Five years ago, nobody would have believed the scene. Instead of chilling out on a Friday night at a café or a lively mall, hundreds of young people wearing jeans and with trendy hairstyles were crowding around a ticket booth, to attend an evening of classical poetry recital and music under a bridge in Zamalek.
On 5 November, Wisdom Hall at the El Sawy Culturewheel was packed with teens, along with some older people, who came to attend an evening of poetry recital and music, held by the Al- Share’a band (Street), commemorating the 25th anniversary of the death of poetry legend, Fouad Haddad.
“One nation” was the name of the performance by the band on Friday, with performances by Amin Haddad, Fouad’s son and a poet himself, Samia Jaheen, the daughter of the father of Egyptian ammiyya (colloquial) poetry Salah Jaheen, Ahmed Haddad, the grandson of both Haddad and Jaheen, Salma and May Haddad, actress Aya Hemeida and most importantly, the brilliant oud player and singer, Hazem Shahine.
The audience was silent and directed from the very first moment to the hard yet angelic sound of the oud solo opening by Hazem, one of the few talented players in the Arab world and a member of the Eskendrella band, who created a clear beat replacing the traditional tabla.
Formed in 2005, the band mixes oriental oud playing with western guitar and piano, fascinating audiences of all ages. Political struggle, nationalism, patriotism, Arabism, and a call for the preservation of the Arabic language were the themes of the show, with poems composed by Hazem including "Khallik fakir Masr gameela" (Always remember Egypt is beautiful), "Kan we Makansh" (What was and was not), and "Aukazi" (My crutches), maintaining a melancholic mood in the theatre.
“I felt my patriotism was energised,” says a Sanaa Morsey, an audience member in her mid-fifties. “These poetry evenings led by Haddad and Jaheen’s family reminds us of the spirit during the Egyptian national movement in the 1970s. I feel nostalgic and sad,"
Initially the band began with the aim of reviving the poetry of Fouad Haddad and Salah Jaheen. They contain members of both families who have intermarried. It was when the talented Shahine joined them that they founded their band, Al-Share’a.
Born in 1927 to intellectual Syrian parents, who immigrated to Egypt, Haddad's poetry was a means of struggle against the regime and the British occupation. For some, repeating the old poems, written in a historical context, was a bit strange.
“I felt I was frozen in time,” says Hazem Bayoumy, a student of journalism at the British university, who found out about the concert through Facebook. "I mean, this is a bunch of good performers but they sing songs that are out of date and out of place. We're not in the time of the British mandate system anymore," he exclaims.
In a sudden transition from the tragic to the sarcastic was the rap song "Dr Saad," based on Saad, who went to study abroad and has become fully-Americanised. He never wants to return to his poor, backward country and his family who make fun of his ‘anglicised’ Arabic. The track was made stronger with the background musical back and forth between the oud and the guitar, played by brilliant guitarist Sherif El-Masry, creating a jazzy and distinctive spirit.