The narrow streets of 11th century Fatimid Cairo, lined with Islamic-era buildings that boast wooden lattice windows and Islamic ornamentation, today teem with modern-day street life. The old-modern spontaneous mix makes their navigation an especially charming experience. They frequently abound with music and dance, cultural events and exhibitions.
The drumbeat of the typical Egyptian drum, tabla, is an all-too- familiar sound on the streets; recently, however, this vivid sound has been coming from a rather unusual source. Whereas drums have been historically played by males, two young female drummers Rania Amr, 23, and Donia Samy, 21, now play their drums on the famous al-Muizz and al-Hussein streets in Fatimid Cairo. No question, Rania and Donia have broken the norm and challenged social restrictions.
Rania, a Business Administration graduate with a good job, has played the drum as a hobby ever since she was 13. Five years ago, she studied the rules of drum beating through training courses.
Donia is a student at the Higher Institute for Theatre Arts, and is studying acting and directing. She learnt to play the drum in one of Cairo’s schools for percussion, rhythm, and copper instruments.
The two young women got known each other some 18 months ago through Facebook. They met and decided to play together. They posted videos of their performances on Facebook; the first was filmed inside a car to the music of Hawa Hawa (Love and Fresh Air) by Moroccan singer Samira Saeed; another was played to Ahmed Gamal’s Edhaki! (Laugh!). The young women were stunned at the enthusiastic reception of their performances.
“Pop star Gamal posted our video on his Facebook timeline and it was again met with huge success,” Donia says. “He called us and invited us to a concert at Ain-Shams University. The audience went wild with applause, and demanded that we should perform on the street.”
They took that advice seriously and started on street performances. They gained fame and held a performance in Beirut in accompaniment with an English music ensemble. Their popularity soared.
Yet Rania and Donia have had their grievances. “In Egypt,” Rania says, drums have been associated with belly dancers and folk weddings. Many people cannot comprehend drum beating as a musical art in its own right. When we began performing we would frequently hear the remark: ‘what are you two young female drummers doing here? Go play for a belly dancer!’ The remark frustrated us. But now we don’t hear it any more. Now we can be confident of our success.”
Twenty-seven-year-old Amr Fahmy is a graduate fellow at the Modern Sciences and Arts University in the west-Cairo satellite town of 6 October. He is a Computer Science graduate and has a Masters degree in Marketing and Business Administration. But Amr was not content with his academic career; he needed to do something more dynamic.
Amr hit upon the idea of a street food-cart. “The price of the food cart was EGP10,000 which I managed to save from my pay throughout the last two years. It was a meagre sum compared to the price of buying or renting any place for a restaurant no matter how simple.
“This is more than a food cart … It’s a meeting point for friends” this is the slogan Amr posted on Facebook to publicise his cart even before his project saw light. The Facebook page garnered more than 22,000 likes. Amr posted the menu he planned to serve, and shared with his visitors the trouble he had to go through to complete all the paperwork and licences needed for his project. This created a steadfast link between him and prospective customers.
Amr will be cooking the meals himself and serving them to his customers. For this he had to undergo several investigations required by the Health Ministry in order for him to be licensed as a cook and food server. He says the food-cart gives customers the opportunity to see the food cooked before their eyes; they can be certain it is clean and well prepared. He went online for all kinds of recipes which, he says, he tried first with his friends. Yet he is open to advice, he says.
More than happy
“The meals I offer are sure to be affordable,” Amr says. “On the food cart, food is not subject to the 23 per cent tax imposed in restaurants.” He thus expects his project to succeed quickly and make a profit.
The cart itself, Amr explains, has been manufactured in a workshop in the Cairo working-class district of al- Khusous. “It is 100 per cent Egyptian,” he says, “totally made in Egypt out of Egyptian materials. It was designed according to the needs of the job.”
Amr complains of the arduous process of obtaining all the necessary licensing. The maze of paperwork and red tape he had to go through was frustrating. He strongly demanded that the State apparatuses concerned should facilitate the procedures required to start a small business, since Egypt’s economy needs more of them.
“I am happy to have started my project all on my own,” Amr said. Other young people depend on their parents or friends to start small businesses, but I wouldn’t do that. I’m confident this was the right thing to do.”
What if one of the students you teach at university turns up at your food cart?” Watani asked. “Oh! I’d be more than happy to serve them,” he said, a merry smile on his face and a twinkle in his eyes.
9 July 2017