Egypt's Marsa Alam hosts unique music festival

Rowan El Shimi, Thursday 9 May 2013

Near Egypt's Marsa Alam, about 800 kilometres from Cairo, musicians, film lovers, and environmentally engaged individuals came together for three days in '3al Ganoob Festival'

(Photo: Rowan El Shimi)


Over 400 people from Cairo and Alexandria camped in the scenic beauty of Egypt's south, about 800 kilometres from the capital, as part of a three-day environmentally-friendly music and film festival, '3al Ganoob.'

Participants discovered the beaches and diving spots by day and enjoyed unique films and live music performances, which ended with open mic and collective jam sessions by night.

'3al Ganoob Festival' was hosted by Deep South Camp from 3 to 5 May. Traditionally a spot for divers to settle in between dives in chalets, huts and tents, the camp is a short walk from the beach, ten kilometres south of Marsa Alam.

Besides cultural activities, the festival also hosted a few seminars during the day, conversations with the tribes, and how to co-exist in the surrounding environment without damaging it.  Prior to the festival, Ice-Cairo, a hub for environmental and sustainable projects, hosted a seminar with locals on creating solar panels, one of which was used at the festival.

The Environmental Aspect

Most people attending the festival did not participate in the environmental aspect and saw it more as a vacation with musical perks. Also, the organisers did not highlight it or push for environmental engagement throughout the festival. However, some individual efforts were made to engage people; one group helped raise awareness on conserving water during showers and picked up trash from the area.

Muhammed El-Quessny, from Like Jelly band, also called on people during their performance to clean the near-by natural pool 'El-Naizak.' The following day, a group of approximately 30 people in cars and pickup trucks headed to clear out the area, bringing back a medium-sized truck full of plastic bottles. The clean-up happened swiftly and in a self-organised manner, which left people satisfied and happy with their small contribution to the beautiful place hosting them.

Clean-up of El-Naizak
The Naizak Clean-up (Photo: Rowan El Shimi)

A typical '3al Ganoob' day

An average day at the festival was waking up to a typical Egyptian breakfast of foul (beans), falafel and eggs, followed by exploring the surrounding beaches and dive spots near the campsite. After sunset, people gathered by the beach to sit in a circle and improvise drumming together.

The drum circle was perhaps one of the most interesting aspects of the festival. The organisers provided drums from all over the world as well as local drums, and visitors were encouraged to also bring their own percussions. The activity of drumming created an intriguing non-verbal conversation among the group, and the roles would shift between leading and following, with everyone feeling the rhythm as they exchange drums throughout the whole process.

Drum Circle
Drum Circle (Photo: Rowan El Shimi)

During the dead hours of showering and dinner times, people started to gather in the seating areas on top of the hill, where a film was screened. The films were curated to reflect a different take on cinema from Egyptian young directors; however, the line-up was still composed of films which did not dig deep into the alternative cinema scene. Still, the films served their purpose in giving an insight into culture and cinema in Egypt. On the first night, award-winning film by Ahmed Abdallah 'Microphone' on the independent culture scene in Alexandria was screened, proceeded by Ibrahim Battut's 'Hawi' the following night. On the final night of the festival, two short films by independent director Alia Ayman 'Hazy Khayal' and 'Cartharsis: A Self-Portrait,' followed by Tamer Eissa's 'The Camp' were screened.

After the films, the musical performances began. Each night started with a relaxed live performance, the first of which were independent musicians Abo wel Shabab, who produce music relating to life experiences and current events with a pop sound. The following night Like Jelly presented their satirical musical comedy sketches, and Yossra El-Hawary and her talented band performed to close the festival.

While the performances were each interesting in their own way, it was what came after them that really stood out. The musicians would invite people to come perform in the open mic segment of the evening, and audiences were invited to showcase their own talents. Some sang acapella, while others sang covers of American and British songs to the guitar, and Baheya Band, who cover Sayid Darwish and Sheikh Imam classics, took the stage several times.

Perhaps the only issue with the open mic was that there was no time limit on the performances. While some would get up and present one or two songs, others would stay on stage for several songs, which hindered the opportunity for others to take the stage. However, in spite of this logistical oversight, the mood remained festive, and people continued jamming into the late hours of the night on the stage and in different spots around the festival grounds.

A unique model

'3al Ganoob' attracted several groups of people, mostly youth and many in their 30s and 40s, and a few families. The activities, whether diving, discovering the beaches, the clean-up or cultural activities, played a role in bringing the different segments of the audiences together; it sparked interesting conversations and possible new collaborations among festival goers.

The vibe and energy of the group was upbeat and comfortable. It would be interesting if the second edition of the festival was hosted with a stronger environmental aspect, as was promised through all the communications with the public. However, it is important that '3al Ganoob' maintains its positive energy and relaxed, open atmosphere of encouraging the audience to share their talents and co-create music throughout.

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