Iraq's Madfai sings for “Al Baghdadia” in Cairo
Thousands of young Egyptians, some Iraqis and other nationalities from all over the world gathered in the Chinese Garden at Cairo Conference center for one day long of music. The musical day was organized by a private-sector initiative, Vodafone Live Music, which means it is a non-Ministry of Culture event. It was a very causal concert. You can only be standing or sitting on the grass. And the musical day was concluded with the talented Iraqi artist Ilham Al Madfai.
I was surprised to see another Egypt that I did not expect to see. I went with my friends hoping to see Iraqi artist Madfai in the first place. His singing and music is a mix between traditional Arabic lyrics and Latin American tunes. He has a band that plays on traditional Arabic and western musical instruments which makes his music close to a mystical international blend that appeals to all tastes. One reason of his success is that he does not claim to be sticking to the authentic Arabic music nor being a copy from western or Latin American Music. His music is his own original invention that only sticks to global taste. Some Arab fanatic musicians take pride in being nothing but Arab musicians, but Madfai created an international fusion of music, very difficult to be missed by any audience anywhere.
As for the crowd that came to attend the concert, they were mainly this generation that was born in the 80’s. They are a very open and free youth socially and my assumption they are all still in school and college. The new private universities established in Egypt recently brought new style of youth that I believe divided the society into two extremes. Those new private universities include the German, French, British and Canadian, and regrettably before the American university which was in a way invaded by the Ikhwan (Egypt's Islamists) style, enroll young Egyptians that you can see in any school in any country in the world. Needless to say that the state-run universities became the hotbeds and pockets for Islamists in Egypt and the wall paper for extremist ideas and political Islamist fanatisim, despite the long history of those Egyptian universities like Cairo Univeristy. I had the chance to talk to some of those young students but not enough to learn about what is going on in their minds. However, appearance wise, they look like any western students in my own opinion. Some of them do not speak except a foreign language. I have heard strong American accents. It just tells me one thing about the huge gap between the leadership of the country and the new rising generations. Most of the Egyptian leadership is calling for maintaining our Egyptian and Arab identity as if they have hired themselves to be guardians to an undefined identity that does not longer exists except by devaluation in the global market to determine its real value. Those thousands that I saw yesterday are a beautiful hybrid of modern life and Egyptianism. There is nothing in their attitude that says what the country’s leadership is saying about sticking to our Arab/Egyptian identity. Three of the Egyptian bands that played yesterday were playing their original music in English. In modern world, normal people normally become magnets to diversity and to the values of tolerance that encompass anything that appeals to human senses in general. There is no more ownership to human history and civilizations or universal culture. And that’s what I have seen yesterday.
A group of Iraqi youth came yesterday to cheer Madfai. When he started to sing for “Al Baghdadia” (a woman for Baghdad) you could easily know where they are. Madfai replaced the “Al Baghdadia” with the Egyptian and Lebanese women and that led to more whistles and applause as if it was a competition. Part of the Iraqi flavor that was added to the night was the Iraqi Dabka. A group of young Iraqi guys were dancing between the standing crowd. Another big cosmopolitan circle that included Asians, westerners, Middle Easterners and Egyptians continued dancing all night with different versions of dances, some of them I had never seen in my life. But they brought such a wonderful positive energy to the scene. My friends and I were dancing too and to my surprise no intimidation from any one around.
This does not mean that there was no intimidation on part of the government. But while talking yesterday to a member from the participating bands, he told me that his band had to change their name because of clashes with state security over the lyrics by one of the popular opposition poets that they sing. The good news is that they do not give up. They came back with a new name and started working again because they have an audience that motivates them. One of the organizers also told me that three Iraqis artists who were supposed to come with Madfai from Amman, Jordan, were denied visas to Egypt. The claim is that Egypt does not grant Iraqis and Palestinians visas any more! I guess refugees problem. Despite complications of visa procedures, the music of Madfai reached out to the hearts of thousands of Egyptians last night who gathered to celebrate and cheer such an important Iraqi artist in the Middle East and worldwide.