Mango Konafa

Mango Konafa showdown: A run-through of the Ramadan summer delicacy

Summertime Ramadan means unbearable heat during fasting hours – but also Mango Konafa after iftar; Ahram Online samples versions of this transient delicacy and recommends the best — Previously Published in Ahram Online.
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Coming roughly 10 days earlier every year, Ramadan has been hitting Cairo right in the scorching summer heat for a few years now. Muslims fast during the sizzling daytime and spend the evenings among family and friends

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Crowdfunding for education in Egypt: Funding for civil society democratised

Five alternative education initiatives launch crowdfunding campaigns on indiegogo and Facebook simultaneously; Ahram Online talks to the initiatives about their challenges and opportunities — Previously Published in Ahram Online.
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In a country where the creative economy is challenged and where few opportunities exist for non-charitable civil society initiatives to raise money, crowdfunding is explored as a viable substitute by various independent artists and educational organisations.

Over the past six weeks, five crowdfunding campaigns have been launched – all raising money through the internet for education-related projects – with some already coming to a close.

Crowdfunding has been steadily growing in popularity around the world as an alternative fundraising tool; over the past three years, Egypt has been catching up with the global trend. In 2012 and 2013, several initiatives and artists successfully used crowdfunding platforms such as indiegogo, kickstarter and the Lebanon-based Zoomal to raise funds for their projects, such as independent media collective Mosireen, urban-discourse platform Cairobserver, revolution graffiti book Walls of Freedom and for films by Omar Robert Hamilton and Sherief Elkatsha.

Although simple, the crowdfunding process remains challenging for many. Initiatives and individuals post their projects

Hara TV 3 Interactive Theatre FGM Egypt

VIDEO: Theatre takes the anti-FGM message around Egypt

As part of a female genital mutilation awareness-raising campaign around Egypt, Hara TV 3 is putting on interactive theatre events around the country. — Previously published on Ahram Online.

Ahram Online caught up with them in Qalioubiya in the Nile Delta, where they were putting on a sketch followed by an audience discussion session.

Read more on interactive theatre on women’s issues here.

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Street vendors shine in exhibition that opens Heytan graffiti space

Cairo’s newest art space, Heytan, which aims to develop and highlight street art, opens with an exhibition on a long-term project on street vendors — Published in Ahram Online.
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Heytan — Arabic for Walls — is a project about which there has been much talk for almost three years. It was meant to open in early 2012, originally as Egypt’s first space soley dedicated to street art. The opening never took place and the project continued to arise in conversations in activist and culture circles for the next two years.

Happily, it turned out to be more than mere talk. On Monday, 23 June, after surpassing many obstacles, Heytan opened its doors to the public for the first time, hosting an exhibition on street vendors dubbed ‘Kefahteya,’ meaning ‘The Strugglers.’

An initiative of Egyptian blogger Mahmoud Salem, widely known by the blogosphere name Sandmonkey, and self-taught Egyptian street artist Mohamed El-Mosheer, Heytan has been years in the making.

The space was given to the artist and activist by Ismailia for Real Estate Development, who have been steadily buying property in Downotown Cairo and renovating the buildings, aiming to bring back its “glory days.” The company has been supporting the independent art scene with spaces for years, including the Townhouse Gallery and the Contemporary Image Collective, among others.

As one enters into the run-down building on the corner of Kasr El-Nil Street and Sherif Street, Heytan is found on the fourth floor, and maintains the grungy feel of the entire building with its seemingly improvised finishing. The story of Heytan’s establishment is hung up with masking tape, with paint jar covers thrown next to it, and the whole space feels like it stays true to its mission: being a space dedicated to hosting conversations on, and archiving, Egypt’s growing street art movement.

The space has grand ambitions, but as a start Heytan is set on working on three areas. The first is the street art archive, which will be hosted online. The archive will give to users the ability to upload their own material, whether photos of street art, projects in progress, or journalistic commentary on the movement. Next to that, Heytan will begin with workshops on multi-layered stencilling, large-scale murals and Arabic handwriting. Finally, for the launch, Heytan will host exhibitions centered around street art.

Kefahteya: From politics to social life in street art

While Egyptian street art has since the 2011 revolution been continuously stained with a hint of politics, Heytan’s first project, ‘Kefahteya,’ takes on the more social issue of street vendors. The project is a joint production by El-Mosheer and Amira El-Asmar.

The first room of the space is filled with multi-layered stencils, some of them built with more than 28 layers, portraying famous Downtown street vendors. Sameh, famous for his kiosk on Hoda Shaarawi, which in addition to Egyptian kiosk staples such as cigarettes, crisps and other snacks, makes sandwiches out of everyday items one might find in one’s own fridge. Sameh is portrayed making a sandwich surrounded by colourful pots of fillings.

Across from Sameh one sees the famous Om Amira, the lady who makes potatoes in Bab Al-Louq, in the south of Downtown Cairo. Om Amira has recently been the star in a documentary by Ahmed Naji that made it to the Berlin Film Festival this year. The room also features a portrait of a young boy who breathes fire for entertainment on the street, and a seemingly angry woman who sells Egypt’s baladi (popular) bread on the sidewalk.

Om Amira

Om Amira in Kefahteya (Photo: Rowan El Shimi)

The opening exhibition was attended by several of the street vendors and their families. According to El-Mosheer, this is part of the core vision of Heytan: to bring arts to people who rarely have access to it, as this is also a purpose street art fulfils.

The next room hosts a mural of Downtown, featuring several vendors, giving viewers a wider look into the issue in question. Finally, in addition to photography of the vendors in the corridors, audiences are led to a room that hosts a short documentary on the project.

El-Mosheer and El-Asmar spent three months working with the street vendors featured in the exhibition, and others, in addition to months of preparation before the project.

‘Kefahteya’ is about highlighting these vendors and their work through stencils in Downtown, many of which were removed by the authorities. The artists also used their skills to intervene in the vendors’ businesses, helping them brand themselves. They painted a bowl of potatoes and Om Amira’s name on her cart, painted a mural of the young boy who breathes fire to help iconise his work, and painted a mural of the man who shines shoes near Nadwa cafe.

Sameh

Sameh’s sandwich kiosk (Photo: Rowan El Shimi)

Perhaps the most interesting of these interventions was at Sameh’s sandwich kiosk. The artists branded his kiosk, painted a menu on his windows of the sandwiches available, and on the wall next to him painted a stencil of him as a superhero. However, the superhero resembled Egypt’s President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.

“People thought the graffiti on Sameh was of El-Sisi,” El-Asmar told Ahram Online laughing. “Sameh was telling people that is was about him and explaining to people about street art and its importance in general.”

The duo ended their project in Cairo, but hope to expand the concept in the future to Minya in Upper Egypt and the Nile Delta city of Mansoura.

Fire

(Photo: Rowan El Shimi)
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Independent music reaches Mansoura through El Fusion

The Cairo Jazz Agency hosted one of its El Fusion events in Egypt’s Delta city of Mansoura — Published in Ahram Online.

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The Cairo Jazz Agency has recently brought independent musicians to Mansoura city in the north of Egypt’s Delta for an outdoor concert.

Tunisian Ghalia Benali and Alexandrian Massar Egbari, along with Osama Elhady and his 050 Band from Mansoura, put on a night among the El Fusion series of events.

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Independent music goes live from a living room in Cairo

Cairo hosts its first ever Sofar concert, part of a global movement that brings live music to people’s living rooms — Published in Ahram Online.
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Cairo’s underground music scene just got a little more alternative.

Music fans may be used to catching their favourite bands in theatres, bars and at festivals; but a group of young people are working to change that, by bringing musicians and fans together in a living room in a quiet district of Cairo, for a new kind of gig.

On Tuesday, the capital hosted its very first ‘Songs from a Room’ (Sofar), part of a global music movement which started in London in 2009 and has since spread to more than 80 cities around the world.

Sofar Cairo hosted four acts, starting with the acoustics of oriental blues by Jordanian Hisham Said and Mohamed. They were followed by Hany Mostafa and his band, who took the mood up a notch with a stellar performance of indie/pop music. Safi then took his guitar to the rooftop and with his soulful voice played his songs, before Abdalla Meniawy and Ahmed Saleh closed the line-up with their electro-spoken word project.

Safi on the roof in Sofar

Safi takes to the roof after the blackout (Photo: Rowan El Shimi)

Sofar’s concept is simple: the location is secret, and so is the line-up. However, the main information platform for all Sofar’s activities is the website, to which music fans sign up. The subscribers are only aware of the date of the concert, and one night before the event they receive an email with the location. The line-up remains a surprise, with the aim being that fans come for the experience.

The same procedure was implemented for Sofar Cairo, with fans being informed about the location, a spacious house in Maadi with a rooftop.

A few important rules assure that the experience does not turn into a house party with people socialising while musicians play in the background, the most important of which is that when a musician is performing, everyone has to sit silently and give them their undivided attention. While the event is free of charge, a hat is passed around for donations to help keep the movement running.

The movement was started by Rafe Offer, Rocky Start and Dave Alexander in London. The trio were disappointed with the music scene in London, where amazing bands would be performing in a crowded bar with people chatting and not paying attention. So they hosted a concert following this concept in a living room and it all took off from there.

Five years and 83 cities later, Sofar Cairo was attended by a mixed crowd, with familiar faces from what could be classed as the city’s hippie community and the music-lovers who frequent Cairo’s independent music concerts and festivals. The mood was calm yet festive, and the audience were willing to put up with a few challenges such as the heat, a power cut which lasted for more than an hour, and technical glitches that occurred during Meniawy and Saleh’s performance.

Hesham Said in Sofar Cairo

Jordanian Hisham Said performs in Sofar Cairo (Photo: Rowan El Shimi)

According to Nora El-Fangary, a member of the team organising Sofar Cairo, they plan on hosting several more of the events, each time in a new location. Their next show will probably be after Ramadan, which starts in less than two weeks.

El-Fangary and the rest of the team came together because of their passion for live music and their willingness to present a new kind of space for the scene to grow. When Loulii Megahed, a DJ and another member of the team, attended one of the Sofar gigs in New York, she saw the potential for the Cairo crowd.

Another important element of Sofar is that the night is documented via sound and video, so the global Sofar community can have access to the talent presented in living rooms around the world.

When a user registers on the Sofar website, they can get access not only to the gigs happening in their city, but if they are travelling can connect with others from the Sofar community and attend living room gigs anywhere in the world.

To be part of the Sofar community register here and find Sofar videos documenting the events around the world here.

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Doaa Hamza adapts Dario Fo monodrama to the Cairo stage

In her directorial debut, actress and storyteller Doaa Hamza adapts Italian Nobel Laureate Dario Fo’s text to Egyptian women’s realities this weekend at the Nahda Association — Published in Ahram Online.
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Italian writer, actor and Nobel Laureate Dario Fo tells a timeless and border-neutral tale in his 1977 classic text Il Risveglio (Waking Up) which follows a woman as she panics in the early morning at the notion of sleeping in and arriving late to work without finishing her chores at home.

Independent actress and storyteller Doaa Hamza takes the Egyptian adaptation — written in the 1980s by actress and critic Menha El-Batrawi — and improvises the text to a performance on the modern-day low-income Egyptian woman in her solo performance ‘Sahhy Al-Nom’ (Waking Up) at the Nahda Association for Arts and Science Theatre on 12 and 13 June.

Previously performed last month in Rawabet Theatre, Hamza’s rendition of Waking Up stole the hearts of audience, who laughed and interacted with her throughout the 40-minute performance.

Based on two months of improvisational sessions which Hamza conducted on her own, Waking Up offers a glimpse of the morning on which she awakes from a nightmare where she loses her fingers on the machine she works on at the factory. The character goes on to panic that she rose out of bed late, unable to find the time to complete her domestic chores — such as feeding her baby, doing the laundry and cooking — before heading to the factory job.

While engaged in these chores, Hamza’s character shares the stories of how she got married, her childhood, her frustrations with her mother-in-law and the sexual harassment she faces on the street, with the pressures she added by her husband and employer thrown into the mix.

Hamza’s skills on the stage and her luminous personality allow her to carry the solo performance successfully. The actress and director manages to make her audience imagine the rest of the performance’s characters without them ever appearing except in simple audio recordings at the start of the show created by Sherif El-Wassimy.

Using limited props, the scenography allows the audience to visualise an entire house with front door, bedroom, kitchen, bathroom and balcony — from which the character fights with her neighbours — all on the tiny stage she moves through.

The turning point in the performance is when, at the door, the character realises she has misplaced her key.

“This key is the key to the story, the key to her life,” Hamza tells Ahram Online. “Through her search for the key, and retracing her steps from the previous day, we get to see a day in her life,” she explains.

Through this day, we discern her frustration with her life, which she is living, but not really living, like many Egyptian women. The pressures of daily life force most women to work, while at the same time being in charge of all the chores at home, turning most women into a “machine” as the artist puts it. Not to mention that everyone, from the woman’s parents to her husband and her employer, releases their own frustrations on her.

This struggle of women, while Hamza admits she has it easier than most women of a lower income level, is what finally inspired the actress to take a spin at directing the performance. Recently having a child of her own and working as a producer in Egyptian television, while at the same time pursuing her theatrical passions, Hamza found herself relating to Dario Fo’s text more than ever. Despite having been exposed to the text several times already – while training as an actress with Al-Warsha Theatre Troupe at the start of her acting career – it had never struck home as powerfully.

Hamza undergoes a unique and in-depth preparation process before each performance. She is a fan of improvisation and believes it is of utmost importance in imagining the character beyond the text: what makes her smile, what frustrates her, what she likes to wear on a given day or what kind of phrases she uses frequently. Although she does not necessarily employ all of these details in her performance, they help her bring the character from paper to reality.

The artist also always sprinkles a dash of herself into the characters she plays; if she is unable to tap into that connection with the character, she may even refrain from doing the show. “When I feel close to the character it translates into the performance in a meaningful way,” she asserts.

Hamza, who has been mainly focused on storytelling since the outbreak of the revolution, feels that these experiences helped her shape the performance of Waking Up. Also, her study at the Actors Studio with Ahmed Kamal, during which she learned about improvisation and balancing it with a script, served in shaping the performance in the way it is presented.

Waking Up is performed and directed by Hamza, with support by its executive director Tareq Shalaby and light design by Saber El-Sayed. While this performance is independent in nature and without any funding, Doum Foundation for Culture was a supporter in giving the team a free space to host all of their rehearsals.

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Dandin: Rendering alternative sounds from the Arab region accessible

Dandin.me hosts an archive of music and sound from Egypt and the Arabic world. Ahram Online sits with its founder to see how the online platform has progressed since its launch nine months ago — Published in Ahram Online.
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If you’ve been following the creative explosion that has been taking over Cairo, you’ve probably been among those looking to find new artists online. In the best cases, you’d probably find a few tracks that given artists have shared on popular audio platforms like Soundcloud.If you’ve been itching to find a website that gathers all these musical talents emerging from Egypt and the region in one place, then you’re in luck as Dandin.me gains a foothold.

Dandin.me, an entirely Arabic platform for sound sharing and dissemination, has had a home on the Internet for nine months now. It hosts a variety of alternative and independent music emerging from the scene in Egypt and the Middle East. Dandin has also been active offline as part of the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival in April, and this weekend was one of the supporters of the two-day 100Live Electronic Music Festival in Rawabet Theatre.

However, Dandin is really about sound and sonority in its entirety. Music is one of the many forms of sound that Dandin offers, classifying it under many genres, including pop, rock, oriental soul, rap, mahraganat, folk, film soundtracks and electronic music. Dandin also hosts poetry, comedy sketches, political rants and storytelling. One particularly interesting post on the platform is a reading of the 2014 Constitution that users could listen to prior to the constitutional vote.

While Cairo has seen a recent upsurge of online radio, such as Gramafoon and Wasla FM, while Alexandria has been enjoying until recently Radio Tram, Dandin is quite different to these stations.

One cannot really classify Dandin as an online radio, since it is up to each user to choose and play tracks. A registered user can follow both artists and other users. As such, users can create playlists and save favourites; they can even upload their own tracks and share them with friends. One can register via the website directly or use existing own social media profiles such as Twitter, Google or Facebook.

Founded by three brothers, Abdel-Rahman, Tariq and Karim Hussein, Dandin came to be through a long process. While the website officially launched in October 2013, the idea has been playing in Abdel-Rahman and Tariq’s minds for quite a while.

Back in their early twenties, Abdel-Rahman and Tariq were musicians themselves and were frustrated with the lack of opportunities for independent artists.

“There was nothing to do. You could play a show or two but that was it. There was no space to deposit what you are doing and have it live there so people can engage with it,” Abdel-Rahman Hussein told Ahram Online.

“A decade later, it really struck a chord with us. We wished something of that sort (like Dandin) existed, a platform where the process [of music making] did not stop at a certain point but could extend and perpetuate into many different things,” he explained.

After a push from their eldest brother, Karim, the trio hired a web development company to create the platform. One year and three months later, following a lengthy process of back and forth on how the site should look and function, Dandin.me came to be.

“We were very clear about how we wanted it to be: very accessible and very simple,” Abdel-Rahman says.

“Luckily it coincided with this period of time where there seems to be this explosion of alternative artistic self-expression in many different mediums,” Abdel-Rahman explained, underlining that Dandin provides a space for people to explore this explosion and have full access to it.

At the start of Dandin’s launch, the brothers were finding it a challenge to get artists onboard and encourage musicians to upload their tracks, and users to engage. However, nine months down the line, things are much easier. Now that the website’s fanbase is growing, artists are seeing the benefits of Dandin. While many independent artists opt for using Soundcloud, more and more now are getting onto Dandin due to its focus on art from the Arab world, which helps audiences discover more and more artists.

However, Dandin still has a long way to go. That is a fact that Abdel-Rahman is aware of.

“We are trying to win over one artist at a time and one user at a time,” he says. “We put in a lot of effort to bring people on board to use the website and enjoy it to its full potential,” he adds.

One important aspect the founders need to focus on, which they have not gotten around to yet, is the project’s financial sustainability. To date, not only is Dandin not generating income, but they have no plan as to how it will. Abdel-Rahman explained to Ahram Online that at this point they are more focused on launching the platform and making sure it is functional. But it is inevitable that the question of financial growth and sustainability will arise.

While this project is unique, and fills an important void in the independent music scene, it is vital that the Dandin team starts exploring the financial aspect. Since the outbreak of the 2011 revolution, Egypt has seen an upsurge in cultural and development initiatives that while sincere in their goals have not managed to sustain themselves in the market.

One can only be hopeful that Dandin will manage to find a business plan as creative and alternative as the content they host.

Listen to a selection Dandin created especially for Ahram Online readers here.

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Egyptian presidential elections 2014 coverage

Three videos produced for Ahram Online during the 2014 presidential elections.

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Exhibition on jazz pioneer Sun Ra opens in Cairo

An exhibition entitled ’1971, Sun Ra in Egypt’ at Medrar in Cairo focuses on intergalactic jazz legend’s music – and love of ancient Egypt — Video published in Ahram Online.

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Cairo-based art space Medrar for Contemporary Art is currently hosting Belgian artist Tom Bogaert’s exhibition 1971, Sun Ra in Egypt, which opened on 15 May.

The exhibition features a wide range of art works by Bogaret, based on his ongoing research into the life and work of American jazz pioneer Sun Ra.

The opening night included a special performance by two bands – Dwarfs of East Agouza (featuring Maurice Louca) and Invisible Hands, in a tribute performance to Sun Ra.

Sun Ra was born Herman Poole Blounte in the US state of Alabama. He changed his name to Le Sony’r Ra after a visionary experience that led him to believe he came from the planet Saturn. From this point on, Sun Ra was fascinated by both outer space and ancient Egypt. His incorporation of the Egyptian sun god Ra into his name was the first of many invocations of ancient Egypt’s culture and beliefs.

Sun Ra was famous for his music as much as his eccentricity, with his unique sonic productions that reflected a myriad of approaches and inspirations.  From the mid-1950s until his death in 1993, Sun Ra led a band called The Arkestra, which continues to perform its eccentric mix of free jazz, bop and electronic music under the leadership of Marshall Allen.