UPDATE: Only Syrian artists Sham MCs and Khadafi Dub will perform tonight at Sharazade Night Club as DeeKay was unable to fly in from Saudi Arabia.
Syrian rapper DeeKay has never before performed in front of a large live audience. In fact, he never really wanted to until now.
Although he was raised almost entirely in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, DeeKay often felt disconnected from the society and culture around him. The 18-year old musician isolated himself within the four walls of his bedroom — a dystopian existence alleviated by hacked beats off the Internet and urgent poems to and for his beloved Syria.
But when Mahmoud Refat, the music curator for Cairo’s Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival (D-CAF), invited him to perform his stage debut as an opening act for Sham MCs (Syria), and Khadafi Dub (USA), the young rapper simply couldn’t refuse.
“I’ve always wanted to visit Egypt, I look forward to seeing the Nile — so when the opportunity came up to debut there, I figured why not?” explains DeeKay in a Skype interview. “It’s almost impossible for me to perform in Syria, and I have no desire to perform in Saudi Arabia. But Egypt is a different story.”
DeeKay fist began pursuing music in 2009. At the time, he would rap mostly about Syria, but also life in diaspora. When the turmoil in Syria first broke out in 2011, DeeKay began rapping exclusively about the situation in his home country.
“Do you know that almost 70,000 people have died so far?” he asks, his voice sounding much older than his age. “That is what I discuss in my rap, the 150 killings a day, the injustice — no country is trying to help Syria, we are abandoned. So, I am trying to tell the story of what is happening there.”
Releasing his music like rapid-fire online, DeeKay has acquired quite a notable following with close to 80,000 views on his YouTube channel. His raps are cutthroat, packed with politics, accusations, solutions, conspiracy theories, philosophy and a whole lot of wisdom for someone who is only 18 years old.
For Refat, DeeKay was a perfect candidate to represent the theme of this year’s musical program for D-CAF: “Direct Culture,” which he describes as music that finds its roots in urban culture, or a sound originating from the people without the mediation of middlemen or large conglomerates.
“I learned about DeeKay about two years ago,” says Refat. “In the midst of the Syrian uprising, there was this guy always posting music on our network — he started to make music by hacking beats off on the Internet, producing his raps, and discussing the war. It was clear this was his resistance.”
The musicians showing in this year’s DCAF program were picked largely because their music is self-produced in their own simple or sophisticated environment, adds Refat. “And still, their music reached people almost immediately when it was put online. The spread of their music didn’t depend on the ordinary structure that we are all used to, like mega labels and radio stations.”
He goes on to mention that all of the musicians in this year’s D-CAF program work under this concept. Essentially, they create things, their work reaches a broad audience, quickly — it’s in the streets right away, or it goes viral.
For DeeKay, music proves an infectious universal language and important tool within a region ridden with uprisings, and political turmoil.
“I am very much looking forward to linking up with the guys from Sham MC, and meeting Khadafi Dub,” says DeeKay. “I’ve been following the Sham guys for a while — it will be cool to maybe collaborate on something with people who are on the ground in Syria.”
Following DeeKay’s opening act, a collective of three Syrian rappers will also perform as Sham MCs — the trio will showcase tracks from their recently released, debut album “Crossword.”
Their sound has something of a homegrown Arabic foundation, mixed with your standard American hip-hop beats, some storytelling, and a few decent hooks. The crew chooses to sing in both Arabic and English, likely because the story they are telling is one that deserves global comprehension — after all, there is a war in their country.
“Hip-hop and rap culture is heavily based on hacking, it’s based off ripped samples and beats,” Refat says. “There is no shame in hacking a gangster rap beat, putting a funk melody, or a sax solo. That’s the MC culture. It’s based off hacking and mixing.”
Sham MCs have a very strong oriental reference, using the Syrian anoun and the tabla in fusion. Their mix is filled with various kinds of music, and their lyrics are so pertinent, he adds.
Following Sham MCs, the multi-talented Philadelphia native, Khadafi Dub will close the music-filled evening with what’s sure to be an invigorating set made up of his infectious lyrical flow, and contagious dance beats.
“Khadafi is a pretty well known guy in his category of music — he makes some really interesting fusion,” explains Refat. “He reminds me of one of these local urban, or shabby guys, but in a totally different way with dubstep, techno, drum and bass — he combines all the western street music.”
“He mixes genres with no boundaries — therefore this music has an amazing access to various audiences — he proves that you need very little to do something very catchy and widely enjoyed,” he adds.
But for the young DeeKay, he is mostly looking forward to engaging with a live audience.
“I am not allowed back in Syria at the moment — because of my music, and other issues. So I know I can’t perform there anytime soon. But because Egypt is going through so much right now as well, I think it’s definitely the next best option. I mean it is Egypt after all!” says DeeKay.
All three acts will take the stage on 11 April at 10 pm at Sharazade Night Club, Alfi Bey St., off Orabi Sq., Downtown, Cairo.