A trip to the lab of four spring festivals in Egypt

Heba El-Sherif , Monday 2 Feb 2015

Ahram Online explores the preparation efforts of four festivals set to kick off in coming months.

The BuSSy crew rehearsing at the Greek Campus.

The swarm of festivals this spring means that Egyptian audiences have a plethora of cultural events from which they can choose, a healthy playground for competition and for the development of richer scene all together.

One month before the festival fever kicks off, Ahram Online takes a trip to the laboratory of four players in the carousel of cultural celebrations set to run throughout March and April.

Hakawy International Arts Festival for Children

Hakawy (Arabic for Stories), the brainchild of AFCA for Arts and Culture, is entering its fifth year. The annual festival is composed of a series of performances that tell stories to children through a range of artistic forms.

For the past four years, each edition focused on one art form: the first edition (2011) focused on storytelling; the second set the spotlight on the importance of language and education; the third introduced music and rhythm to its selection and the fourth focused on movement and dance.

“This year, we are trying to capture all four elements,” AFCA’s founder Mohamed El-Ghawy told Ahram Online about the type of performances the organisers will bring to young audiences between 9-16 March.

At the moment, El-Ghawy is in conversation with media outlets who are interested in covering the festival, a process he deems essential in warranting a “comprehensive and wide coverage” that is not limited to news reporting and shout outs for specific events.

In terms of programming, Hakawy has promised a detailed program by mid February, which will be accessible through a revamped page for the festival on AFCA’s website.

This year and in collaboration with BuSSy, the gender-centred storytelling project lead by Sondos Shabayek, Hakawy are co-producing a performance based on - and inspired by - issues perplexing adolescents: from harassment and bullying to eating disorders and the endless anxiety posed by failing to fit in.

Lead by Shabayek, a series of workshops at a number of high schools just came to a close. In parallel, the research stage also includes collecting real stories of incidents that take place in and around schools.

At a rehearsal session at the Greek Campus last Saturday, Shabayek is seen ushering five actors into a state of regression, for it is among the memories of their adolescence that she believes they “can be in touch with their characters”, a place where the real youth-specific turbulence lies.

In one exercise, each of the actors -- all but one are regular performers at BuSSy -- took centre stage for a short monologue through which they practiced bringing out their adolescent mindset as the hero of the story, not the sequence of events they relayed.  

The show will only be suitable for audiences above 13 years old.

Meanwhile, a campaign to raise awareness about the rights of children to Arts and Culture is at the centre of Hakawy this year. A month before the festival kicks off its activities, El-Ghawy has just concluded meetings with the ministries of tourism and education to get them on board the campaign.

“We are targeting families so it is important for us to have a solid ground,” El-Ghawy commented on the string of conversations Hakawy held with governmental bodies, adding that such partnership will ensure his team has access to public schools whose students make up the prime audience targeted by BuSSy’s performance.  

India by the Nile

Coming back for a third year, organizers at India by the Nile retain that what the festival offers is “unique.”

The festival will run between 28 March and 15 April. 

“We bring a rare blend of the best of Indian dance music craft film etc to Egypt… the festival therefore is different in its offerings and has wide appeal across cities as we have seen in the last two years,” Ila Gupta of Teamwork Arts, a co-organiser of the India by the Nile festival tells Ahram Online.

The other organizers are the Indian Embassy in Cairo and the Indian Council for Cultural Relations.

A short sit down with Abu Mathen George, Second Secretary of Information, Politics and the Arab League at the Indian embassy, made it clear that this festival is far ahead of its peers when it comes to planning ahead.

The programme is complete, laid out in design format and complete with details on dates, venues and partners.

Here's what we know will be part of the program this year: a Bollywood musical, Manipuri folk dance, fusion music, a war photography exhibition, a food fiesta, handicrafts workshops and a film panorama. 

“We are currently moving from the programming stage to marketing and publicity… and more of that will take place throughout February,” he told Ahram Online, adding that while most details pertaining to the actual activities have been crystallized, the team is now bouncing around ideas regarding marketing material, including designs for the posters.

"Once the team arrives, it's a whole different tenor," Abu explained, adding that the team is looking to have the Bollywood crew go on television, as was the case last year. 

100Hands performing in downtown Cairo last year (Photo: Bassam Al-Zoghby)

Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival - D-CAF

D-CAF is arguably the most popular of the lot. Its team are currently prepping for the fourth edition, scheduled to take place between 19 March and 9 April.

Every year since its inception, D-CAF spans three weeks and brings multi-disciplinary performances to a range of downtown venues, the latter being the most exciting element of the festival.

“We are talking about two or three new venues this year, but nothing is confirmed yet,” Basma Hamed, PR and Press officer,told Ahram Online.

Last year, D-CAF curators ventured into Zawya cinema, the Kodak Passage on Adly street and the government-run Al-Tale’a and the Cairo Puppet theatres.

At the moment, teams are being put in place. That includes marketing, coordination and public relations. As was the case in 2014, D-CAF organisers will work from “a hub” during the festival, a downtown apartment that will also host the press centre.

“All members of the D-CAF team brainstormed together on this year’s visual identity, from which this year’s theme emerged and is ongoing its final tweaks,” Hamed said.

Across previous editions, a recurrent set-back for D-CAF has been its last minute, sparse publicity.

According to Tanya El-Kashef, D-CAF Information Officer, the blog will be optimized this year.

“We introduced it [the blog] a little too late last edition, but this year it will become part of the social media campaign, which means it will be up and running earlier than last year and given far more focus,” El-Kashef told Ahram Online, adding that a phone application is also promised to be developed ahead of the start of the festival.

The app is meant to be “more dynamic and accessible for the audience to find, share and reserve the events of their choice and save them to their calendars,” added Hamed.

It was also last year that visas for a group of Syrian artists scheduled to perform in Cairo were not received on time, pressuring organizers to cancel several performances.  

On whether or not this might affect programming this year, Hamed said: “We’re going through the process and we’ll do our best. Last year we tried until the last second… Sometimes there are clashes downtown but we carry on with our activities anyway. This is what we stand for.”

Details about new venues and snippets from D-CAF’s lineup of international acts will be announced during the beginning of February.

Cairo Jazz Festival

For now, the seventh edition of the Cairo Jazz Festival will hit El-Azhar Park during the weekend of 16-19 April.

In 2013, staging the festival across two stages in El-Azhar park often meant that the sound from one performance could be heard by someone attending a second performance.

“We were unaware of many sound technicalities,” Amr Salah, the festival founder, told Ahram Online, adding that the following year a simple shuffling of the schedule resolved the issue of overlapping sound.

Currently, Salah is in talks with the Cairo Opera House and Bibliotheca Alexandrina as potential venues.

This year’s line-up represents 11 different countries, including Egypt. Among the confirmed artists are Bob Maghreb from Morocco, Rima Khcheich from Lebanon, Hany Adel, Eftekasat (who will be releasing a new album during the festival), Ramy Atalla and Akram El Sharkawy.

“It’s not about what we’re offering that is different, it is about how beneficial it is for musicians who will take part,” Salah added.



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