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Arts & Culture

D-CAF: Reviving the Cultural Heart of Cairo

D-CAF: Reviving the Cultural Heart of Cairo
    written by
    Yasmine Nazmy

    renowned international artists to shaaby MCs and regional talents, the Downtown
    Contemporary Arts Festival, better known as D-CAF, is entering its final week.

    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.

    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

    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.

    “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.

    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.

    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.

    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.

    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.