Twice as many attendees as last year travelled to Marsa Alam’s Tondoba Bay between Friday 18 April and Monday 20 April for the three-day music festival 3alganoob (To the South), with daily percussion workshops, drum circles and 19 musical performances right on the beach.
Granting audiences the chance to enjoy a variety of unique local and regional music, the festival was once again hosted by the Deep South Camp -- 10 kilometres south of Marsa Alam -- traditionally a haven for divers within a short walk of the beach.
The lineup of musicians presented a blend of some of the most important figures on the independent music scene, along with rising voices curated by Youssef Atwan and Muhammed El-Quessny, who were also performing with Like Jelly. Bands included Massar Egbari, Abo and Sennary, Youssra El-Hawary, Tamer Abu Ghazala, Sabrine Darabuka, Safi, Asia Madani, Like Jelly, Baheya, El-Mazzikateya and reggae band Meshwar, along with party starters Soopar Lox. The lineup also included various electronic musicians such as Fulltone, Nadah El-Shazly, Maurice Louca, Arabic trip-hop duo Maryam Saleh and Zeid Hemdan as well as two DJs: DJ Eskalob and White Nubian.
Tondoba Bay echoed with the sounds of gongs, drums, percussion and guitars, as well as countless other instruments brought by the festivalgoers. Small musical circles and great energetic groups formed here and there, dancing and singing until the early hours of the morning. Others sat enjoying the atmosphere and relaxing.
Besides the music, attendees had the option of attending Yoga sessions right by the water with certified instructor Yogi Ali El-Alfy, along with participating in a daily sunset drum circle organised by Bongoz. Talented percussionist Sabrine also offered two drumming workshops - however, not enough instruments were available for all those interested.
The festival kicked off with music by local Shalateen band from the Ababda tribe residing in the region, followed by premier act DJ Eskalob, who played reggae and world music fusions.
The first evening lineup included acoustic acts by Yousra El-Hawari and duo Abo and Sennary, followed by a one woman show, electronic musician and singer Nadah El-Shazly.
Ending the first evening was Maurice Louca, of the Alif ensemble and band member of Bikya, who performed a unique fusion of Shaabi oriental music and modern techno sounds. Louca had the audience in a trance with his skillful merging of genres.
While on the festival's second day, Alexandrian DJ Nubian was playing an inspired mix, the scorching sun stopped audiences from dancing along as they had the day before.
Among the highlights of the second day was Egyptian singer and songwriter Safi who, as the sun went down, brought music from his album ‘Nafazat Al-Awraq’, a blend of western indie, soul and jazz and traditional Egyptian musical influences. After his performance, Safi commented to Ahram Online that "The festival is a big testament to the music scene in Egypt," which he considered one of the best music experiences he has ever had.
The evening was kicked off by the talented oud musician of Palestinian origin Tamer Abu Ghazala, who was followed by another stellar performance by Lebanese popular independent music icon Zeid Hemdan within his duo with Egyptian musician Maryam Saleh.
The night took its peak when Like Jelly took to the stage with their intense energy, which got almost the entire audience to their feet, dancing and singing along to the band.
Although Quit Together, made up of Bosaina of Wetrobotos, Bosaina and Zuli, were set to end the night, due to a sound issue that arose as their act started, they were not able to perform.
While the festival's final day hosted a strong wind which resulted in some problems such as flying tents, the music continued. The afternoon started with Baheya band who play Egyptian folk songs, who were quite misplaced, they were followed by Arabic reggae band Meshwar who gave one of the most impressive and energetic performances of the entire festival. The audience demanded an encore and danced into the sunset almost refusing to let them leave the stage.
Asia Madani performs on 3alganoob's final night (Photo: Mohamed Medhat)
The last night of the festival saw local residents dancing along with festivalgoers to the music of the Sudanese act Asia Madani, who infused the beach with a beautiful set of happy and upbeat African rhythms, along with Alexandrian popular band Massar Egbari.
As electronic music act Fulltone were among the last to perform, they provided the closing festival with a shift in dynamics as their deep, groovy and reverberating sounds brought the audience back down from the energetic dancing. 3alganoob ended near to dawn with a performance by electronic dance music act Supar lux and the few audience members who survived the end of the night stayed behind to help with the clean-up in good spirits.
No doubt, the three days of music offered an indulgence for the ears away from the raucous noise of Cairo. Besides the music, much attention was paid to the visuals, stage design and light display. Visual artist and VJ Kareem Osman, supported by fellow artist Dia Hamed, built a pyramid on top of a small ditch in the middle of the audience area which displayed live visuals throughout the festivals synced with the music. Attention was paid to the light design and sound by talented engineers. The stage itself was also artistically crafted by Marsa Alam local Mostafa Abulmajed, known as Gezazy, who also had an installation by the beach of lighted bottles hanging from a tree.
Light installation by Gezazy (Photo: Mohamed Medhat)
A number of positive impressions were expressed by the performing musicians such as saxophonist Ahmed El-Dahan from Like Jelly, a satire music band that mixes music with storytelling.
"As a band, we try to make our music artistic and we struggle to find places to perform in Cairo, so 3alganoob was off the charts in comparison to other places we have performed – the sound system was fantastic," Dahan commented to Ahram Online.
Despite the festival’s great achievement in bringing people together to share and enjoy good music, double the number of attendees this year also meant that organisers and volunteers were under increased pressure to ensure the event ran smoothly – which sometimes fell short of expectations.
While some attendees welcomed the new experience of camping in the desert and the overall positive energy, others felt the festival price raised expectations that were not met.
Mohamed Wafa, one attendee disappointed with the organisation, commented that the event "Invited too many people, more than [the organisers] can handle with little experience in managing this sort of music festival."
As the organisers were hardly reachable during the three days, unavailable in person or through the telephone number provided, in addition to a constantly crowded information desk, problems began with guests unable to find the camp.
The simple lifestyle of sleeping on the ground in tents and relaxing on the beach came at a price that ranged from 725 to 1200 LE. Though food and drinks were available at onsite outlets, they were overpriced and hardly served promptly.
Another issue was that many audiences, who were not staying on the festival's grounds, were supposed to be paying for either an entire festival pass or a one day pass, and this was not always organised. This led to many people attending the festival for free, while others paid a hefty sum.
The promised environmental aspect of the festival was only met with a single beach cleanup organised by the Cairo culture space Darb 1718. The final cleanup would have become much less challenging for the organisers had they given more focus to the importance of cleanliness and preserving the area during the event.
Increased efforts are evidently yet to be exerted by the festival organisers to ensure nothing mars the uplifting musical experience they provide in such a fascinating setting for, as one attendee Sarah Amir told Ahram Online, “Music here reaches everyone.”