The Wayback Machine

guitar in alexandria
At our chalet on Cleopatra beach, Montazah Palace, 1965. Notice the lack of tall hotel and apartment buildings, which now hover over Montazah like prison guard towers

Someone sent me an email recently asking if I really was in a “famous,” pioneering rock band in Cairo in the 60s.

I’m not sure why this piece of trivia is important, in this day and age, when we all have to deal with the unfortunate reality of this lot…

Jair Bolsonaro
Viktor Orbán
Bashar al-Assad
Abdel Fattah el-Sisi
Nikolaos Michaloliakos
Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo
Kim Jong Un
Isaias Afwerki
Aleksandr Lukashenko
Islam Karimov
Omar al-Bashir
Jaroslaw Kaczynski
and their many good friends

… but the answer is aiwa.

The pic you see above is of me, playing my first guitar, way back in 1965.  I may look older than 14, but that was my age in the pic.

Some people think of that period as the “golden age” of Egypt.

Well… Egypt was nicer, sure, but not everything was perfect

For example, if you might have noticed that I do not look overly happy.

There’s a good reason for that.

Look carefully, and you will see that I am missing the D string on this cheap guitar that I bought near Bab-el-Haddeed, otherwise known as the Cairo train station.

I remember looking in vain in downtown Alex for a replacement that summer, and being really miffed that I had to wait till I returned to Cairo before getting it.

(By the way, this was a flamenco style acoustic guitar.  I eventually wanted an electric sound, so I replaced the nylon strings with steel ones.  This of course soon warped the guitar from the extra tension, which I did not know would happen.  I did this so I could screw a little pickup magnetic mic at the base of the neck.  It had a coiling wire which I threaded through the main soundhole and then through a little hole I made in the ribs of the guitar. I then plugged this wire into an old  radio, and, ishta, that is how I put together my first electric guitar!)

If you are super observant, you might also notice that there are strange splotches on the guitar.

That is because I painted red housepaint over the face varnish.

Why would I ruin a guitar this way?

Well, at the time, I saw a pic of The King playing a red guitar, so being imitative the way all teenagers are, I bought a small tin of plain oil based housepaint, and the rest is history.

takht band
Here is the band at one of our first concerts — we were very advanced for the era

For some reason, the paint never really dried, which caused this guitar to ruin a few of my favorite t-shirts back then.

Well, 1965 was a very long time ago.

Lots has changed, since, in Egypt, and me — but some things have remained the same.

I still play, massalan.

Here’s an original composition I recorded, warts and all, about a year ago. It’s a little monotonous, but hey, there’s only one guitar playing.


leaving america

شعب متنيل

Great song.  Lyrics here.

Maryam Saleh is a fox.  Not this one.

This one.

Way underground.

Forget Om Kalthoum. She’s just a throwaway line in a Broadway musical now.

Drink arak and listen to Arab underground music, and sigh like you aren’t listening to the music of a doomed country.

After all, there’s still Andalusia.

Maybe you should start a Portuguese band called The Moriscos.

Underground music, underground politics, everywhere you look the Chinese are trying to put up golf courses while the mountains burn.

Look at what happened last week in Egypt and as if it’s all been decided.

Everyone must be either be hanged or live in The Scorpion, says some Egyptian judge, as the tourist bureau banners and headlines scream:

Tourism is up!

El Gouna movie festival!

No, we have no dead Brits today!

Don’t mention the body parts being sold on the raseef, the disintegrating pavements of Cairo.

Don’t read Raseef22 — it’s not suitable for the siyah, the tourists.

I want to meet Maryam Saleh.

Where is she?

In some bookstore in Tavira reading this, or this, or even this?

I want to ask her:  how do you support the rights of those who would never give you any?

And why does everyone want to kill everyone else?

I grimace.

It’s Monday morning and I have shit to do before leaving for Portugal.

My chromebook is synced up to a speaker that’s playing El Gouna radio in the background.

Why doesn’t this station ever stop playing safe feel good touristy music and instead blast tunes from Lekhfa?

It wouldn’t solve anything, but it would be a start.

Wake up the fat Germans and smug Brits and their fancy real estate deals and see for once what is actually going with the mitnayileen — this does not mean people of the Nile, but it could, if you were in a joking mood — who serve them their barely chilled Sakara Golds.

It doesn’t matter.

New Arab music and fiction writing is exploding.

What a great time to be alive!

Unless you’re rotting in some Sisi jail.


leaving america