African Metal #1: Egypt
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[Editor’s Note: Al writes for New Noise and Iron Fist Magazine. He is a native of England, though he has spent significant time in Africa, choosing first to go there following high school for his “free year” before college.]
Few nations boast a documented history with such global significance as that of Egypt. This is Cleopatra’s turf, the land of pyramids, pharaohs, and endless sand dunes. It’s the biblical scene of Moses and chums’ treacherous escape from the chains of slavery and a prized Napoleonic conquest eventually plucked by the British. It’s the home of the Suez Canal, that vital passageway for international trade. Recent Arab Spring events in Cairo’s Tahrir Square have placed Egypt in the international community’s glare. Less known yet inextricably linked to national socio-politics is the Egyptian metal scene.
Timur Reda, guitarist of Cairo band Brutus, corroborates, “The hardships faced are ever increasing, and the future looks bleak on levels. If that’s not enough ‘inspiration’ to do something, I don’t know what is. The socio-political issues the band’s lyrics and music are attempting to portray have only been further strengthened in their resolve after the events of the Arab Spring; primarily, our fixation on the failure of the system’s academic, financial and security institutions (corruption and tax hikes are still common), and the overall dropping standard of living is affecting the incomes of most people from different walks of life; the mass media is a hoax, education is misleading, and neighbors are starting to gaze at each other with suspicious eyes.”
Brutus execute a thrash/death/hardcore hybrid with clinical ferocity, the kind that incites the most cataclysmic circle pit, even if you’re home alone. There’s no shortage of sincerity in their aural assault. Like many outfits churning the death and hardcore mixture, Brutus draw musical influence from both old and new with a DIY ethic all the more vital in a nation where resources for metal bands remain limited. “An old school approach with a modern sound could be what we are striving for . . .” says Timur, but, “living in Cairo there are a few venues known to host shows, yet every type of obstacle is thrown our way as far as creative freedom is concerned, once one ventures out of the home; so far, we have not played our first proper gig, despite jamming as a band for over three years, with several breaks in between . . . it’s all DIY and we are taking our sweet time . . . ”
Even for bands that are able to play live, the situation can become rather problematic. Last September a lawyer for the FJP (The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party) reportedly made legal accusations against the El-Sawy Culturewheel in Cairo for hosting metal bands and their ‘satanic’ activities. A cultural centre located on Cairo’s Zamalek island, El-Sawy Culturewheel leads a mission of creative and expressive pluralism, from trilingual libraries to organising events for the entire cultural spectrum. For Egypt’s headbanging legions El-Sawy has proved a charitable host to numerous metal events. Last March saw the second anniversary of the Metal Blast festival featuring a mixture of Egyptian, Jordanian, and Polish prog, death, and heavy metal bands, and any intrepid music lover in search of adventure and distorted guitars should consider the centre’s upcoming Metal Fury event on April 21st.
Usama Ahmed, projects and coordination manager, and the man behind Metal Blast, testifies to the DIY mentality so invaluable to international scenes. “In 2008 friends of mine started to work on projects for metal and rock events because at that time we didn’t have any concert or organizers for that kind of music,” Usama says. “They asked me to help them with artwork, after a while I started to interact with them more than just a designer and working on plan and strategy for managing, looking for venues . . .” Usama eventually swapped his career as a graphic designer, becoming increasingly involved with El-Sawy and allowing a greater concentration on Metal Blast.
Since 2008, continued political interference has succeeded in curtailing metal events. “We started from 2008 but the government cancelled our event in that time and they didn’t allow any metal concert in Egypt for 5 years,” Usama says. “In 2011 we tried again but we postponed the event after the revolution, and our first event was in March 2011.” Even post-revolution, hosting metal shows has proved a tenuous affair, happening only by an appeal for support to all metal fans. “After the revolution we made many concerts until the government came back again and said that we are ‘satanists’ and they tried to do the same that they did in the past. But they didn’t succeed this time, the media and many entities was on our side. Mr. Mohamed El Sawy [the centre’s owner] was a good part in our side.”
Egyptian metal bands struggle to be heard