Mari’s musical journey in Alexandria

These past three weeks have been musically very eye-opening. Many things I have considered universal facts have turned out to be just one very limited way of seeing music and expression. I have had the chance to jam with amazing Egyptian musicians and experience the Egyptian concert culture. It has been an exotic adventure for me, who has a very afro-american musical background without any real knowledge of the oriental style and Egyptian music culture. And I have to say: it has been amazing!

My first encounter with the Egyptian music scene was through a famous underground band called Masar Egbari. The staff took me to their studio to see them practicing for their gig the next day. They are an amazingly talented and humble band, and in the way they play you can definitely hear the years spent together practicing and jamming. Their style is an interesting fusion of middle-eastern music, western pop and rock with some jazz-styled progressions and extended chords. We also went to see their concert with the IPP crew in the famous Alexandria Bibliotheque. The massive concert hall was filled with exited people with their cameraphones shining in the dark ready to film their favorite song. Everyone had been talking about an underground band, so the amount of people there really struck me. The whole crowd was responding to the band by singing along, cheering and shouting loudly between songs. Even with such a big audience, there was a constant communication between the band and the people. Many of us were also surprised by the way the concert ended. The band didn’t bother to leave the stage for a self-evident encore, but they just played a bit longer and when the concert was over, people just started to leave with the band still on the stage. During the concert I felt like the audience was very hungry and passionate for the music, and as a musician there is no better prize and feedback for your work than an audience like this.

I had my trumpet with me, so I also had the chance to jam with many talented Egyptian musicians in Alexandrian cultural spaces called El Cabina and Teatro. There was a New Years Eve jam session and a drum circle for our camp in El Cabina. We also played in an open jam session in Teatro. Even though they don´t use many wind instruments in Egypt, the musicians made me feel very welcome and I felt like a natural part of the group. The jam sessions in Alexandria are very free and open compared to the relatively very organized jam sessions that I am accustomed to. They just choose a key and start playing and joining is very easy. People from the audience might just come on the stage in the middle of the song and start dancing to the music. It is fantastic how improvisation is such a self-evident part of expression here and how it belongs to everyone in the jam session. I am used to practicing even my improvised parts carefully, so I definitely had to get out of my personal comfort zone. It was definitely worth it.

I obviously could not have taken part in the more oriental styled jam sessions, because unfortunately it is a style very undermined in our musical education. Instead of our twelve-note system Egyptians have notes in between notes, which just sounds kind of out of tune to my western ear. Our friend Khaled tried to explain the Egyptian system of chords, progressions and scales, and I feel like I have a whole new world to explore. There is music outside my “box of music theory” and there is music in my “wrong notes”. But at the same time I realized just how much music is a universal language. Here I am on the other side of the world jamming with people who I have never met before; people from an entirely different culture and background. Still somehow we can take our instruments and create music together. We don’t have to say a word yet we still have a great time communicating through playing. There has been and will be moments of confusion, but I guess we still speak the same language after all, with different dialects complimenting each other.

By Mari Talala – Finland