A Long Walk through the Streets of Egypt

Menna Taher, Sunday 16 Jan 2011

On a mellow evening of fine tunes and poetry recitals, El Sharea band, gave a performance that alternated between sweet nostalgia, irony and sarcasm along with words of bitterness and despair

photo by Amin Haddad

An evening entitled ‘Shams El Sheta’ (The Winter Sun) took place on 14 January at El Sawy Culturewheel, and was a collaboration between the poet, Ahmed Haddad and composer and the founder of Eskenderella band, Hazem Shaheen.

The poetry and music intermingled smoothly like waves swooshing to and fro. Omar Jaheen, Aya Hemeida and Ahmed Haddad sang and recited poetry, and while Haddad adopted a conversational, theatrical manner, Jaheen was all animated motions and Hemeida had a more reserved, yet ecstatic tone.

The musicians included Ahmed El Mougy and Youssef El Sherei (keyboard), Ashraf Nagaty, Hassan El Memlawy and Islam Abd El Aziz (oud), Amir Ezzat (percussion) and Mai Haddad (vocals).

The poetry included references to daily life on the Egyptian streets, as well as pop culture. They were full of a glorification of the past and the poet’s own passion, like the surrealist Spanish painter Salvador Dali and Alexandria.

The evening started with a sweet ode to Alexandria that recalls the beauty of its weather and winter days, ending with scenes from a typical winter morning in Egypt, conveyed in the poem Shams El Shea.  With an eye for detail, Haddad’s lyrics and Shahine’s music sailed smoothly amidst old alleys and mansions, as the warm, winter sun highlighted the drastic social changes through love stories, social scenes from the early 20th century, the detention of political and cultural figures in the 60s, the riots in the 70s and the current Egyptian pop culture. Through this poetic collage of Egypt’s social history, an undeniable sense of nostalgia was evoked, yet in the most subtle and humorous way.

Poems from Haddad’s books: Habet Torab (A Grain of Sand, 2007), Dolab el Hodom (Closet, 2008) and Beshweish (Slowly, currently in press), Baadeshi (comic name for commoner in the 20s), as well as Shams el Sheta (The Winter Sun), Tanhidet el Kaab El ali (The Sigh of High Heels), and many others were all recited or sang and were well-received during the evening.

Out of the most humorous parts of the show was a song about microbus drivers, and their daily struggle with their peers and the police-stops. A melody associated with microbus drivers was played by the keyboardist El Sherei and the audience responded with laughter. Haddad recited a poem from the point of view of a woman’s heels. However, the second half of the event was less comical and revolved around questions about what has befallen Egypt.

The evening concluded with a touching song about the bombing incidents in Alexandria. The words, “You are not my brother, O martyr, you are me, I am the one who died praying at the beginning of the new year,” provoked an emotional reaction from the audience. The evening was like a long walk in the streets of Egypt throughout the various eras.

2006 marked the first artistic cooperation between Haddad and Shahine as the two came together for the “Shams El Sheta poetry-and-song evening”. Since then, their association has blossomed to more than 25 songs.

This evening will be repeated in Alexandria. Date to be advised.

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