Midan Al-Opera, subsequent to Midan Al-Ataba, is likely one of the entry factors to Cairo’s once-legendary downtown avenue of music and leisure Mohamed Ali Avenue.
Close to the gray concrete Storage Al-Opera, which stands on the location as soon as occupied by the beautiful architectural gem of the khedive Ismail’s Cairo Opera Home, Marwan Fawzi, a professor of musicology at Helwan College, struggles to make himself heard above the blaring horns of vehicles attempting to keep away from crashing into each other as they take one of many many entries to the Al-Azhar tunnel or the Al-Azhar flyover, be a part of a queue to enter the multi-storey storage, or make a half circle again into city.
“This storage is a part of the crime that befell this place after the previous Opera Home burnt down. The place has been left over the a long time to fall into devastating dilapidation. It has misplaced its previous associations with magnificence and artwork, and now it’s simply previous buildings, noise, air pollution and chaos,” Fawzi stated.
It was in autumn 1971 that the Cairo Opera Home, constructed within the late nineteenth century, was burnt to ashes. Within the subsequent a long time, its web site was become a parking area, after which a flyover and a tunnel have been constructed to facilitate site visitors from downtown to the east of the capital.
Fawzi crosses the highway by the entry to the tunnel and flyover within the course of Al-Gomhouriya Avenue, stopping briefly on the now-closed Cinema Opera. He has completely studied the soundscapes of Cairo and argues that this spot is consultant of the vocal profile of a giant a part of the center of the capital and even a few of its now-declining suburbs.
Aside from the occasional name for prayer that comes from the 18th-century Al-Kekhiya Mosque on the opposite aspect of Al-Gomhouriya Avenue, or the sounds of songs heralding the start of Ramadan coming from one store or one other, there may be simply noise throughout, together with the noise of automobile horns and avenue distributors calling out the names of their merchandise.
“A number of the distributors now have audio recordings that they placed on replay, making them sound robotic,” Fawzi stated, as he took a left to stroll on the slender pavement between the historic Cairo Submit Workplace Museum and the adjoining Al-Azhar flyover.
The pavement has been taken over by distributors of cheap cell phone equipment and a variety of different gadgets together with fruit, sleepwear, and stationery. Given the season, there’s a giant variety of Ramadan lanterns, a spread of dried fruit and nuts, and the occasional sound of the well-known Mohamed Abdel-Mottaleb music Ramadan Gana (Right here Comes Ramadan).
Then it’s Mohamed Ali Avenue. This was designed in the course of the reign of the khedive Ismail to hold the identify of the founding father of the then ruling household in Egypt. It’s a avenue that leads, after a bit below 3km, to the Cairo Citadel.
A stroll from one finish of the road to the opposite was as soon as alongside the “music alley” of Cairo. However it’s so not. There are just a few shops that promote musical devices, and there are even fewer locations the place bands that play music for native weddings and events might be positioned.
Tamer, the supervisor of a tableware retailer firstly of the road, stated that his household has been working this enterprise for near 1 / 4 of a century after having taken over the shop from a earlier enterprise promoting clarinets.
Within the late Nineteen Fifties, the Egyptian singer Abdel-Halim Hafez starred within the well-known movie Sharei Al-Hobb (Love Avenue) as a passionate clarinet participant who discovered his solution to fame and fortune from Mohamed Ali Avenue, ultimately performing on the Opera Home.
“Individuals don’t come right here usually now to search out musical devices. They arrive for various merchandise together with the disposable tableware that has turn into very fashionable on account of the coronavirus pandemic,” Tamer stated.
Disposable tableware has at all times been common in Ramadan, however it’s much more so this yr. In contrast to final yr, the authorities haven’t imposed a night curfew for Ramadan this yr. This has allowed Iftar and Sohour gatherings “with many individuals preferring disposable tableware,” Tamer stated.
Paper plates and cups with typical red-and-blue Ramadan designs are additionally promoting nicely with eating places and cafés which are allowed to function below no restrictions this Ramadan.
Tamer was talking towards the backdrop of a Gulf, or Khaliji-style, Quranic recitation that might be heard in a number of shops promoting cell equipment.
These recitations, which have dominated over the previous three to 4 a long time, might be heard together with the sounds of current tendencies in common music that come from different shops or from the home windows of vans chopping by way of the road to maneuver round gadgets of furnishings, the brand new important commerce.
“It will have been fairly untypical to listen to the Quranic recitations of main Egyptian reciters like Mohamed Refaat or Mustafa Ismail,” Fawzi argued. These, he added, will not be the sounds of right this moment, besides in some secluded areas and maybe on the radio. Khaliji reciters are in any other case taking on, he added.
On the age of 27, Mohamed, a gross sales clerk at one of many cell accent shops, will not be even acquainted with the names of Refaat and Ismail. He’s not even positive that he is aware of the identify of well-known reciter Sayed Al-Naqshabandi. Nor does he notably care so as to add Abdel-Halim Hafez to the playlist he has taking part in within the retailer all through the day.
“If it’s not Ramadan, it’s the songs of Amr Diab and Mohamed Fouad. However for Ramadan it’s totally different, and it’s the Quran all through the day. After Iftar it’s the Quran first after which again to the songs we take heed to,” Mohamed stated.
In response to Fawzi, the sound of pop music at all times options within the soundscapes of busy Cairo streets. Abdel-Halim Hafez, Ismail, and Al-Naqshabandi will not be the sounds of right this moment, although they could enchantment to the middle-aged. “However some songs have continued. The classics can nonetheless be heard on the streets, even when individuals is not going to essentially recognise the singers or composers,” he stated.
Ahmed, a 20-year-old carpenter from the agricultural edges of Giza, may be very acquainted with a protracted listing of Ramadan songs, nonetheless. He has a hand-held drum from a retailer on the road that he makes use of to carry out his Ramadan late-night job as a mesaharati — an evening caller who wakes individuals as much as have Sohour.
Ahmed usually sings some Ramadan songs earlier than calling out the names of residents within the neighbourhoods he excursions to get them to get up for his or her pre-dawn meal earlier than they begin the quick with the decision for prayer.
“I believe everybody likes the songs. In any case, they’re the songs that the radio and TV play in Ramadan yearly,” he stated.
Mahmoud, one other younger man of 19 who has come to work as a mesaharati, doesn’t know the songs very nicely. For him, these will not be the sounds of Ramadan — a minimum of not within the southwest Cairo common district the place he lives and works.
However Mahmoud stated that for his father, additionally within the custom of doing the mesaharati job in Ramadan, there have been explicit “voices” that have been Ramadan staples. They included “Sheikh Refaat and Al-Naqshabandi after all,” he stated, including that his father had handed the job however not the affinity to his son.
In response to Fawzi, it’s not uncommon for youngsters to develop to like issues and pursue professions that relate to the sounds they grew up with. He and his sister grew up with the voices of the basic opera performances that his father at all times listened to, out of ardour and for the needs of his PhD. Fawzi then studied music and his sister studied Italian.
Ahmed Abdel-Halim, the proprietor of Beit Al-Oud (home of the oud) music store took the enterprise over from his father. His retailer, across the center of the road from Midan Al-Opera to Midan Al-Qalaa, is likely one of the oldest surviving music business companies within the space. His father began the enterprise within the early Nineteen Fifties when the road was nonetheless one in all music and musicians.
“It was very totally different, and it appeared very totally different with so many artists and artisans round. Now there may be largely the noise of the mini-trucks that carry across the furnishings that’s being made or fastened right here. That is not the road of musical devices, however moderately of huge sofas,” he stated.
However Abdel-Halim nonetheless works together with his arms to make the normal oud stringed instrument, which is moderately like a Western lute. He’s not passing on his abilities to his kids, nonetheless, however moderately to a younger assistant who has discovered refuge in Egypt from South Sudan. When this middle-aged man reaches the purpose of retirement, his retailer will doubtless discover a new enterprise, identical to most of the different shops on the street.
“It’s true that many shops have modified companies, together with people who have shifted to zincography,” Fawzi stated. He remembers that one of many shops he used to come back to to be able to purchase strings for his violin has switched. Nevertheless, the shop the place he used to purchase accordions continues to be there.
The Naguib Al-Sawwaq Café on the coronary heart of Mohamed Ali Avenue continues to be there too, having for over 50 years been a hub for musicians out there for weddings or events in Cairo or across the nation the place they play conventional songs.
The proprietor of the place handed away a couple of decade in the past, however his daughter Tahany continues to be working the enterprise and performs the normal Ramadan classics to entertain her shoppers on the eve of the primary day of the holy month.
“It’s a very totally different clientele that’s right here right this moment. My shoppers right this moment will not be the members of the bands who used to come back right here to have tea whereas ready for potential jobs prior to now. At present they’re largely women and men who come from all around the metropolis and the nation to order furnishings or search for second-hand gadgets,” Tahany stated.
Ezzat is likely one of the few surviving trombone gamers who nonetheless frequent the café. He’s a member of the legendary Hassaballah Band, which additionally featured in Sharei Al-Hobb, starring Abdel-Halim Hafez and Sabah. He drinks his tea and appears on the display of his previous blue Nokia cell phone, ready for somebody to name him for a job.
“It doesn’t occur so usually, and when it occurs I’ve to name different gamers who now produce other jobs to cowl their residing bills and see if I can assemble a band on the appropriate time for the occasion,” Ezzat stated.
As a rule, this septuagenarian will get orders for occasions in rural areas. In Cairo, weddings and events now both desire a DJ or the mahraganat music that’s in demand for leisure.
Mahraganat, a method of electro-music carried out by a band of singers, is much more suitable with the norms of right this moment, whereas fewer individuals recognize a band of brass devices taking part in tunes from the early a long time of the final century.
Most of the traditions that allowed individuals like Ezzat to work are going out of trend. “Within the Nineteen Sixties and Seventies, in the course of the month of Ramadan we might have numerous work as a result of in rural areas, and even some common areas in Cairo, every time a wealthy man would have an Iftar banquet we must be there to play a brief tune on the arrival of each visitor. Now that custom has gone,” Ezzat lamented.
In response to Tahany, the truth that the enterprise of the awalem, or a bunch of stomach dancers, which was once there for common weddings till the late Seventies and early Eighties, can also be gone has added to the decline of the road.
“The teams used to stay round us, and they’d go to carry out at weddings with the musicians of the bands who have been additionally at all times hanging round,” she recalled. Ramadan was “actually the excessive season for pleasure”, and it was good enterprise as a result of on the times following the tip of the holy month there have been at all times many weddings scheduled. Each time a job was agreed, the voice of jubilant ululation would echo throughout the Avenue.
The enterprise of awalem that began within the nineteenth century is all however absolutely shut down now. “It is rather like within the movie Khali Balak min Zouzou [Watch Out for Zouzou]. It will definitely grew to become a legal responsibility,” Tahany stated.
Within the early Seventies, the actress Souad Hosni starred within the film as a college pupil hiding her and her household’s occupation as dancers and musicians to keep away from stigma. Within the movie, she overcomes her inhibitions. However in actual life issues are totally different.
“Some college graduates would decline jobs or marriages as a result of the moms have been dancers or the fathers have been musicians on Mohamed Ali Avenue, so individuals modified professions. At present, there may be not a single belly-dancer who lives on this avenue, despite the fact that it as soon as allowed the large names of belly-dancing to search out fame,” Ezzat stated.
“We’re seeing the tip of an period,” he concluded.
*A model of this text seems in print within the 22 April, 2021 version of Al-Ahram Weekly