helped to convey the irony and sarcasm with which the song was performed.

The two performers are leading figures in the Middle Eastern underground scene. Hamdan is the electronic music producer behind some of the most successful alternative Lebanese bands, such as Soapkills, while Saleh rose to fame by covering traditional Egyptian singer and composer Sheikh Imam's songs, which she re-interpreted with rock music.

Although the two artists are seemingly marching along on very different roads, this intriguing collaboration brings out the best in both styles.

Maryam Saleh
(Photo: Rawan Ezzat)

The duo first teamed up in 2010, under the name ShiftZ and produced the original hit single Eslahat. Five years later, in September 2015, they released their joint album Halawella (Clowns), comprised of six covers and five original songs.

The songs on the album, many of which are adaptations of the iconic Egyptian duo Sheikh Imam and Ahmed Fouad Negm's works, very often revolve around political themes. The underground artists chose to approach those subjects in an unconventional manner, tackling sensitive issues with sarcasm and dark humour.

The atmosphere of the show was generally light, warm and convivial, with Saleh bursting into laughter halfway through her performance of Sheikh Imam's Valery Giscard d'Estaing, inviting the crowd to sing along.

Towards the end of the show, two fans casually walked on stage to take a selfie with the singer. The singer also called her sister, Nagham Saleh to the stage, and the pair gave a lively and energetic performance of Halawella.

Maryam Saleh
(Photo: Rawan Ezzat)

The shift between varying musical styles was done smoothly and welcomed with great enthusiasm, with fans joyfully clapping along to the rhythm of Youyou, before head banging to the heavier rendition of Ghaba (Forest), which highlighted Hamdan's ingenious sounds.

The musicians also performed other, more soulful tunes, like Emchi Ala Remchi (Walk on my Eyelash, one of their original songs), which started off with a soft and slow melody before drifting off into heavy guitar riffs, demonstrating the singer's impressive vocal capacities as well as her ability to nearly bring the entire audience to tears.

The performers dedicated what was supposed to be the final song of the night to human rights lawyer Malek Adly, who was arrested last May and charged with attempting to overthrow the regime.

However, the crowd simply would not let them leave, crying out for an encore, until the musicians closed the show with a second performance of their hit song, Eslahat.

Maryam Saleh and Zeid Hamdan followed this stunning performance with another on 30 July.

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