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Going downtown

6 December, 2007

Five years ago, I agreed to accompany a friend of mine to go and listen to an Egyptian band play live at a jazz club called After Eight located in Downtown Cairo. Wust El Balad (coincidentally ‘downtown’ in Arabic) was still a name not yet popular amongst the jazz-loving Egyptian crowd of the day, and truth be told I had never heard of them or their music before. But I have since clearly recalled that night without regret, and being fantastic live performers, the members of Wust El Balad lend a certain quality and passion to the stage that is no longer common in today’s local talent aside from that found on the underground circuit based at the American University of Cairo. (The Marbleheads are amongst the most notable of the new movement. Very talented musicians and guys I personally know and admire, but that’s for another post entirely.) So I was pleasantly surprised when I randomly came across the band again on MySpace recently, inevitably bringing on the nostalgia that their authentically Cairene sound evokes so naturally.

Formed in 1999 and comprised of Adham El Saeid, Hany Adel, Ahmed Omran, Mohammed Gamal Al Din, Ismail Fawzy, Asaad Nessim, Ehab Abdel Hameed and Ahmed Omar, these eight talented individuals from across the country joined together in Downtown Cairo, lending them its name to a new era in a music scene grown dull by cheap soft-porn music videos focused more on scrolling credits and heavy makeup rather than musicianship, vocal talent or anything remotely related to what music ought to be. With every one of them coming from a different musical background (a range spanning across singing, writing and composition, playing a variety of instruments including oud, flute, percussion, piano, Spanish guitar and bass), each brought his own dynamic to the group. They first appeared live at Al Mashrabiya Gallery, followed by their first paid performance at the Berlitz Language Center. Ever since then, WEB have been regular performers at galleries, culture centers, bars, hotels, special events and concerts abroad.

WEB’s initial aim was to create music with the ability to reach a widespread audience, not just merely at the high-end establishments that are now common throughout the Egyptian capitol, but rather a more grassroots movement of ‘musicultural’ exposure. Soon enough, they came to be the first band ever to play in the Egyptian street, putting on one of the most acclaimed concerts on Al Alfi Street for the local community during the French festival ‘Les Français aiment l’Egypte’. Today known for their seamless blend of sounds combining traditional Arabic music with a modern and Western twist, their success in making their music as accessible as possible has proven pivotal not only in Cairo, but also around the world. WEB have performed regularly at AUC, the Cairo Jazz Club, and After Eight since 2003, as well as having provided the soundtrack for the film Yum fill amar (Day on the Moon), directed by Khairi Bishara (2002).

Below are four full MP3 samples of their music, along with an official video directed by Amr Salama for their self-titled song ‘Wust el Balad’.

01 » Flute
02 » Khalas
03 » Magnoun
04 » Venus

Sarah Badr © MMVII

See also: Wust El Balad – Official Site

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