Tuesday night was spent with the crème de la crème of Egypt’s left-wing community at the mozza Marcel Khalife concert: it was a bit like being at a protest without the riot police, and with everyone in their Sunday best. Excitement was high, but not as high as our seats, which were on the top balcony or row or whatever the nomenclature is, and so far up that I could almost touch the ceiling. Being stuck in the seat for two hours with the ceiling causing static to my hair reminded me of my journey from Abdel Meneim Reyad to City Stars in the rain by microbus, when we got stuck on the October Bridge for forever.
I paid 100 Egyptian pounds for this ticket, which irked me slightly given that 1. I was sitting on the roof and, 2. I spied plenty of empty seats millions of miles below in the balcony and had understood that ticket price was linked to scarcity. The front row was of course occupied primarily by the leadership of the Tagammo3 political party, who were rewarding themselves for the hard work of
hording the best tickets distributing the tickets fairly and in an egalitarian fashion.
I was even more irked to see that while I had dusted off one of two dresses I own in order to comply with the Opera’s dress code (and as a result spent the evening wobbling around in painful high heels because even I wont wear brown suede slip-ons with a dress), I saw numerous men dressed in jeans with ties slung round their necks in order to distract attention from their legs. They looked stupid, but not as stupid as me involuntarily doing my Tina Turner dancing walk.
I understood that mozza Marcel had appeared on the stage when the audience started clapping, and when I got out my periscope I did indeed see a distant speck in a green scarf clutching a wooden instrument of some sort. It was like looking at him on Google Earth. He and the bloke next to him on the double bass then proceeded to bang out instrumental jazz fusion music which might charitably be called experimental. Alternatively, if you are a philistine from Croydon, you might term it shite.
Things looked up when mozza Marcel’s sons Ramy and Bachar appeared on stage. In conformity with the tradition in the Arab world of sons joining the same profession as their fathers (see: Gamal Mubarak) Bachar is a superb percussionist and Ramy is a Julliard-trained piano virtuoso. They banged out a lovely song about love before starting the Mahmoud Darwish-penned ‘Jawaz Safar’ which is wowzers blazers.
Alas in the middle of Jawaz Safar there was an attack of the bollocks and it descended into jazz improv. Peter on double bass started knocking out a random order of notes as is customary while Ramy on piano suddenly felt the need to stand up, lean over the piano and earnestly play the keys or the strings or whatever they’re called, inside the piano. The sound was unremarkable and he looked like he was looking for something he had accidentally dropped inside it.
As is inevitable, the cacophony on stage was eventually matched by the buzz of people chatting and sending SMSes and getting up to have a fag as can only be expected when people in front of you on a stage are producing the sound equivalent of releasing one’s bowels.
Mozza Marcel & sons eventually remembered that they were giving a public performance and regrouped, and then did a rousing song involving audience participation which was enjoyed by all.
One member of the audience bellowed out ‘O3’NEYYA LE MA7ALLA YA MARCEL’ [a song for Mahalla, mozza Marcel] which mozza Marcel resolutely ignored. Which pissed me off immensely. Later, he announced that the next song was for ‘kell el sho3oob el Arabeye men el mo7eet lel khaleej’ [all the Arab peoples, from the Med to the Gulf], a classification which I suppose encompasses Mahalla.
There was a superb moment of petulance during which mozza Marcel got out his handbag and told us off. What happened is that he started strumming the opening notes of his classic song about his mum’s bread, which is better than it sounds and extremely moving. Two notes in and somewhere in the auditorium a passing flea expectorated phlegm softly, causing Marcel to cease and desist and announce ‘el og’neyya hai keteer ma7taja samt, samt kebeer’ (or something like that) [this song really requires silence, complete silence]. This being Egypt, the response of the audience was to clap, which only incensed mozza Marcel further and suddenly I had got my money’s worth.
Near the end of the concert he started thanking us for coming and telling us that we had lit up the opera etc, causing one impassioned woman to bellow out NO NOOOO, presumably in protest at his buggering off early. He told her off, too, requesting ‘la7ze wa7de sa3’eera’ [one moment] from the ill-mannered woman, in a prissy manner. He then explained that a huge artist from the world of Egyptian music would join him on stage and we all held our breaths waiting for a big star to appear as we mentally went through the list of still-alive Egyptian musicians on www.mawaly.com to guess who it possibly could be. “HASSAN MOTAZ!” he declared, before an unknown man leaped on stage to the rippled murmur of “who who who who who??” and weak clapping.
Hassan Motez actually turned out to be a gifted cello player who gave a wicked and passionate solo and I’m certain that he left the Opera House with a thousand new fans.
I’ve seen mozza Marcel twice now, once last night, once in London, and while his performances are always technically brilliant, they lack soul, and are slightly dull as a result. He is the Pete Sampras of the music world.