Although founder Amro Salah has serious concerns about its sustainability, by all accounts, this year’s Cairo Jazz Festival turned out to be a resounding success – an artful and collaborative celebration of local, regional and international talent.
Alexandrian band Massar Egbari, who are as professional as they are passionate about their craft (stay tuned for our interview), headlined the four-day fest with their signature fusion of widely-influenced sounds and charged lyrics.
Also performing on the first day were the Kaz Okumura Trio featuring Michelle Rounds – who presented the rest of the festival with her warm and engaging stage presence – the lively Uss w Laz2, and Urban Trio featuring the velvet vocals of Noha Fikry.
We arrived on the second day of the event sometime early Friday evening. Al Azhar Park was as beautiful as always but oddly cold for March in Cairo. There were two stages prepared for performances – the larger, open Lake Stage facing a sprawling lawn and an incomparable panoramic skyline of El Hussein’s minarets and Salah El Din’s fortress crowned by alabaster, and the more intimate Genena Theater with its tiered stone steps, haunting open-air acoustics and sparse stage set against residential buildings.
After a few minutes of mingling with festival goers by the Lake Stage, we headed over to the Genena Theater where we caught the last bit of Sylvain Beuf Electric Excentric Quartet‘s performance. Renowned saxophone player Sylvain Beuf, the founder of the French quartet, ended with a majestic solo on barry sax that resonated beautifully within the theater’s walls. The venue was packed, its captive audience spilling into the street above and sprawling out as far as the balconies overlooking the amphitheater.
Next up? Soweto Kinch at the Lake Stage. Kinch impressed the crowd with his soulful sax solos and breakneck freestyle rapping skills, even asking the audience to throw out words to spell C-A-I-R-O for his last solo rap. The words? Carnival. Amazing. Insane. Revolution. Obama! Shout out to the upright bassist in Soweto’s band for his mad talent – one of the most skilled at CJF 2014 despite his young age.
Kinch was then joined by the Arabian Knightz & Arab Rap All Stars. The local Egyptian rappers strutted on stage with a New York swagger and an air of confidence. Together with Kinch, they tore the stage apart busting Arabic and English rhymes, including a raucous freestyle battle.
Performing at the Genena Theater, the German trio Daerr, Bica, and Stick showed off their technical musicianship on piano, upright bass and drums.
For Friday’s finale, Moroccan artist OUM headlined at the Lake Stage. The crowds whispered excitedly as the band warmed up, then broke into cheers as OUM glided (yes, glided) to the microphone. Her style and presence were as compelling and enchanting as her voice, which song by song drew virtually all of the seated concertgoers out of their chairs and to the front of the stage.
Special shout out to the sax player, who seemed to be on a different instrument for every song (alto sax, barry sax, soprano sax, and even flute!). We chatted with OUM after the performance, stay tuned for the interview.
Saturday was as hot as Friday night was cold, leaving one of our staff horribly sunburned. As we waited for our interview with Mashrou’ Leila to begin, we perused the booths in front of the Lake Stage. People were setting up refreshment stands and displaying artwork for sale and Red Bull was making preparations for the Mashrou’ Leila concert, while kids painted (and later participated in a jam sesh with the help of Antiqa‘s talented musicians).
At the Genena Theater, Nabil Khemir started off the evening lineup with a phenomenal, literally breathtaking performance on his half electric guitar, half ‘oud invention. His fingers moved like lightning up and down the frets, mastering chromatic solos and shifting between instruments with an expert seamlessness. Truly a work of art and a must-see performance.
Walking back and forth and back and forth again between stages burned quite a few calories, so we headed to the refreshment stands after Andre Carvalho‘s set for some delicious shawerma and zalaabia.
Next up was the acclaimed Dutch saxophone player Yuri Honing‘s Quartet and charismatic Egyptian singer Dina El Wedidi (who we also interviewed – stay tuned). Yuri warmed up the audience with some sexy sax riffs and an intense, animated stage presence. Dina then joined the quartet along with guitarist Mohamed Adel and Kenyan drummer Kassiva Mutua in an energetic and eloquent performance mixing Arabic vocals with an afrobeat rhythm.
Over at Genena, the Rami Atttallah Group beguiled festival goers.
Then, the moment we had all been waiting for: Mashrou’ Leila. And let us tell you, their fans get craaaaaaaaaazy. The backstage area was surrounded by a wall and fortified by an army of security guards. There were several incidences throughout the night of overexcited fans trying to sneak backstage to get a closer look at the hugely popular alternative Lebanese rock band.
Lead singer and heartthrob Hamed Sinno stole the already-hooked audience with his LA-style dance moves and interactive stage presence, while violinist Haig Papazian played feverishly through broken bow hairs.
Unfortunately, we missed Omar Khairat on the festival’s last day, but we’re sure the legendary composer was nothing short of impressive. Overall, this year’s Cairo Jazz Festival was a success – incredible musicians and an impressive turnout.
There was a curious shortage of jazz brass instruments at the festival (there weren’t any trumpets or trombones in any of the bands we saw perform). Supposedly, there is a trumpet in Holler My Dear, but we sadly were unable to attend their performance – though we heard it was brilliant. Perhaps this imbalance is something that can be amended for next year?
WE SAID THIS: Check back for our exclusive, behind-the-scenes interviews with Mashrou’ Leila, Dina El Wedidi, Massar Egbari and OUM!