As someone who appreciates a heavy bass line, I have had a mild obsession with Amr 7a7a ever since I heard this.
I love its repetitiveness, the way it’s so stripped down, the strutting confidence of the rap delivery. It didn’t sound like any sha3by [Egyptian pop] music I had heard before.
So I tracked down Amr 7a7a’s* number and we rang him up, and he invited us to the opening of his studio. But then the revolution happened and musical pursuits got put on hold. We rang him up again last month and he told us that he’d be performing at a wedding in Medinat El-Salam and would we like to come.
Noov, Moftases and I bundled into Sharshar’s car last night and went. Medinat El-Salam feels like it is at the end of the world, especially when you get lost getting there. It has unique feel; very little traffic and wide streets neatly laid out on a grid system (as I understand it, it was constructed in the 1980s to provide affordable housing).
Amr 7a7a had instructed us to wait in “Speko Square” in front of “Koshary 7ekaya” [“Epic Koshary”] where “someone in a white t-shirt” would meet us and take us to the wedding.
Navigating our way through a sudden flurry of Tuk-Tuks Someone In A White T-Shirt wearing some kind of plastic tag on a Real Madrid strap suddenly appeared and knocked forcefully on the window. This was Sadat; a 5 foot 4 force of nature who we would subsequently discover was one of Amr 7a7a’s “Mic Men”.
The wedding was held in a nearby street. A stage had been constructed some 3 metres off the ground. We were all stunned to see that it bore the name DJ Figo; there has been a public war between Figo and 7a7a whose nadir was this, a compilation of gut-twisting obscenities in English and Arabic directed by Figo at 7a7a. Sadat assured me that “all that is over”. Later on during the evening a poster appeared with “stop spreading rumours: Figo and 7a7a are brothers” written on it.
We were ostensibly there as on duty journalists and so Sharshar got his camera out and I produced my video camera and we asked 7a7a and coterie some questions. 7a7a, with his neat, combed back hair and pressed shirt proved to be shy almost to a fault. Sadat was far more loquacious and when asked about whether they had written any songs about the revolution, launched into a rap.
The other mic man, Alaa Fifty Cent (who was dressed like Snoop Dogg) told us that he likes listening to rap music. Stop the press. 7a7a says he has no formal training and that he intends to “develop sha3by music”.
After ensuring that we were provided with a fizzy drink each 7a7a, Sadat and Alaa left us to mount the stage and Sha2awa [“naughtiness”] was assigned to protect us. Sha2awa, tall and muscular and also with a plastic tag around his neck, took this task extremely seriously, and was able to drive away pubescent male teenagers with just a glare.
The space in front of the stage slowly filled up with guests as the 5,000 decibels bass reprogrammed our heartbeats.
Suddenly the bride and groom arrived in a speeding car flanked by a cortege of food delivery minivans.
The groom got out of the car. His name was Sob7y Balata [Sob7y Floor tile]. He was dressed in a white shirt and jeans and his face said bar fight. So did his right hand: he was carrying an electrical stun gun. He got out and was immediately surrounded by a large group of friends who threw him in the air repeatedly. The bride danced nearby demurely with a group of female friends. We asked Sob7y’s friends about what the bride was called but nobody knew. She in any case disappeared sharpish after the katb el ketab (Islamic wedding ceremony).
Moftases and I were allowed to go up on the stage and take pictures. There was a big dog up there that spent the entire time staring impassively at the people below. Figo and 7a7a stood motionless next to each other in front of the laptop and mixing desk like air traffic controllers while next to them Sadat mounted the speakers and contorted like a cat trapped in a washing machine, at one point topless. The contrast was striking.
Below a group of children – one of them clutching what looked like a real matwa [blade] – danced and a table was set up in preparation for the katb el ketab. Sob7y Balata also danced. Suddenly he stopped and there was a furious pursuit as he chased a wedding guest with his electrified stick. Sparks flew as the guest proved too slow.
The katb el-ketab was a brief interlude, involving a ma2zoon [man officiating at the wedding] with brilliant blue eyes. A jolly woman accosted me and told me she speaks Arabic, French, German and English and used to work in tourism in Dahab. Then she pointed to a smiling woman next to her and said she is homeless and has ten kids and would I like to do a reportage on her. Then she pointed at herself and said she is looking for a husband and would I like to do a reportage on that. I said I would when I have first found a husband for myself, and legged it.
The real fun started when the dance troupes/gangs arrived. One was called Brazil, and materialised at the end of the street bearing a giant Brazilian flag, and chanting Bara-zil! Bara-zil! It was at this point that both the nudity and synchronised dancing started. I hope that if I work out how to use the video editing software I’ll produce a video worthy of the dancing’s magnificence. Suffice to say that it involved dancing in boxers with the words “loves kills slowly” written on the elastic.
Noov and I were eventually given copies of the plastic tags 7a7a and friends all had round their necks. I discovered that they bore an image of Sob7y Balata, with a phone number. I noticed on the way home that my tag was on a National Democratic Party neck strap. I like to think that some kid nicked it from the NDP HQ on January 28.
I went to a wedding in 2007 and opined here that the spirit of weddings here encapsulates why extreme religious conservatism will never take hold in Egypt – Egyptians like fun too much. Parliamentary elections are approaching, and according to one current of thought the parliament we will be encumbered with in September will be filled with beards. Maybe it will, but I hope that their decisions will be constrained by the spirit in Madinet El-Salam and elsewhere, that certain take no shit autonomy.
* For non-Arabic speakers: the 7 in 7a7a is the Arabic aspirated H.