There is an expression in Arabic, ‘faqary’, which means bringing bad luck. I pondered on it in the early hours of Thursday morning as I watched a diminutive topless Senegalese-American pop singer standing on top of a car threatening to punch members of his own audience.
The diminutive topless individual was Akon, he of ‘Smack That’ fame. While presumably having a fleeting moment of optimism, I volunteered (!) to cover his concert, thinking that it might be a laugh on some level.
The signs that this was a disastrous decision were all there from the start. When I went to purchase tickets from the Opera House (the incongruous setting for Akon’s performance), I was informed that tickets for LE 150, 250, 500, 750 and a whopping 1,000 were available.
Maybe the LE 1,000 tickets offer the chance to be dry-humped by Akon on stage, I thought, silently.
“Will I be able to see anything in the LE 150 area?” I inquired out loud.
“Yes, yes. You’ll be able to see…something…” the ticket woman replied, with an unsettling grin.
“Are the LE 150 tickets in the toilets?”
She grinned (knowingly).
I was wrong: the LE 150 area wasn’t in the toilets, it was mostly between the toilets. Wady El-Mer7adayn.
Needless to say it was at the very back of the Opera car park which had been converted into the venue for the evening’s shenanigans. Screens were vaguely visible if you a. Climbed a tree or b. Were over 6 ft or c. Climbed on top of one of the portable toilet cabins until instructed to get down by toilet staff.
The view was largely obstructed by the strange platform erected for the LE 500 or LE 750 crowd who, being superior beings, had been given SOFAS to sit on. The LE 250 cattle had been herded into an area to the right of this platform, while the LE 150 pariahs stood behind them separated by a barrier reminiscent of the Berlin Wall, guarded by fridge-sized bodyguards one of whom was brandishing a thick wooden stick. He thumped the stick down menacingly on the barrier whenever any of the LE 150s threatened an attempt to escape the colony.
The LE 1,000 section was a distant promised land whispered about but never seen. The only news we received about it came two hours into proceedings, when someone on stage requested the LE 1,000 golden people to “go and get their money back”. How odd, we thought. No explanation was given.
The majority 11-year old LE 150s and their parents milled around the area, the kids in a state of high excitement, the parents looking for anywhere to park themselves (the only option was pavement curbs). Bad boys in tracksuits and baseball hats started impromptu breakdancing sessions while far away on the distant stage an individual called DJ Ahmed Shaker played records and sang forgettable Arabic R n B numbers.
Three and a half hours later, at 11.30 p.m., Akon still hadn’t appeared. By this time the LE 150s had got bored of the breakdancing and were milling about the LE 150/LE 250 barrier. The bodyguard with the stick was looking ever more edgier, barking instructions at his colleagues, mountain-sized all.
Suddenly and spontaneously the LE 150s made their move, storming and knocking over the barrier before charging, cheering, into beautiful freedom. The bodyguards were hopelessly outnumbered by pubescent teenagers and a DNE hack, and conceded defeat.
We arrived in the LE 250 area just in time to witness Lebanese chanteuse Melinda start her act. She was wearing gold lame leggings and that is all I have to say on the matter.
There then ensued what felt like years of standing, accompanied to the soundtrack of tunes spun by DJ Feedo. By this time two of the three giant screens had given up the ghost, as if in solidarity with us.
At midnight a man and a woman who I am given to understand are Nile FM DJs appeared on stage. “OK you’re not going to believe this…” the woman said. Akon’s not coming, I thought, secretly slightly relieved.
“Akon’s STUCK IN TRAFFIC!!!” the woman announced, before she and her colleague made witticisms about how it would have better for Akon to get the metro. How we laughed.
“BULLSHIT”, said the crowd.
Just as I was about to throw up from so much standing a gentleman sporting a mohawk and a tartan skirt which wasn’t actually a kilt bounded on stage, at about 12.40 a.m.
He went through the motions of warming up the crowd, quite successfully, before roaring, “Akon if you in Cairo lemme hear you say something.”
“Konvict [sic] Music,” a weedy voice said from nowhere.
Akon eventually appeared on stage, without providing any explanation as to why he had kept us standing for two hours – as befits an
ARSEHOLE superstar, after all.
He and the Kilt man launched into their act with great gusto. The crowd loved it, pogoing and swaying their way through songs only a few of which I recognised. The rest of his material just morphed into some indistinguishable grey-coloured mush.
The fact that Akon was lip-synching appeared not to bother the crowd.
Akon chatted between songs, muttering on about how happy he is to be back in Africa, and how a man in America once told him that to succeed you need “money, power and respect” and that “no-one’s better than anyone else just because they have more money than you”.
I looked up at the LE 500s sitting on the sofas and sighed.
One of Akon’s more cryptic pronouncements was, “I can stand in Cairo and know that I’m not the only person from the Ghetto.” Whether this was a reference to the 0.1% of Cairo’s elite who had been able to afford a ticket or to Cairenes generally remains a mystery.
Akon then took his shirt off (to the delight of the 50 women in the audience) and from this moment on everything went downhill: it was like a secret code for hell’s guards to open the gates.
It started with crowd surfing. Akon did it twice, prompting a horrified and frenzied reaction from the bodyguards on stage who scrambled to fish him out of the crowd.
Apparently spurred on by the success of this endeavour, Akon then declared, “today we’re one people, one blood, one world” and that he was going to cross from the front of the stage to the back of the crowd, on top of their heads.
He called it his ‘bridge of peace’, and instructed everyone to put their hands up so that they could carry him. “This won’t work unless we all work together!” he screeched while people started working out where the nearest escape exit was.
Off he went, crawling over the hands elevated over people’s heads, like a demented crab. I wondered whether he has some kind of Jesus complex, and this is his version of walking on water.
Approximately halfway across Akon – by this time sounding somewhat tense – had started instructing people not to pull him back, and eventually to “get away from him”.
It was at this point that the surge of people moving towards Akon caused a lighting rig on which people had been standing to collapse – on top of other crowd members. Akon was unperturbed – “we can just cut it out of the film,” he said while people started fleeing the area. Prick.
True to his word, Akon proceeded all to the way back of the deserted LE 150 area. ‘Mr Konvict’ Big Stuff by this time could be heard saying “help me, help me” into the mic, like a girl. I went out to find him standing on top of something, surrounded by bodyguards several of which were now armed with sticks, which they were using to keep people away from Scaredy Pants – who by this time had started throwing punches. Smack That indeed.
Akon left in his wake two trashed cars, which he had elected to stand on top of. His fans had done the same and this was the result:
I subsequently found out that the reason why the LE 1,000s had been instructed to get their money back was that the LE 1,000 had partly collapsed, causing “minor cuts and bruises” according to one employee I spoke to. Another man standing near the light rig told me that people had been injured by its collapse. I saw several people walking around looking stunned and traumatised, and a kid in an ambulance having his arm wrapped in bandages.
The funny thing is that on the way to buy the tickets for this effin cock-up on Monday, I saw builders in the process of erecting the feeble-looking wooden frame which was the stage and had visions of it collapsing.
Perhaps the organisers and Pepsi (sponsors of the events) who beamed their logo onto the Cairo Opera House dome (which is itself wrong somehow) should have invested more money in safety, rather than using the profits of their extortionately-priced tickets on sofas.