03.12.2005A German Brass Band in the Middle EastTouring the Orient with a Trumpet and a NotepadCairo
Cairo is gigantic, and you can't help but notice this right away. The city highway runs through a sea of houses. The mosques have palatial dimensions; the enclosure walls of large building complexes are decorated with many arabesques.
Udo Moll about Mohammed Mounir: "Normally he gives the impression of being a disorganized Egyptian with a mild drug problem, but as soon as he sings, he is 100% present" At the same time, the level under the highway is full with Arabic stores. The hustle of the bazaar lasts far into the night – everything is lit up, the stores are open, and many people are on the street.
In comparison with most Arab countries, there are a surprisingly large number of illuminated advertising billboards plastered to the left and right at various levels along the highway.
One also notices the Coptic churches, built in Romanesque style, but a little more ungainly and, above all, not so old, with their three dimensional neon crosses on the roof.
We cross the Nile a number of times and it is very wide here. The island on the Nile on which our hotel is located bears the pretty name ‚Zamalek’.
The bus to Alexandria leaves at 11 AM. We stop at various locations throughout Cairo to pick up the members of Mohammed Mounir's band. They sit at the back of the bus, we sit in front, and the first chance to talk only takes place when we stop for a break at the highway rest area. The trip is a good three hours drive.
The new hotel lies about forty minutes outside of Alexandria on a dusty secondary road between large refineries and a restricted military area. The hotel is somewhat of an oasis, a sort of Club Med facility in safari park style. Its name, accordingly, is Africana. It is just the right kind of place for hanging around – first at the pool, some swimming, and then lying in the sun with drinks, food, and a water pipe served by the personnel.
A joint rehearsal is scheduled for 6 PM, but by Egyptian reckoning that would be around 7 PM anyway. It's a great confusion from start to finish. We rehearse in the basement pub of the hotel. In a matter of minutes, there are already fifty people packed into the small space.
In order to rehearse, we have to form small sub-groups, simply begin playing, and try to ignore the general level of noise. Sometime or other, Mounir joins in and sings along. It is just unbelievable, like the sun suddenly begins to shine.
Normally he gives the impression of being a disorganized Egyptian with a mild drug problem, but as soon as he sings, he is 100% present, his whole face just beams like a small child, he radiates without end, he is simply charismatic. What a transformation.
And this is exactly what makes the difference between a superstar and the 100 or so other Egyptian pop singers. The rehearsal continues in this fashion, everything takes a long time, but it all seems to work, somehow.
After an hour, Mounir's trumpeter shows up. He is a small, balding man and he speaks German. He is an amusing fellow, a classical musician who had studied music in Frankfurt and plays the C trumpet. He teaches at the conservatory in Cairo, directs a brass orchestra, and takes on every possible studio job. We quickly begin to talk shop about trumpets and mouthpieces, and, for a change, I actually enjoy this sort of conversation.
Next stop: Alexandria (click 11)