Armed with just their music instruments and passion, Ashraf, Ragy, and Mark decided the best way to spread their message of happiness, peace, and joy would be to take it to the streets.
Street music, a tradition in many other parts of the world, is not a common occurrence on Egypt’s streets, with the exception of wedding processions and caravans blaring both traditional and mahraganat music. Otherwise, music is most often only heard by those who can afford it.
Hoping to branch away from music being only a commercial industry or an art restricted to those who can afford expensive concert tickets, the three independent musicians decided to play their music for free in Egypt’s streets. The musicians are not busking; they simply want to dedicate their leisure time to pleasing people regardless of whether or not there is money to be earned.
“For years music has been restricted to wealthier people who can afford to book a ticket to a concert at the opera house or buy a CD by their favourite musician,” said Ashraf Nader. “All of us have studied music. I play cello, Ragy plays the Cajón, and Mark plays guitar.”
The trio came up with the idea after playing their instruments in the streets of Zamalek for passers-by on Christmas Day.
“The only rule we have in the street is to respect people’s privacy and not to harm anyone,” said Nader. “At the beginning, we were pretty anxious and we did not know how people would react to our initiative.”
It did not take long for people to start gathering around them in the streets, calling friends to come join.
“Although some people who came to watch our performance seemed like troublemakers, we were astonished to see how they interacted with the music and respected everyone,” explained Nader.
While their intention is to roam Egypt’s streets playing music, selecting locations has proven to be a difficult task.
“Unfortunately, we cannot go to low income areas, like Imbaba for example, because we do not know what to expect or how people will receive our music and the extent to which our music will appeal to their taste,” said Nader.
Nader explained that while they will hold off on visiting such areas at the moment, it does not mean they will not consider these neighbourhoods in the future.
To prepare for their first event the band had to obtain permission from the Zamalek Residents Committee to be able to perform on the street. Despite going through the steps to get permission, when the band saw a police officer approaching them they could not help but feel a bit worried.
“That was a funny situation,” said Nader. “We thought he would prevent us from completing our show, but actually he was a big fan of our music and thanked us for making people happy.”
The band then contacted the Heliopolis Heritage Initiative for permission to extend their project outside of Zamalek. They held their second event in Heliopolis’ Korba on Saturday.
“We brought balloons on which we wrote sentences about love, happiness and peace,” said Nader. “We also mixed famous classical and modern songs with our own music to engage more people.”
Nader said the band also improvised music in the moment, causing people to become more excited and engaged.
At first, people stood by in surprise at the street-side spectacle, but it did not take them long to become engaged.
The happy spirit created by the music spread across the street, enthralling people to stop by and enjoy the two-hour set. At one point an older woman stopped by and asked, “What are those young people doing?!” Persuaded by the music like the others, she too joined the crowd.
“Are you all happy?” Ashraf asked the crowd. He was answered by loud cheers, to which he responded, “Our mission is done then! We just wanted to tell you that happiness does not need money. You can be your own happiness.”
The three are not the only musicians who have taken their music to the streets. Other independent artists have launched similar projects to play street music.
“In January, some of our friends managed to launch similar initiatives in Alexandria, Mansoura, and even in Cairo,” said Nader. “We hope to be able to gather one day and organise one big event to include all independent artists who want to influence their society positively with the power of art, love and joy.”