The Definitive Guide to Living in the Capital , Cairo , Egypt

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Cairo 360 Presents: Zabaleen

Cairo 360 Presents: Zabaleen
    written by
    Sallie Pisch

    Old pipes,
    paint buckets, empty bottles, discarded bits of wood and metal – to the
    ordinary eye, these are nothing but trash. Yet, to a unique group of seven young Cairenes, each piece of discarded
    junk has new potential: music. Think STOMP, but Cairo-style.

    At an
    evening jam session on a large terrace in Zamalek, chaos seems to have taken
    over. Trash, clean and dry, is littered
    across the floor, an amp and mic appear from somewhere, and a guitar waits patiently
    on a bench. Armed with drumsticks and
    more trash, three young men enthusiastically test the sound of every new piece
    of junk in the pile. After a few moments
    of inharmonious noise, the racket settles down.

    ‘Ready?’ asks
    Noor Ayman, one of the band’s four percussionists. Suddenly, the terrace is filled
    with energetic, slightly jazzy and completely unconventional music.   Somehow, ordinary junk produces catchy tunes
    with the help of a guitar, a saxophone and some seriously talented musicians.

    They call
    themselves Zabaleen after Cairo’s ‘garbage people.’ The name is appropriate: not only does the group make music with trash;
    but they also promote recycling and environmental awareness. Cairo’s Zabaleen recycle around 80% of the
    trash that they collect, far exceeding the 20% to 30% that more developed
    countries boast.

    Zabaleen
    was formed when drummer Youssef El Kady was asked to put together a performance
    for World Environment Day at the American
    University in Cairo (AUC).
    El Kady asked a few friends to join him, and soon the group reached its current membership. 

    ‘We’re just
    a bunch of people who play on garbage and we have a saxophonist, guitarist and
    a vocalist,’ says El Kady. ‘We weren’t
    planning on continuing; it just happened that we stayed together.’

    ‘It was
    unexpected that we’d actually make a band,’ echoes Ayman. ‘On our first performance,
    we got offers to play in other places, and I think that’s what made us feel
    that we could actually do something.’

    Since
    Zabaleen’s formation barely four months ago, the group has played nearly a
    dozen shows at venues ranging from AUC to Al Azhar Park, El Sawy Culturewheel,
    and Makan in Downtown Cairo.  

    Why do
    audiences love Zabaleen’s music? ‘Because
    we’re different,’ says El Kady. ‘And we play on garbage.’

    ‘Because we
    rock!’ another voice speaks up, drawing laughter from the others.

    ‘Egyptian
    people like clapping,’ Ayman explains, ‘’They like dancing; they like to see
    lots of things happening with strange things. So when they see people walking
    in with a garbage bin and then spilling a bunch of metal and trash on the floor,
    they get excited.’

    The group perform
    their original songs in both English and Arabic. ‘We believe in the importance
    of the Arabic language,’ says Ayman. ‘We sing in both Arabic and English in
    order to reach the widest variety of people possible.’

    Fortunately,
    the band has an extremely talented and charismatic vocalist, Ahmed Safi El Din,
    who is comfortable performing in both languages.

    Recently,
    Zabaleen provided the entertainment at a seminar for the Right
    to Climb Foundation
    , which organised an expedition to Mount Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain, to raise money for people in Egypt who face mental disabilities. The audience was extremely impressed with Zabaleen’s music
    and ingenuity, and particularly with Safi El Din’s incredible voice.  

    Exclamations
    of ‘Yeah, Safi!’
    rang out from the crowd as Zabaleen finished another remarkable performance.

    Zabaleen
    are media-friendly because they have a message: take care of your country. The group promotes recycling, reusing and environmental
    awareness. ‘For yourself and your country, be clean,’ ends the first line of
    one of Zabaleen’s original songs, the chorus of which encourages listeners to ‘Throw
    your garbage away.’

    ‘You can’t
    take care of the rest of the earth until you take care of your own country,’ says
    Ayman.

    Yet,
    Zabaleen’s popularity stems from more than just creativity and a good message; the band members are excellent musicians. Each member
    is involved in another band – or bands – outside of the group and possesses a sound
    understanding of what it takes to create good music. The combination of talents
    has huge potential, and the group would love to explore that potential. They
    look forward to turning what they perform now into a better show with more
    complex music.

    Zabaleen’s music
    and message have found a ready audience. Ayman is right; Egyptians love Zabaleen’s
    performance. Audiences thoroughly enjoy clapping or singing along – the group
    plays favourites in Arabic and English as well as original material – and
    laughing at Safi El Din’s hilarious lyrics and antics on stage.  

    Zabaleen’s
    magic on stage and the raw energy that they emit simply can’t be appreciated
    via YouTube only.

    ‘We’re more than just
    music. We’re actually a show,’ says Safi
    El Din. ‘You have to actually see
    us. And you have to see us live.’

    Zabaleen will perform at El Sawy Culturewheel’s Peace One Day Event on
    September 19. For more information on their upcoming gigs, check out their Facebook group.

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