The Joker


mass invitation
Flyer image owned by this author; and is used with permission by

One of the cool things about Gouna is that there is a cadre of people who live here who not only have a historical memory of Egypt across the sweep of time, but also remember me as a young lad.

Earlier today, I chanced to spend time at 7th Star in Abu Tig marina with someone named Mourad whom I have known most of my life.

I brought up the subject of an amplifier I once owned, and Mourad recalled that it was a Watkins, which jogged my memory of the time when I bought it.

Now time in Gouna is serious business.

After all, the movie Photocopy won El-Gouna’s Golden Star Award for Best Arabic Feature Narrative Film  a few months ago. at GFF.

And it is Gouna where Omar Sharif moved to in his dotage, staying at a hotel just down the street from where I’m currently living. He was suffering from Alzheimer’s by then, and could not remember the magnificent movies he was in that continue to play on Egyptian TV to this day.

Fifty-one years ago, I was a teenager who spent the summer of 1966 in Swinging London. Mourad and I had decided to form a band, and I was determined to buy an electric guitar and amplifier.

I remember taking the tube to Charing Cross Road, and getting off at the Tottenham Court Road stop.

I headed to the famous Selmer shop that used to be there, where many well-known rock guitarists from the era bought their gear.

I was going to buy a Vox amp, because that is what the Beatles used, but in the end, I went for a second hand Watkins Joker, because it was a more sophisticated piece of musical machinery, but also because it was cheaper than a brand new Vox.

I returned to Egypt in late August, and by September, the late Amr Mansoor, Mourad and I began practising in a small alcove by the dining room in the flat by the Nile that  my parents rented in Zamalek. Not long after that, Ashraf Salmawi and Tarek Nour joined the band.

It went on to become one of the biggest rock groups in Egypt of the period. The name of this band was The Mass, an anagram derived from our first names. 

Alas, I was not to enjoy the success of the rock group that I founded with Mourad, for my parents had decided to emigrate from Nasser’s Egypt, and by February 1967, we were in New York, and would never again live as a family in Egypt.

I generally do not like to dwell on diaspora nostalgia, but it irks me that I was probably the only songwriter of the group, and thus the Mass remained to the very end a band that did covers, never originals, even as as I wrote dozens of songs in New York during that period, most mediocre, a few not.

I can say today without rancor that for many years I wrongly felt that I had been robbed of the sort of young adulthood that I expected to have, had we remained in Egypt.

But that’s not what happened.

The good news is that more half a century later, I once again hooked up with Mourad and Tarek in the resort town of El Gouna, Egypt.

Gouna Egypt

Not something that I would have envisioned when I found myself suddenly stuck like in some sick joke in the Deep South of the United States, sixteen years ago, with no apparent way to escape the hell of living in massively xenophobic Florida.

Well, those days are now over, and on Saturday, I will finally be leaving noisy (by night) Abu Tig marina, and moving to a beautiful villa on a lagoon that leads to the nearby Red Sea. If things go well, I shall again rent in October of 2018, and this time I shall bring my guitar.

Who knows?  

Perhaps one day a reconstituted The Mass shall play a song or two on some Saturday night at Dawar el Omda in downtown Gouna, and for just one moment, it could become 1966 again, almost, but not quite, and for that one moment, it might seem to be as if I had never left my beloved Egypt.

Unlikely to happen, but isn’t it grand to think that it might?

leaving america