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Jamming with chilis
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 14 - 03 - 2019

Last week Egypt's rock fans were treated to two important events, both linked to the internationally renowned American funk-rock band Red Hot Chili Peppers (RHCP). Two days prior to the band's Pyramids concert on 15 March, their drummer, Chad Smith, joined Egyptian musicians for a creative jamming concert at El Sawy Culturewheel.
As lead guitarist Josh Klinghoffer took the lead, ten thousand fans gathered on the Giza Plateau and many more following the concert's live streaming were delighted with such hits as Can't Stop, Californication, Don't Forget Me, Dark Necessities and even a cover of Radiohead's Pyramid Song. Within a day the live stream had reached a million views, and despite tight security and internet connection issues, during the concert itself social media erupted with photos, videos and appreciative comments. Egyptian fans commenting on the YouTube video went so far as to suggest that an RHCP concert is what the Pyramids were built for. The California band's Twitter and Instagram accounts expressed reciprocal sentiments: “I love you Egypt! You are wild and beautiful and send my imagination flying!”; and “Hopefully we will be back to play again soon! Inshallah!”
While the Pyramids concert was among the highlights of a packed March, the Sawy event – organised by TOFTrading: Tarek Ramadan, DrumChannel and Drum Workshop Inc – was no less important for the local music scene. Playing alongside Ahmed Hesham on drums, Samer George on bass guitar, Beshoo Shenoda on accordion, Abdelazeem Azema on percussion, Fady Badr on keyboards, Donia Samir and Rania Amr on daraboukas, Smith opened the performance with an energetic solo, addressing the audience with the words “I'm really honored to be here tonight and to play for you and to play with all those musicians you are going to see on stage shortly”, and singling out the two female drummers Donia Samir and Rania Amr to welcome on stage. It was a spontaneous, workshop-like evening staged without rehearsals, and due to relative lack of publicity many rock fans were sorry to have missed it.
Ahmed Hesham was the first to join Smith on stage, demonstrating remarkable skill and coordination. A drummer with an impressive record playing with Angham, Nagwan, Donia Samir Ghanem, and the bands Eftekasat, Sahra and Ayamna El-Helwa, Hesham uploaded the session to his YouTube channel (which also offers drumming lessons in which he walks the students through a variety of strokes, rudiments and more complex drum patterns) as “Chad Smith & Ahmad Hesham Double Drum Solo”.
As the evening progressed, each musician added their own unique flair to the concert. Keyboard player Fady Badr is among the most sought-after musicians on Egypt's independent and commercial scenes, performing both Western and Oriental music and also playing qanoun. Besides playing with Eftekasat, Nagham Masry, The Riff Band, the Cairo Big Band Society, Nour Project, the equally talented bassist Samer George has his own solo career and teaches at the American University in Cairo. His most recent projects include Voice & Bass in which he performs with Amy Frega, and concerts with Nouran Abutaleb. Percussionist Abdelazeem Azema added a uniquely Oriental flavour, for his part. A graduate of the Academy of Arabic Music, Azema usually performs with the Nour Project and Dina El Wedidi, among others, as well as teaching. Known for accompanying Abu and other musicians, accordionist Beshoo Shenoda proved to be a force to contend with too, while the two darabouka players Donia Samir and Rania Amr were performing together for the first time. The American musician and record producer, Smith's collaborator Andrew Watt made a surprise appearance on stage to perform a cover of AC/DC's Black in Black.
The media has only really paid attention to the Pyramids concert, but the musical exchange led by the professionals, the spontaneity and improvisation, made the El Sawy evening especially interesting. Cultural exchange may be an overused and often abused, fashionable concert, but this was an example of how it can make sense.


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