Featuring renowned international artists to shaaby MCs and regional talents, the Downtown Contemporary Arts Festival, better known as D-CAF, is entering its final week.
The festival is spread over a number of venues in Downtown Cairo, including the Townhouse Gallery, Radio Theatre, AUC’s Greek campus and Falaki Theatre, the Goethe Institute and the Viennoise Hotel; all in an effort to revive Egypt’s cultural scene.
The two-week programme includes more than a hundred artists from Europe, North America and the Middle East participating in workshops, art exhibitions, music concerts, dance and theatre performances, lectures, as well as open mics.
Some notable performances in the first week of the festival included Tim Etchells’ ‘Sight is the Sense that Dying People Tend to Lose First’ and the Urban Visions’ Program ‘We Are Not From Outer Space’. Other performances that stood out were the Urban Visions Program’s street dance performance and Ant Hampton’s ‘OK OK’ and ‘Guru Guru’.
‘We Are Not From Outer Space’ – a collaborative performance by Rita Vilhena, Mohamed Shafik and Thomas Proksch, was a definite highlight from the first week of the festival. Engaging, raw and shocking – at often times humorous; the provocative performance forces audiences to re-examine how humanity is regarded and understood.
Designed by Ant Hampton and Gert – Jan Stam, both from the UK, ‘OK OK’ is one of the few shows running for the entire two weeks of the festival. Carried out entirely by the audience, the performance is open to four participants at a time. We were not sure what to expect when confronted with the apparent lack of ‘performance’ in the experience; we found ourselves with a script in hand, reading words that often articulated our confusion and mirrored our thoughts. The initial feeling of alienation followed by a slow, recalibration of expectations is refreshing and quite amusing; it provides an insightful exploration of communication among strangers.
Similarly, “Guru Guru” is an interactive multimedia show where audiences are given headphones and receive instructions and commentary on what to do and how to feel. The notable thing about both of these performances is that – unlike the traditional separation of spectator and performance – the show is non-existent without its audience. Also, while the limitation on the number of participants can be logistically inconvenient, it is this precision that makes the performance a rare personal experience that keeps you talking about it long after your fifty minutes are over. Both shows must be booked in advance and are available in both Arabic and English.
In the process of re-discovering Downtown themselves, the D-CAF organizers have reclaimed Radio Theatre, on Talaat Harb Street, as one of the festival’s main venues. The picturesque theatre, in great contrast to the humdrum of Downtown, was once a key location for the cultural scene and it is a wonder that the theatre has remained closed to the public for over fifteen years. As the main venue for music events, this cultural and historical masterpiece, however, can be limiting for audiences who do not want to watch performers on stage, but would rather enjoy a night of music out on the town. Luckily, it is within walking distance of a number of popular nightspots.
Despite this minor downside to the venue, music performances by Hassan Khan, Neobyrd, Fathy Salama and the Sharkiyat Group, as well as DJ Jade and Maurice Louca were well received by audiences. Shaaby MCs Sosta and Shaawaza also hosted a night of music with funky shaaby beats being played to a large crowd.
The audience turnout has varied, with numerous cultural events happening around the city. But while many of the featured artists are internationally renowned, most Egyptian audiences are not familiar with their work and therefore feel no association with them. D-CAF has indeed drawn on more than just Cairo’s culture aficionados, however we’d hoped to see bigger numbers and a higher diversity within the crowd.
Having said this though, the festival has provided a rare opportunity for Egyptian artists to work with and present their work alongside internationally renowned artists. One thing that the festival organizers do deliver on is quality; where most performances exceeded our expectations. The works are admirably well crafted and well produced; bringing alternative approaches to theatre, dance and music.
In the duration of its final week, D-CAF’s programme features Issam Bou Khaled’s ’Banafsaj‘ – an abstract theatre performance from Lebanon; ‘The Speaker’s Progress’ by Sulayman Al Bassam and Sabab Theatre from Kuwait – a satire that explores modern communication, censorship and politics in the Arab world; and a film screening by Nils Tavernier at AUC’s Downtown Greek campus.
This week’s highlights in music include Kareem Lotfy, Mahmoud Refat, Erik Truffaz, Dubosmium, Filastine, and shaaby DJs Wizza, Okka and Ortega; as well as Bikya and Ramsi Lehner.
Most shows do not require prior reservation, so go out on a limb and pay a visit to Radio Theatre or Townhouse Gallery for a night of music or art. For the full programme of events please visit our events page.