Blasts from the Past – Karim Francis & A. Dajani Int. – Nov ’06 Int.

Posted: October 17, 2008 in Art, Culture, Journalism, Music, Society

Re eVolutionZ




From the pain come the dream
From the dream come the vision
From the vision come the people
From the people come the power
From this power come the change


                                                                           – Fourteen Black Paintings. Peter Gabriel


Different revolutions are happening to us all. Revolutions have something to do with how we choose to handle everything we know, coupled with our constant thrive to understand that which we do not know.

It’s really the inner re-evolutions going on inside and around us all the time. It’s about knowing what you want. It’s not settling for less. And if such a reality would not exist, then it is also our ability to create that reality, by taking back our right to dream and building the monuments in time that we would like to see.




And it’s never too late.


The peoples’ mind has been voiced.

The wheels are set in motion…








Part I. The Music


Location : Cairo Jazz Club

Name     : Ammar Dajani

Notes    : still dim, no smoke, not a soul to be seen.

           [oriental chilled music almost inaudible].



There have been times when all musicians could do in Egypt is dream. I guess a few dreamers took it upon themselves to help make it come true. For others.



Your name ?


Ammar.. It’s what I go by. Ammar Dajani if you want I’ll give you the spelling later..


Is what we’re witnessing in the music scene a revolution?


I don’t think it’s a revolution. It’s an evolution. It’s been happening for a while. Where we are now is a result of kaza [several] stages.. plateaus of maturity; we reach a certain level, we stay there for a while and then we grow again. All that’s happening is that the scene has reached a level that’s a lot more visible. It has grown both in size of the events hosted, and more importantly in terms of audience. It’s been growing for five or six years. So if this is a climax of sorts, then it is only one of many to come. This is not the end, not the revolution. This is just bigger, better, faster than we’ve seen happen. Like SOS last time, you’re talking about 15,000 people as opposed to 2 or 300 in a club or even a thousand in Sawy. But it’s the beginning of a new level or stage.


But don’t you think that this stage comes with an abundance of rich sounds, that have not been seen in Egypt for a while, and that’s contributing to this visibility?


All I’m saying is that this has been going on for 5 or 6 years, which is a short time. But bands have been getting together, the older bands are reaching higher levels of maturity, the younger bands have something to see, to aspire to.. 5 or 6 years ago no one wanted to be like anyone because there was nobody to see. Now the younger musicians see more established bands like Eftekasat, Wust El Balad and they finally have someone to want to be like.


Like we say , we’re not the heroes, the music is the hero. I can tell you about how we got involved with the jazz club, that‘ll explain a few things. It started out with 3 partners that took over in 2001.

[Waiter serves soup]

So you’re gonna have me and my soup on tape.

Well the jazz club was around since ‘97 and was owned and operated by a man called Nicha, a major name in the nightlife business and a good friend of ours. So when Nicha came to leave the jazz club, he knew we were looking for a venue, so he told us to take over from him instead of reinventing the wheel. We took it in 2001, closed for a couple of months, totally revamped, and opened the place, Alex, Akram and I.

Thing is Akram and I are musicians, we play music- I don’t want to get anal about the definition of a musician… We wanted to provide a space. A space we didn’t have when we were growing up when we could have done more with the music had there been the space. We wanted to make sure a space was available to musicians that have something to say . So we were able to provide a stage where they can explore their musicianship.


.. Nothing packaged ?


Yes. And we worked with a lot of bands like Wust El Balad, I’m just using it as an example because they’re the biggest now. So when they first started out, I don’t think this should be in print, they won’t like me saying this probably but, we had a few empty nights, nobody knew them. But we still stuck around, still stuck it out with them, kept booking them till things picked up. Now they’re like.. The biggest thing.

It wasn’t just a passive space that we provided, it was an active space. Because we were musicians, audience and club owners. We had a sort of foot on stage and a foot in amongst the audience. This helped us better understand this relationship; helped us provide the right audience with the right band. And it helped us give the bands real feedback on what the audience thought. Not only in terms of if they liked it or not- it’s not background music for people as they’re having dinner, the people are here for the band. We never imposed any limitations, only helped direct the flow. In fact our only criteria for choosing bands has always been quality, not style or otherwise. Even the kind of music we cannot have on our stage, like freestyle jazz, we try and sponsor n other venues, as we did with the townhouse. Then there was ‘The Mangroovy Sensation’ a festival in Nabq, Sinai where we helped book the bands. Thus being in the center of the live music scene we’d get contacted by people for parties, or weddings even, as we knew all the bands, and through us we helped get them gigs, and that was really it- to get the bands working, getting the bands playing more often. It’s as simple as that. There’s a certain level of maturity you have to reach, there are may levels of maturity that you have to go through, in anything, in life, the same is true of music. So there is this basic level where you work your ass off as a musician and then you know you can carry your own space. That was lacking in this country, coz there simply wasn’t enough gigs. As soon as you step out of the commercial scene or pop scene, there’s nothing. Or rather used to be, but now choices are available.






Part II. Visual Logos


Location : Karim Francis Gallery, Downtown.

Name     : Karim Francis.

Notes    : Karims office, [surrounded by a vivid

           panorama of Egypts contemporary art scene].



There are those of us who are deemed crazy, simply because we dare to abide by a certain set of codes that places us in a position to potenti-ate change, no matter how intimidating the opposing flow may be.


Part A. Then And Now: A take 


The gallery opened in ‘95, coz I had the space.  And at a time there was a need for spaces and shows, so I said let’s give it a try and it worked. Then in 2000 I opened in Zamalek, then in front of the AUC, then I used a lot of restaurants and spaces to hold shows. The idea was to familiarize people with the arts, not in a gallery space, but in a public space.


Do you think we have more people getting interested in the arts?


Yes some people are getting interested, and it’s growing, but it’s not yet something. It’s positive. If I compare these times to the time when I first opened the gallery; today we have an audience, people that come, buyers, people that are interested. Before it used to be that the artists would come and no one would show up except his friends and my friends. At that point there was no real public interest in the arts. And step by step, it’s growing. Like they say you go to the mountain, the mountain doesn’t come to you; so I took the art to the restaurants, to the streets, to the people, and the question of them taking that step to come to the gallery, that’s another story completely… 

The more you have spaces, venues, the more you have a chance to influence the public and culture. You need places where the artists feel at ease. Not like they’re being used. They need where they feel that you’re standing by them, a place to call home. And that’s what’s lacking here.

 re available.23..




Part B. ‘Nitaq’ [reach]: an eye-opener.


Beyond existing horizons



Speaking of taking it to the streets and to the people, you cam up with Nitaq, care to give us of what it was like in retrospect?


The basic idea was to do something for the millennium, a visual art plan that was to take place between the galleries; an attempt to use the millennium to attract public eye to the galleries as a common conscious effort on the galleries part. It was also an attempt to redeem the reputation downtown receives for being a baladi, crowded area. Sure if you go through at 2 in the afternoon, it’s hell, but come 4/5 you can move around, park, live your life. Many people live in downtown, I live in downtown. The other thing was to try to exhibit contemporary art in old buildings, to try and bring that contrast into play as well. The idea was to have the seven arts including architecture, as in old buildings, hosting modern, contemporary art. It began with visual arts, but it quickly evolved as we started thinking about ways of drawing people in; so music, since I know a lot of musicians. We used to host a lot of musicians and poetry readings on a weekly basis, in order to bring people in or develop a public. Music as a form of art is the form that attracts the most people, [in comparison to visual arts].

The Greek club wanted in a way to start promoting arts, so when the festival came, I proposed the idea of using their space for musical performances, and they encouraged it and that helped bring in the people. 10 days of ongoing events in the festival brings in everyone, from prince to riff raff. We had a few incidents of harassment or fights, but with almost anybody and every body there. That was part of the package. But there’s an upside to that, though it was over a thousand people packed into the Greek club for the final night, and though for deciding to go to the bathroom it took me over half an hour to get back to the sound- equipment, Gerard was playing and to him it was the most surreal performance he has ever managed in Cairo. It was something about the mix of different people that were there sharing the experience.

Nitaq accomplished 10 percent of what I had projected.


..But it was a positive step, and in many respects a forward and successful one. It was like something on the tip of everyone’s tongue.. And you went ahead and said it.



Part C. ‘Occidentalism’: West through Eastern eyes.


Life after Death



Wherever we look nowadays, it seems death and destruction, persecution of minorities and ethnic groups, poverty, hunger and looming destruction hang in the air. It has almost become part of our daily dose of sustenance. We almost seem to need it to propel ourselves in our respective lives. Every now and then, one or many shall take a moment to reflect, to understand, to process, create and elevate common consciousness on a certain topic or argument. This attempt to shift opinions and events is in the end, a point of view, open to debate and discussion. But even in that respect it will have fulfilled its purpose. The discourse is the real focal point.








 “An idea that I was approached to do in Spain a couple of years back. I didn’t find enough material at the time, and I thought that it was an important subject that cannot be rushed. The idea stayed with me, and due to what’s going on in the middle east, and the fact that it does not already exist, I decided it might be the time to do something like this. In the same respect that AlJazeera is a point of view, why not voice ours. So I loved the idea, and I talked to the artists and they loved the idea. And with all the enthusiasm, the artists’ and mine, I decided to go for it last March. Then it was  a question of looking for the funds, and then I managed to find them, and now it’s on. A lot of preparations are going into it. Because it’s a commissioned work, and a collective work. I made a point of meeting with the artists individually and in groups to try and best bring out what the collective vision is that contains the individual standpoints on the west.”


The artists’ coming together for this project, this unity, will surely benefit this event. But more stands to be gained by their unity in terms of evolving and furthering their art.


“Twenty local artists representing the contemporary Egyptian art scene have been commissioned to create works of art surrounding the present-day theme of Occidentalism, or the West in Egyptian Eyes.

The objective of the exhibition, which is to be held in May 13th 2007, is to transmit and communicate current Egyptian visions on the theme, raise questions regarding ambiguous complexities in the socio-cultural rapport between East and West, which will later tour the west in 2008.

Our general objective is to contribute to the dialogue between cultures and civilizations, which currently stands fragile, unify the Egyptian art scene, and provide a platform for the expansion and recognition of emerging and prominent artists in the Egyptian pantheon.”        

                                                           – Occidentalism Concept Brief.

Participating Artists ;
Adel El Siwi, Amal Kenawy, Hani Rashed, Hazem El Mestikawy, Hazem Taha Hussein, Heba Farid, Hisham El Zeiny, Huda Lutfy, Islam Zahr, Khaled Hafez, Lara Baladi, Mahmoud Refaat, Mohamed Abla, Mohamed Taman, Nader Sadek, Nermine El Ansary, Sabah Naim, Shady El Noshokaty, Sherif El Azama, Wael Shawky, amongst others.

This event is funded by the European Union.



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