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A midsummer night's maidan
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 16 - 08 - 2012

Ati Metwaly samples the holy month's offerings
As Ramadan's draws to a close, art events �ê" often musical �ê" are still taking place almost every evening. All across Cairo, with the holy month falling at the peak of summer, late-evening concerts have been attracting remarkably large audiences. El-Fan Midan (Art Square), organised on the first Saturday of every month by the Coalition for Independent Culture at Cairo's Abdeen Square and across other governorates is one of the many platforms holding artistic events with one or two stages at each location. Though Abdeen Square hosts musical performances repeatedly throughout the year, due to its nature, El-Fan Midan is organised once a month.
This month's El-Fan Midan took place on Saturday 4 August and aligned its activities with the Ramadan schedule; events kicked off at nine pm and went on till 2 am (5 August), offering an assortment of music and other performances along with handmade art. Although the event was interrupted by a prolonged power cut within the first hour, most on-stage performances continued. But it is worth recalling that the case of El-Fan Midan is rather peculiar and worth looking at irrespectively of Ramadan.
El-Fan Midan's was launched in April 2011, in a number of governorates, and aiming to bring art to public space where ordinary Egyptians can see it. The initiative depends on support extended by non-governmental individual donations. For the first several editions, while Emad Abou Ghazi was in the ministerial chair, the Ministry of Culture also contributed a small amount to El-Fan Midan. As the months went by following Abou Ghazi's resignation at the end of 2011, the ministry started withdrawing its financial support and donations were shrinking.
Today the initiative is facing financial trouble. As much as we must praise all the voluntary work and artistic contributions, we must also be worried that El-Fan Midan will starts depending on developing young artists and amateur performers. Though 4 August included a number of valuable artistic propositions on the one hand, some numbers �ê" especially El-Aragoz �ê" showed a rather chaotic spontaneity without adding anything significant; a few musicians could have given more rehearsal time to their performance, too. Knowing the professional supervision to which Coalition for Independent Culture members are subject, it is important to revise those values to make sure the event serves its purpose, which is bringing valuable art to a broad audience.
No doubt music makes for those events that audiences look forward to the most during Ramadan. The fifth International Samaa Festival for Spiritual Music and Chanting, held at the Salaheddin Citadel and Al-Ghouri Caravansary until 8 August, evoked the Ramadan spirit. The festival included international and local traditional performers among whom many held workshops introducing the attendees to their forms of expression. The festival is an opportunity to see the riches of religious and spiritual chanting from all across the world, attracting many social strata time and again.
It is worth remembering that this year's Hayy Festival, organised annually at El Geneina Theatre by the Cultural Resource (Al Mawred Al Thaqafy) hosted musicians from Palestine, Lebanon and Egypt. Operating since 2005, through its dynamic and always interesting programme, El Genaina Theatre gained much popularity and recognition from listeners with refined tastes. Hidden at the far end of Al-Azhar Park, the theatre's rather far away and seemingly hard to reach location is no obstacle in the way of many. The Palestinian singer Rim Banna's concert on Thursday 3 August bore plenty of evidence to that; it gathered an unprecedented number of attendees. Due to the large crowd many attendees experienced difficulties entering the event.
The Cairo Opera House's Ramadan Evenings, held at the open air theatre, witnessed just as much interest from the audience. This Ramadan, the Opera offered numerous events across its venues in Cairo, Alexandria and Damanhour. As per its yearly tradition, it presented musicians from Egypt and guest performers brought over in coordination with their respective Embassies. According to the Opera's management, this year all international music events, from Iraq, Turkey, Pakistan, Yemen, Tunisia and a number of other countries proved very popular. Equally concerts by Egyptian musicians such as Fathy Salama, Aly El-Haggar, Eskenderella, Nesma Abdel Aziz and many others returned with captivating performances. On Friday 10 August (22 Ramadan) there wa an interesting juxtaposition of returning Tunisian musicians performing at the small hall of the Cairo Opera House to a small yet attentive audience, with Eskenderella band taking the open air theatre by storm and receiving, after each song, huge applause from the packed auditorium.
Many music events, especially those scheduled at the Opera House's venues were cancelled or rescheduled due to the three days of mourning (Monday 6 August through Wednesday 8 August) announced by the Opera in response to the killing of sixteen border guards in an attack on the Israeli-Egyptian border in the Sinai Peninsula. The Palestinian Embassy in Egypt cancelled, without rescheduling, its Ramadan Nights which were planned for 11 August at the Cairo Opera House, 12 August at the Damanhour Opera House, and 13 August and Alexandria Opera House. In the last few days of Ramadan, such summer performances will come to an end and soon the new musical season will overtake these and other venues, but the Cairo Opera House is preparing for one more open air festival before the start of the season: the Citadel Festival, which will kick off on 29 August and continue until 5 September, offering a variety of genres performed by Egyptian musicians.

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