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Cairo Jazzman

Egyptian musician Amro Salah has toured the world with his band, and in 2009 he decided to bring some of it to Egypt by creating The Cairo Jazz Festival. Despite a lack of governmental support and financial resources, "Cairo Jazzman" portrays Salah's passion for his work. "Egypt is full of surprises," he says. Luckily, he's good at improvising.

AIRED: February 11, 2019 | 0:57:55
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TRANSCRIPT

[ Indistinct conversations, horns honking in distance ]

[ Siren wailing ]

[ Brakes squeaking, horns honking ]

Salah: [ Speaking Arabic ]

[ Horn blares ]

[ Down-tempo music plays ]

Women: ♪ Radio Hits ♪

Man: [ Speaking Arabic ]

[ Up-tempo music plays ]

[ Speaking Arabic ]

[ Speaking Arabic ]

Jazz makes you think.

[ Speaking Arabic ]

[ Speaking Arabic ]

He's gonna pull this.

[ Down-tempo music plays ]

[ Woman vocalizing ]

[ Mid-tempo jazz plays ]

♪♪

♪♪

Salah: I see there is lots of jazz happening here

unconsciously, inside the rhythm of life.

It's so random, like modern jazz,

coming up with ideas out of the blue,

like trying to improvise to solve issues, situations.

This is so much related to jazz.

I say that jazz is thoughts before notes.

It is. It is a big financial risk.

It is.

I am an artist who likes to see something good happening

in my country.

So it's like there are so many different motives

why I'm doing this.

Like I want to see something bright happening.

I want to see, like, improvement in the culture scene,

improvement on the educational scene.

People need to know that jazz is like a point of view,

it's a philosophy, it's much more beyond being,

like, a style of music, you know?

What I realized is that jazz, well, it's something much --

It should be something more deep

than, like, being a genre of music.

It's talking, you know? It's telling you a story.

Actually, this is what I think

about this special type of music --

that it is a personal or a...

Let us call it a human experience.

It's about freedom.

[ Vehicles passing, indistinct conversations ]

[ Sighs ]

I like this place, actually.

I like it because it's -- it's got the flavor.

There is a rhythm here happening.

It is a crazy city, though. Cairo is always crazy.

[ Mid-tempo jazz plays ]

Yeah, you have to see, like, how you are going to get inspired

from a surrounding like this.

It's not easy.

You have to look for the inspiration.

[ Music continues ]

If I have put this in, like, jazz terms, this is avant-garde.

This is modern, experimental, spontaneous, weird.

And, like, this is weird jazz, you know?

[ Laughs ]

This is weird jazz.

But in the end, it has the rhythm, you know?

It's got the groove.

So there is a groove here happening in Egypt.

Yeah, there is a groove.

[ Up-tempo jazz plays ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

[ Music ends ]

[ Man speaking Arabic on loudspeaker ]

[ Birds chirping ]

[ Group singing, man speaking Arabic on television ]

[ Coughs ]

[ Speaking Arabic ]

Live at Cairo Jazz Festival. Live at Azhar Park.

If you're talking about obstacles and, like, challenges?

Syndicate of musicians.

Which I hope that they don't come and make a problem.

You have to pay high taxes for any non-Egyptian band.

And for the Egyptian bands, also you pay taxes for that.

I mean, for them, this is, like, a commercial concert.

Like...Like a concert, a music concert.

Like, some non-Egyptian band's, like...

[ Cellphone ringing ]

...like onstage, so they need to --

Sorry.

[ Speaking Arabic ]

[ Cellphone ringing ]

[ Speaking Arabic ]

Man: You are the festival director,

and you're doing everything from this desk here.

Actually, you should have come the year before.

I was doing it from the mattress.

Because the kids were here, so I had to work in the room.

Like, I don't have a place, a working place, in my room,

so I had to sit on the couch and, like, do everything.

Yeah. That's interesting.

You know, I mean, in the end,

we need to see a festival happening, you know?

[ Speaking Arabic ]

And you need to arrange gigs in the middle of all that.

I love to see action happening, you know?

Excitement.

This brings progress.

[ Coughs ]

How are we doing? I'm fine. Thanks. How are you?

Yeah. I-I sent you -- I sent you --

Last night, I sent --

I sent you everything related to the festival.

So... [ Cellphone ringing ]

Oh.

This is the first copy of the 2014 program to be sent

to the world.

Now.

Send. [ Exhales deeply ]

[ Down-tempo music plays ]

[ Coughs ]

Oh.

It's tea time.

We need to make sure that everybody is satisfied.

This is our mission.

[ Music continues ]

Everything's gonna be fine.

Do you want a tea?

[ Playing down-tempo music ]

[ Tempo increases ]

♪♪

[ Drums, piano playing ]

♪♪

Shamma: [ Speaking Arabic ]

♪♪

♪♪

[ Music slows, ends ]

Mrs. Salah: [ Speaking Arabic ]

[ Mid-tempo music playing ]

[ Speaking Arabic ]

[ Speaking Arabic ]

Sometimes, like, I can enjoy listening to it.

[ Playing "Oh! Susanna" ]

[ Speaking Arabic ]

[ Speaking Arabic ]

[ Speaking Arabic ]

[ Playing mid-tempo music ]

[ Speaking Arabic ]

[ Speaking Arabic ]

[ Speaking Arabic ]

You'll be interested to come to the Cairo Jazz Festival,

to see what's going on.

I mean, there's gonna be, like, a jam session.

[ Speaking Arabic ]

[ Speaking Arabic ]

[ Playing mid-tempo music ]

[ Indistinct conversations, keyboard, drums playing ]

[ Down-tempo jazz playing ]

Hmm?

[ Speaking Arabic ]

[ Music continues ]

It's really nice to find somebody

who wants to involve the community and society into music

and wants to enrich Egypt and his country

with different experiences and journeys.

The underground music scene is striving to make a difference

in how people perceive music.

I believe Egypt has always been stuck somewhere in the '80s.

We've never been out of this capsule.

I don't know how it's done in English,

but it's like the guy who sings pop songs is like 54 years old.

Salah: [ Speaking Arabic ]

[ Music continues ]

♪ Da, da, three four ♪

"G."

[ Speaking Arabic ]

[ Vocalizing ]

[ Plays ascending notes ]

[ Music continues ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

Music plays a very, very, very important part

because right now at the time we're living,

music is a very strong tool.

As long as there's a channel where you can express yourself

or there's songs you can chant when you're with your friends

or songs you want to listen to so that it gives you hope

towards a better future to yourself

or to the whole community, we have a chance in keeping hope

amongst the younger generation who has a very confused future

because of the whole years of corruption

that we've been through.

[ Music continues ]

♪♪

[ Vocalizing ]

♪♪

So let's not lose the groove.

[ Speaking Arabic ]

[ Vocalizing ]

[ Vocalizing ]

That's a strong beat, so... [ Vocalizing ]

[ Imitates crowd cheering ]

[ Up-tempo music plays ]

♪♪

♪♪

[ Engine idling, horns honking ]

[ Indistinct conversations ]

[ Down-tempo introduction plays ]

♪♪

♪♪

[ Up-tempo music plays ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

Salah: I always a musician, you know?

I'm not gonna be anything else except a musician.

I'm not the master director of the Cairo Jazz Festival.

I'm not this person.

Man: In a few hours, you will fly with Naseer Shamma

to Sudan, to Khartoum, for a music festival, right?

Well, in between, before going to the airport,

I need to go for a quick meeting with the Ticketsmarche people

for the tickets.

[ Laughs ]

[ Music continues ]

♪♪

♪♪

Man: What is waiting for you when you return to Cairo?

I come back from the airport.

Right away to the Azhar Park

because I have a meeting with the Azhar Park officials.

♪ And I feel you so close to me ♪

[ Down-tempo music playing ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

Amr Salah, he is incredibly busy,

not just with the jazz festival --

which in my opinion, when you do a jazz festival,

this is a full-time job for the whole year.

He's not just doing that.

He has his ownbands -- plural --

he travels, he tours, he does other festivals,

he has a family.

But he handles it very well.

He's a kind of cool guy, you know?

He's a relaxed sort of person.

♪ When I'm in your arms ♪

♪ And I feel you so close to me ♪

This is an international festival.

The artists are coming from all over the world.

And he's doing this kind of -- I would say single-handedly,

and I'm not taking away any credit from his incredible team.

He has a fantastic team. But it's a small team.

When they're having festivals, we will often be mentors

or we will do workshops and things like that.

This is what it's about.

The jazz children --

the jazz kids is fantastic, you know?

It's a whole new level, and it's getting the children

involved with the music at a very young age.

And it's particularly involved with a genre that's not common

and that people don't know about.

If it was something they're hearing on the radio,

no big deal.

You're giving them some music. Great.

But it's jazz.

♪ I want to feel you ♪

♪ My baby ♪

♪ In the night ♪

♪ The nearness of you ♪

No matter how a festival goes, no matter what happens,

there are always ups and downs.

But no matter what happens, at the end of the day,

it's about the music.

[ Vocalizing ]

[ Mid-tempo jazz playing ]

♪♪

♪♪

Ezzat: [ Speaking Arabic ]

Man: [ Speaking Arabic ]

[ Indistinct conversations ]

[ Speaking Arabic ]

[ Speaking Arabic ]

[ Down-tempo introduction plays ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

Salah: In Egypt, unfortunately and sorrowfully,

things are not finalized and decided on accurately.

Institutions in Egypt are facing a real problem of separation.

Institutions are working and people in Egypt are working

in islets, separated islets.

It's not a unit.

You'll find people that have interests

and people that have other interests

and other people that have other interests

and other people that have other interests.

And so on.

This is leading to nothing, in the end.

[ Piano playing ]

People are isolated.

Institutions are really isolated.

There's no harmony between anybody and anyone.

Woman: Can you call it a lack of solidarity?

No, I would call it lack of solidarity, actually.

This is a lack of harmony.

It's about education, actually.

[ Down-tempo jazz plays ]

And I have certain duties that need to be finished.

Otherwise, we're not going to see a good festival.

Someone has to do these things.

It's not only me.

We need to push the thing somewhere, you know?

[ Music continues ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

Man: [ Speaking Arabic ]

[ Speaking Arabic ]

[ Mid-tempo music plays ]

[ Mid-tempo jazz plays ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

I'm an artist. I'm a piano player.

I'm not a festival director.

I'm someone who loves jazz and wants to see a jazz festival.

So...that's it.

I'm learning.

Egypt is a country of surprises.

Surprises with the syndicates.

Surprises with the taxing -- like, tax people.

Surprise from the administration themselves.

It's...I don't know. Really difficult.

But it has to happen.

It started, like...

I hate to see it fading away.

Man: I don't understand. What exactly happened?

Oh, that's really difficult to get it out, you know?

Things should have gone right from the beginning,

like to sit, sign a contract -- a proper one --

and then proceed.

Just to make it clear -- You started all the planning.

Yes.

You started all the invitations of the bands.

You started to do the schedule.

You started everything

without having signed a contract with a venue.

Yes. That's right.

We discussed the outline of the festival --

how many days, what are the dates,

what are we gonna do.

Very pleasant. Very positive.

Yes, we are in. Work, go do.

And...And that's it.

If I had, like, a doubt that it's going to be really shaky,

then... [ Cellphone ringing ]

...then I wouldn't do it.

Hello.

Some people, they wanted to appear clever before the CEO,

and they just, like, gave a very distorted image

about the festival.

I went yesterday. I had a meeting with the CEO.

Like, he's a very clever person.

He had like 20 years working in the hotel business.

So he's a market man.

I'm not a market man. I'm not a merchant.

I'm not clever in that.

So he's like, "Yes, we are angry because..."

da-da-da-da-da.

And then, like, in the end...

Like, I had to sign a check for, uh, £57

plus insurance for the grounds.

We put an extra responsibility over us now.

In addition to the anyway responsibility you already have

regarding the whole planning and the whole festival.

Yes.

So actually you're guaranteeing now

with your private money, too, right?

Yeah. Well, I'm -- I'm...

We're -- You know, I'm -- We're not gonna learn

and educate ourselves without situations like that.

You need really to pass on this shit, and then --

and then you can learn something, maybe once.

[ Horns honking ]

[ Music playing on radio ]

That's what makes people happy.

[ Music continues ]

[ Music fades ]

I can't ask everybody to listen to jazz --

or to love jazz.

[ Up-tempo jazz plays ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

[ Indistinct conversations ]

[ Speaking Arabic ]

Man: [ Speaking Arabic ]

He has to pay all the taxes.

He has to pay fees.

[ Speaking Arabic ]

[ Up-tempo jazz plays ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

[ Speaking Arabic ]

♪ Just so these guys know ♪

♪ I came to grab a mike ♪

♪ I got the appetite for rappin' right with Arab Knightz ♪

♪ And I'm'a do it, yo, while I just create a flow ♪

♪ I'll leave a crater hole while I'm spilling your H2O ♪

Amro has been quite keen

to get me over for a couple years, I gather, now.

And I've always known

that there's a very healthy hip-hop scene here.

Less aware about the jazz, but I know from meeting emcees

in Jordan, actually, and Palestine,

that there's a very strong scene here in Egypt.

And some Moroccan friends have told me the same, too.

So I've just been very excited.

And certainly working with Arab Knightz as well,

I think it's a good fit.

It's just a place that's full of energy and full of vibe.

Not just gold chains and fast cars and, you know, big booties.

It's actually content, you know,

so that's why I'm identifying with it.

[ Rapping in Arabic ]

♪♪

All you need to do is take a couple of looks

at some of the YouTube presence to know the mentality,

the kind of direction they're bringing hip-hop with.

It's also really encouraging to hear they're leading workshops.

The quality of human contact I had

and the quality of music completely surprised me.

And if you believe everything you see on the news,

you'd think everyone in the Arab world is chasing RPGs

and throwing rocks at the walls.

Like, no.

[ Mid-tempo jazz playing ]

♪♪

♪♪

Man: [ Speaking Arabic ]

[ Speaking Arabic ]

[ Mid-tempo music plays ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

[ Speaking Arabic ]

[ Speaking Arabic ]

[ Music continues ]

♪♪

♪♪

[ Up-tempo jazz plays ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

I feel happy.

It's happening. [ Chuckles ]

It's all good. It's all good!

God loves jazz.

[ Up-tempo jazz playing ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

[ Mid-tempo jazz playing ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

Khemir: [ Speaking Arabic ]

♪♪

♪♪

[ Mid-tempo jazz plays ]

♪♪

[ Indistinct conversations, music playing in distance ]

This is very unacceptable.

[ Speaking Arabic ]

Salah: [ Speaking Arabic ]

But this is very disrespectful, and this is very unacceptable.

I'm not gonna accept this, okay?

Excuse me.

[ Harp playing ]

[ Indistinct conversations ]

He's a visionary, and he's an artist.

And this combination is lethal.

The problem is that because you have

the whole thing in your heart,

you feel that no one else will have the same passion like you.

And therefore you have to follow up with everything

and do everything with your own hands,

and this very draining, extremely draining.

[ Indistinct conversations ]

[ Birds chirping, vehicles passing in distance ]

Iskander: I can have the same passion,

but I'm not showing it as much as him or the same way as him,

and so he thinks that I'm not working

or he thinks someone else doesn't have the same passion.

And so he feels like he has to do the job all over again.

Focus on the big picture and let someone deal with the details

or focus on the details and let someone put the puzzle together.

[ Indistinct conversations ]

Conflicts do happen,

and sometimes when they come in the wrong time

and you're so tired and they come to you,

you just feel like, "I just want to give up."

[ Down-tempo introduction plays ]

[ Up-tempo jazz plays ]

♪♪

♪♪

It's definitely an experience.

And I'm kind of nervous.

[ Music continues ]

♪♪

[ Applause ]

That's jazz, you know?

Improvising, just, like, being spontaneous,

like, giving these spontaneous surprises.

Thank you so much for being together with Amro Salah,

director of Cairo Jazz Festival.

Wake up.

Wake up. You have some, uh --

Woman: I'm not sleeping. I'm just cold.

No. I'm just, like, waking you.

Salama: One, two, three, four.

[ Speaking Arabic ]

Salama: For me, I think the art and music scene

is very much connected to the whole situation in the country.

The young people are not given enough chance

to be in front in any situation, actually, in any field.

So to find a place to play is not so easy,

not so many places.

The knowledge of music --

I'm talking about the ignorance somehow --

is because of the whole situation,

because these kids never got education in the first place.

People don't imagine that they do need to work to be good.

This is a job of the ministry of culture.

Ministry of culture do absolutely nothing.

And the result -- That's what you see

not only in the music scene and everywhere.

All the people somehow

are trying always to put down young people.

That's why I'm here, is to have more workshops.

[ Mid-tempo jazz playing ]

Man: [ Speaking French ]

[ Speaking French ]

...make some noise to talk about all of us.

[ Up-tempo music playing ]

Oum: [ Singing in French ]

♪♪

♪♪

Cairo, make some noise! [ Crowd cheering ]

[ Speaking Arabic ]

[ Mid-tempo music plays ]

[ Men rapping in Arabic ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪ I'm hotter than the Sahara when I'm on my... ♪

♪ Revolutionary era of Islam ♪

♪ And taking it back to the days... ♪

[ Men rapping in Arabic ]

♪♪

We were very happy this time

that we're getting to do something like that

with jazz music and other genres here in Egypt.

We need something like that more often in Egypt.

In Arabic, we, of course, try to target our people more,

see what they're being tricked into

when it comes to politics and the social changes.

And we try as much as possible to talk about what's real

and what's going on really here and to present that.

And when it comes to the English raps,

we try as much as possible to represent our culture,

our background to the people abroad.

And clear misconceptions that they have about us

and our culture and religion and all of that stuff

that they don't understand. We try to correct that.

[ Rapping in Arabic ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

I really like what I'm seeing,

and hopefully that can go on into the next generation,

'cause the old generation ruined it.

Sorry, guys.

Yeah. The old generation needs to roll over and move on.

Leave politics alone.

[ Laughs ] You ruined it enough times, man.

Let us do our thing with music and media

and with politics, for God's sake.

Give us a chance. Move on.

Exactly.

[ Up-tempo jazz playing ]

♪♪

♪♪

♪♪

Man: What was your personal highlight?

The team.

[ Music continues ]

♪♪

♪♪

[ Indistinct conversations ]

Man: [ Speaking Arabic ]

[ Speaking Arabic ]

I feel safe.

I feel safe between my parents.

And I feel...grateful

that I have a wonderful family like that.

[ Birds chirping ]

[ Speaking Arabic ]

[ Up-tempo jazz plays ]

♪♪

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