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Jammin’ the streets of Cairo

“When you are a musician, sometimes you don’t want to wait five months to have a concert organized. If you want to play so badly, why don’t you cut the crap and go down the street?” said Shady Ahmed, 23, an autodidact Egyptian guitarist, lyricist and singer. Last April, he decided to jam on the 26th of July Street in Zamalek in order to advertise his upcoming concert at Sakia Cultural Wheel. “It’s better to have the guy than the poster, right?” the acoustic pop/rock lover asked with a wink.

So he grabbed his guitar, hastily scribbled some information about the concert on a cardboard sign and started singing his repertoire, composed of both original and cover songs, in front of a psychologically unprepared Cairene audience.

Evidently, Cairo residents are more used to being lulled by the incessant noise of traffic jams, loud taxi radios and Quranic verses than by an acoustic guitar pleasantly accompanied by a smooth voice singing melodies in English.

“I remember the police officers being very confused about my approach,” said Ahmed with a conspiratorial smile, “and when you do not understand what is happening, usually you have a stupid reaction.” The nonplussed policeman, referring to the “noise” Shady Ahmed was creating, demanded he immediately stop his artistic activities. “Fortunately nearby shop owners came to my rescue and told the policeman that they enjoyed my presence on this piece of sidewalk," he added

Ahmed made other street appearances in Mohandessin, Korba and Wust el-Balad and advertised his "tarmac shows" on Facebook a short while before the event. “This enabled me to have an audience solely composed of true music lovers, ready to listen to music in a very unorthodox location,” explained Ahmed with a frown, clearly unwilling to tap into the audience that goes to a concert “just to go out.”

The Maadi bookstore Kotobkhan, celebrating its expansion last Friday evening, invited two bands to perform inside its premises, the " Shady Ahmed Trio” and “Salalem.” Shady Ahmed, Baha’ a talented percussionist and Tarek, a guitarist who, according to Ahmed “plays inside the music and gives it a whole new energy”, all jammed in the narrow garden that lines the bookstore a couple of hours before the concert.

The musicians from the other band soon joined the happy gathering and visibly nothing could make Ahmed more satisfied, as not even the scarcity of passersby on Laselky Street tarnished his mood. Pointing at his fellow musicians jamming in the grass, Ahmed thought, “This is what should happen in the streets of Cairo, but on a much bigger scale…”

The street taught him how to sing louder and play more upbeat. “You don’t have a choice, you need to sing out loud, above the music and the surrounding noise,” Ahmed said, arguing that it gave his acoustic style more energy. “What makes jamming possible in the streets of Cairo is that the public is spontaneous enough to respond well to this kind of artistic experiment,” he added. “Once a thick group of school boys surrounded me and started clapping frenetically, and this is the only kind of acknowledgement I am seeking,” he confessed with a bright smile.

Ahmed defends his choice of singing in English by saying “music is about self-expression, and I express myself in English, not Arabic.” He explained that he grew up in an English-speaking environment in Dubai therefore he feels more natural expressing himself in English. “I know that my audience is therefore restricted by this linguistic choice, but at the same time I’d rather be appreciated by a smaller crowd than sing in Arabic to a larger audience but suck!” he concludes, laughing.

Shady Ahmed Trio will perform on 29 January at the Coffee Shop Company in Medinat Nasr, at the “Keep it Clean” concert at Sakia on 8 February and at Boss Bar on 7 February.

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