Did Egypt get cold feet? Travis Scott's Giza Pyramids concert cancellation fans controversy

Nevine El-Aref , Wednesday 2 Aug 2023

When Live Nation Middle East announced American rapper Travis Scott’s concert at the Giza Pyramids and the launch of his new album “Utopia”, his first in five years, tickets — costing up to LE6,500 — sold out within minutes.

Concert cold feet
One of Scott s concerts (photo: AP)


The initial excitement, however, turned into confusion when, two weeks before the concert, the Egyptian Musicians’ Syndicate said the performance could not go ahead.

According to a statement issued by the syndicate, its decision was based on safety concerns, logistical challenges and the rapper’s music contradicting “the cultural identity of Egyptians”.

“Photographs and reports that the syndicate has received show that Scott is using his concerts to perform rituals that contradict our values and traditions. Thus, the syndicate decided to cancel a show which does not align with Egyptian cultural norms and values,” said the statement.

The cancellation followed a campaign against Scott linking him to “anti-Egyptian Afrocentrism agendas” and “satanic rituals”. Concerns were also raised over a possible repeat of events at Scott’s performance at the Astroworld Music Festival in 2021 when eight members of the audience were killed and many others injured during a stampede.

Confusion arose when a number of news outlets quoted Scott’s representative, David Stromberg, saying that the syndicate has no veto over international performers’ permissions and the concert promoter, Live Nation, denied that the event had been cancelled, Tweeting that there are no “changes to Scott’s show in Egypt and any reports to the contrary are false” and that Live Nation “can’t wait to celebrate Utopia in Egypt.”

Two days prior to the concert, Live Nation finally confirmed the cancellation “due to complex production issues”, saying ticket holders will be reimbursed at their point of purchase and promising the concert would take place at an unspecified future date. Meanwhile, Scott tweeted: “Egypt at the pyramids will happen. But due to demand and detail logistics. They just need a bit a time to set lay on lands. I will keep u posted on a date which will be soon love you all.”

The decision to call off the concert caused controversy. Those who supported the cancellation said Scott’s concerts are accompanied by large crowds and an intense energy that could result in a repeat of the tragic incident at the Astroworld Music Festival. Others argued that proper security measures and crowd control protocols could have been put in place, pointing out that countless concerts and festivals successfully host large audiences.

The clash between cultural sensitivities and freedom of expression played a central role in the controversy. Some expressed concerns that Scott’s explicit lyrics and “provocative” stage performance were not in line with Egypt’s conservative values. Others claimed art and music transcend cultural boundaries and stifling creativity limits the opportunities for cultural exchange.

The cancellation inevitably has financial ramifications, and not only for the organisers and promoters. Many local businesses rely on such events to boost tourism revenues.

Social media played a role in amplifying the controversy. Hashtags related to the issue trended globally, drawing international attention to the situation and fuelling further debate.

Art critic Tarek Al-Shennawi described the cancellation statement  issued by the Musicians’ Syndicate as the “worst” decision it has ever taken, saying it will impact negatively on Egypt’s tourism industry, and on its reputation for entertainment, culture and art.

“Until the last moment I expected that the concert would take place. Using comments posted on social media as the basis to judge any public figure is deadly, but in the end the conservative voices won,” he said.

Clothes designer Reem Al-Adl described the decision as an international scandal, a position that actress Riham Abdel-Ghafour echoed.

A leading businessman in the tourism industry, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Al-Ahram Weekly that cancelling the concert would have impacts on a number of fronts.

The cancellation will lead to a decrease in tourist arrivals among fans who had planned their trips around the concert. Major events featuring internationally renowned artists, he said, can attract significant numbers of tourists to a destination and their cancellation results in lost revenues for businesses that rely on tourist expenditures.  

There is also the danger of the cancellation creating a negative perception of Egypt as a destination for artists and performers. It will raise concerns among other artists and organisers, impacting future bookings and events in the country, and fan negative publicity which could further impact the perception of Egypt as a vibrant cultural destination.

“Hosting international artists like Travis Scott provides an opportunity for cultural exchange and exposure. The cancellation may limit opportunities for cross-cultural interactions and the celebration of music and art in diverse settings, potentially affecting cultural tourism,” he said. “The cancellation on the basis of safety and cultural concerns might set a precedent for future events. This could lead to increased caution and scrutiny for other artists and performers, impacting the variety and diversity of cultural events in Egypt.”

On the day the concert was originally scheduled to take place dozens of Travis Scott fans gathered at the Giza Pyramids and chanted the lyrics to some of his songs.

* A version of this article appears in print in the 3 August, 2023 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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