The sad story of the emergence and disappearance of independent exhibition venues in Egypt


The program gave Bassem Youssef an opportunity for independent artists in Egypt (Getty)

Between 2005 and 2016, as independent music in Egypt reached the peak of its popularity, spread and success, artistic theaters experienced a great boom. During that period, the “demand” for independent bands and artists was great, whether in media programs or commercials, which led to a significant increase in the number of concerts they perform, and thus the need for new theaters that receive this type of music and musicians.

The El Sawy Culture Wheel Theater had begun paving this path since its inauguration in 2005, paving the way for different artists to go onto the stage and present their productions to a limited audience at the time. Another factor that gave independent artists room to show and a golden opportunity: The Program? With Bassem Youssef. As the “program” was the most watched in Egypt, and it received an independent band or artist on a weekly basis. These teams knew how to reach tens of millions of viewers who were waiting for Bassem Youssef’s program. For example, we mention: Cairokee, Like Gili, Dina Al-Wedady and others … In addition to fame, the program opened great job opportunities for technicians working in the field of music, including sound and lighting engineers, which created an integrated circle of work and opportunities for all workers in the manufacture of a different music scene.

This is how these 11 years witnessed a great recovery and the birth of small theaters in various parts of Cairo: El Geneina Theater, Rabat, El Sawy Culture Wheel, Makan, Room Art Space, Darb 1718, and Beit Al Berth … all of these theaters, with the exception of El Sawy Culture Wheel, did not impose any conditions on Creative content provided by artists. Only the “Sakia” was checking songs and performances to verify the content.

Theaters raised ticket prices due to the devaluation of the Egyptian pound

This is how the primary role of these places was, is to provide a platform from which the artist or band begins their artistic career. It did not set a high ceiling for material profits, nor did it portray itself as a star maker. These small parties provided an acceptable income for all, which made many deal with music as a real source of income and not as a hobby. In this period, nightclubs also appeared, such as “Cairo Jazz Club” and “The Tap”, which are places intended mainly for the children of a certain class of Egyptian society. These clubs also provided an opportunity for independent artists to play their music on its small stage. But everyone knew that the goal of these performances was only to provide a nice and different musical background for the audience, without real focus on the content presented.

Gradually, between 2013 and 2016, the noose began to tighten on small theaters, and they began to gradually close, which was directly reflected in the Egyptian music scene. Reasons for lockdown? Political and economic – political in the first place.
We start from the fear of gatherings that have appeared since 2013 due to the security operations in Cairo. The parties were canceled wholesale for “security reasons”, which made the sponsors gradually move away from providing support for such artistic activities. Then came the gradual disappearance of the financiers, due to the security and political conditions that began to appear clearly after June 30, 2013. A large part of these financiers were from Western cultural organizations and centers, and the regime imposed significant restrictions on their money.

Equally important was the floatation of the Egyptian pound to deal a fatal blow to this sector, as theaters resorted to raising ticket prices, which removed a large segment of the audience (mostly young people and students), who found that 100 or 200 pounds was the price of a ticket for a large concert and beyond its capacity. . Note that this increase was to reduce the size of the loss and not to increase the profits.

Finally, the fourth factor comes, which is the increase in taxes on the value of tickets since December 2016, which has turned the situation into something like an impossible task. It is also worth noting the “Mashrou ‘Leila” concert in 2018, which led to the imprisonment of a number of young men and women, and launched a fierce campaign against the entire independent music scene in Egypt, similar to what happened in the nineties when the “heavy metal” and “hard rock” artists were accused of “Devil worship.”

Faced with all of the above, this political and economic blockade of the exhibition spaces has ended, and only 4 places remain inside Cairo that receive independent teams. There was no competition, which made the possibility of developing a band consisting of 4 or 5 people almost impossible, but beyond that, the possibility of securing financial income from music became difficult to obtain. As a result of this reality, the teams began to disappear, and only 5 big teams remained in the arena (Cairokee, Massar Forced, Sharmovers, Downtown, Dina Al-Wady) while some small teams struggle to survive by creating alternative sources of income for parties. Today, with the outbreak of the Coronavirus, restoring the scene to its health and vitality seems completely excluded, and the rest of the areas that until now seem to threaten their ability to withstand losses unknown.



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