Sunday, March 13, 2005


Cairo, March 12

The Concert!!!!!

Our concert was last night!

We had Aljezera and Orbit TV there, both of which interviewed us and filmed the concert.

The house was completely packed – The 200 seats were all full and there were about another hundred standing.

I was the only one not standing up on the stage because I’m really not comfortable playing while standing, but I must admit it does look great to have the whole group standing like that!
Rami was so cute. He fit in with Saiid’s troupe perfectly! I bet you can’t even tell which one is him!

Which One is Rami?

Six of Osama’s family came all the way from Damanhoor (3 hours away) to see the concert!

After the intermission I made a speech in Arabic. I introduced myself and then said “Said El Artist is a Hero of Tabla.” The crowd went wild. I thanked him and said what an honor it was for me to share the stage with him. Said told me afterwards that he wanted to make a speech but he was too emotional.


Bashira, Marjory, Me, Rami and Natalia

Omar and Hummus – They ROCKED!

The crowd was amazing – they were clapping and hooting and whistling throughout the show. There’s nothing like playing Maksum for an Egyptian audience.

I had a BLAST!

My favorite part was when the whole troupe played my piece (Nubian). Said didn’t play but he stayed on the stage to conduct.


Saiid Playing His Face

The people from the American Embassy cultural affairs office were there, the same people that didn’t help us with this project one bit and wouldn’t even return my e-mails. After the show they were extremely gushy and said that the next time I come they’ll organize a concert tour all around Egypt for me!

Today Saiiid told me that all morning he was getting phone calls from people flipping out over the show.

He thinks this concert will lead to other things like maybe a concert tour of the Middle East! He really wants mo to come in the summer – I guess August is the time of year in Egypt where lots of stuff is going on.

Why do I feel like I’m going to wake up any minute and say “Wow – what a great dream!

Thursday, March 10, 2005


Cairo, March 10 – Day Before the Show

This afternoon 2pm I was fast asleep and Natalia wakes me up.
“Said’s on the phone”
I found this strange because he doesn’t usually wake up until 3 or 4.
“Hey Said, how’s it going?”
“I didn’t sleep all night – I’m very angry”
“What happened?”
“I went to the Sawy Cultural Center and there are no poster around. It looks like there’s no show. All I saw were advertisements for an oud concert on the same day.”
“Oh shit – Rami will call the Sawy Cultural Center and straighten it out.”
“Ein Sh’alla”
“Ein Sh’alla”

Rami calls Mr. Sawy (the director of the center) and speaks to his secretary:
“Hello, this is Rami”
“Oh Rami, I’m glad you called. There’s something urgent - Mr. Sawy needs to speak to you right away”
“Why, is there some problem”
“Well,,,,uh,,,,,,,what exactly is your and Raquy’s nationalities?”
“We need to see your passports. Please bring them by right away.”

All this before we’ve had any coffee or anything!
I was starting to think that this show wasn’t gonna happen.

Said, Rami and I and Mr. Sawy decided to have a meeting at 4:00. We raced over to the center, and as we approached we saw a HUGE poster with GIANT pictures of me and Said and the details of the show. “How could Said have missed this” I asked.

Said wasn’t there when we arrived so they first dealt with the passport thing. They just took both our passports, looked them over, Xeroxed the front page a few times, made us sign the copies and gave us our passports back. No big deal.
Then Said showed up. He looked angry and tired from not having slept all night. He spoke strongly to Mr. Sawy explaining the importance of advertising this show. Mr. Sawy was very apologetic and promised to put up lots of posters (two days before the show), to send out an e-mail, press releases and an SMS.

Said and Mr. Sawy forcing themselves to Smile

Said seemed to cheer up slightly but he still looked haggared. He said to me, “This whole thing – the rehearsal, the show, everything, I’m doing for you. I really want there to be a good concert with a nice audience for you.”
“Ein Shalla”
“Ein Shalla”

So that’s it. The crises (what’s the plural for crisis?) have past and the concert is still on (Ein Shalla)

Last night Andrea had a GREAT party at her awesome apartment. That girl really knows how to throw a party!


Cairo, March 8

Rehearsal on the Nile – Marjory and Azziz

Last night was our gig at the Cairo Jazz Club. It was billed as Raquy and the Cavemen with American Tabla Girls and special guests. We had Miles on the bass and my rababa teacher Fikry.

The place is very nice and well organized. They had big posters of our show all over. The soundman remembered us from LAST YEAR that I like to sit on a table so when we arrived everything was ready for us!

Then first set was ok, but there were not many people. Then we took a break and the place became totally packed! It was so great! People all crowded around to see and they were really into the music – nobody was talking or anything. Everyone did a really good job and we had some very powerful moments! There is nothing like playing a maksum drum solo for an Egyptian audience – they are so into it! As an encore Fikry played and sang an Om Kolthum song annd everyone accompanied him. Afterwards they fed the whole band a delicious meal.

American Tabla Girls – Riq Section

Today we have a day off from rehearsal. I want to take the time to work out my parts for the big concerts. I have so many solos- I want to have my shit together.

All the girls are getting Rababas! I’m gonna start a rababa orchestra in New York!

By the was Fikry the rababa teacher is madly in love with Marjory! He keeps putting his hand on his heart with a pained look on his face and saying “I love that” and pointing to Marjory. He’s already married, but men here are allowed to have four wives at the same time!

Natalia’s First Rababa lesson!

Monday, March 07, 2005


Cairo, March 7

Must be brief cause we have a crazy day today, but I just wanted to tell
everyone about our awesome rehearsal yesterday!

We blew off the TV thing cause we needed a night with the girls to
rehearse for our show at the Cairo Jazz Club tonight. So we rented a
faluka (small boat) and had our rehearsal on the Nile, literally! It was
so magical! Nobody could hear us so we could play as loud as we wanted
and Bashira and Mariiah danced! The temperature was pefect - there was a
beautiful breeze!

Today we are going again to rehearse with the girls, then we are going to
rehearse with Saiiid then we have a gig at the Cairo Jazz Club!

Sunday, March 06, 2005


Cairo, March 6

Rababa Orchestra, Orbit TV, and Teaching Saiid’s Troupe My Piece!

Today was the most incredible day yet.

Rababa Orchestra

I was invited to sit in with a folkloric orchestra. Bashira basically
just got off the plane and we had to rush over there.

The rehearsal took place in a theater which is part of the Ministry of
Culture. We got to the entrance and the guards made us show ID. I
handed them the Raquy and the Cavemen sticker, which they accept at
most security points as valid ID. The group was actually rehearsing
outside in the yard between the buildings. The conductor was in the
middle with a baton. The group consisted of about 8 rababas, six
mazhurs, six dohulas, zagat (zills), a few frame drums and six
dumbeks. What a powerful sound! Such simple songs but so GOOD! They
have these moments where it gets quiet and one person solos and then
there’s this kick ass dumbek break and then everyone comes in and I
feel like screaming with excitement! 

This orchestra is funded by the government. The members get $100 a
month to do two rehearsals a week and performances. Nobody had notes –
the conductor either sings or plays something on the muzhar and
everyone copies him. I picked up the song easily on the rababa, and I
got to play with them!!!!!! Unbelievably fun!

Orbit TV

We had to pry ourselves away from the Rababa orchestra to race over to
Said’s studio to be interviewed and filmed by Orbit TV. Saiid was all
dressed up and wearing these amazing shoes. They had already finished
Said’s interview so it was my turn.  I told them about myself and
talked a lot about what an honor it was for me to collaborate with

Then they asked us to play. We played the Nubian drum solo with Rami
and Natalia on bass and Bashira and Marjory on riq.

Then Saiid’s troupe came in and we played the two pieces that we’ve
been working on. Then the TV crew asked us to just jam a little and
Saiid sat on the floor (something he’s picked up from me) with me and
Bashira and we did question answer stuff! Bashira got to take a solo
and she did a GREAT job!

My Piece!

The film crew told us they would be at the concert and they will
interview us again after the show. Then Saiid asked me if I’d like to
teach his troupe one of my pieces!

Teaching Saiid’s Drummers My Composition!

Wow! I explained everything in Arabic. His troupe is SOOOOO good! They
were very attentive and were able to play the whole solo! I’m used to
giving my students written parts, and it was new to teach an entire
piece by ear. Saiid stood in the middle and helped me run the
rehearsal. I’ve never had my pieces played with such a huge sound! What
a thrill! I think Saiid’s drummers enjoyed playing it – its’ definitely
different from other stuff they play. So we’ll have a few more
rehearsals and they’ll play that piece with me and the girls and Rami
in the concert! Also Rami will play with the troupe in the other songs
as well.

 Dumbek Section –Hassan, Mohamed, Hassan, Mohamed, etc.

 By the way, almost every guy in Saiid’s troupe is named either Hassan
or Mohamed. When I’m working with them I just call every other guy
Mahamed and every other one Hassan. It seems to work.

I can’t express how honored I feel to have this opportunity. This is
the most exciting thing I’ve ever imagined doing. It’s a dream come

Whenever we finish rehearsing I go jam with the boys. There are three
boys. Mido is 5, Omar is 11, and Hummus is 14. They’ve taught me three
pieces so far (the only difference between the three pieces is the
intro) that we play together. They are bright, sweet and talented boys
and it’s so fun to play with them.

Future Cavemen – ‘Artist’ Family Boys

Tomorrow the girls and I are going to be filmed for another TV thing.

Also, Saiid told me tonight that he wants me to come back next year and
make an album with him!



Cairo, March 3

Dear Blog Readers,

I’m sorry I haven’t written in a while. Let me give you an example of what’s been going on here in Egypt.

They want me back on that television show with the girls but we can’t make it, because another televisions channel Orbit TV is coming to Saiid’s studio to interview us and film the rehearsal. Today I’m going to play with the rababa orchestra and then race over to Saiid’s to meet the television crew. The girls are all here. I have so much music to work on for the upcoming concert I don’t know where to begin!

Me and my favorite vegetable

Yesterday was the first rehearsal with Saiid’s troupe. I must say I’m a little intimidated. I arrived at the rehearsal with Saiid and ten drummers were seated around the room holding there instruments ready to play in different sections. There’s basically the dohol section which is a big bass dumbek and the dof section which is an amazing sounding frame drum Everyone was very serious and at attention.

When Saiiid is rehearsing he is a different person – very serious and intimidating. Until this rehearsal it wasn’t clear exactly what we would play and what my role would be, but yesterday I realized that I’m playing the solo part together with Saiiid! (like what I do with Osama) Yikes! We play the intro together and then at some point I play a solo. I can’t describe in words the amazing sound of that big group playing together. They are so tight! Saiid’s arrangements are simple but amazing! Playing that piece was one of the most thrilling things I’ve ever done.

By the way, Saiid has been feeding all of the girls and treating us like princesses. The girls are also having a ball playing with Saiiid’s nephews and adorable five year old son who are all really good dumbek players!

Dumbek Girls Have Arrived!

Playing with Niggum, a GREAT dumbek player

I got to play with an Arabic Big Band the other day

Girls Playing Rali Abui while Saiiid Coaches

Wednesday, March 02, 2005


Cairo, March 2

My Egyptian Television Debut

It’s a dusty hot morning in Cairo.  They call it a  “hamsin” – it gets
very dark and a hot sandy wind comes in from the desert. I don’t mind
it one bit.

The Samir Sabri Show
Last night was the filming of my Egyptian television debut on the
Samir Sabry show which is apparently the most popular talk show in
Egypt. Quite a surreal experience.

I met my rababa teacher in the lobby of the  Hilton Nile.  He was
totally decked out in his traditional galabia and head piece.  I didn’t
have much wardrobe choice here, so I wore my shiny red skirt and a
flowery shirt.  Rami wore his blacks.

The place was a huge room with set dinner tables in the middle and
different stages around the perimeters with cameras all around.  The
place was in a disordered state when we arrived – there were various
troupes of dancers in costume warming up and all kinds of interesting
personalities roaming around.  At one point a fight broke out and
people started yelling at each other.

I was warming up on the tabla, and I noticed that after I played
something, another dumbek way across the room in the bandstand was
answering me.  I couldn’t see who it was and I don’t think he could see
me, but we had a half hour long dialogue answering each other back and
forth.  Afterwards he came up and introduced himself.  He’s a very good
drummer and nice guy and wants to come to America and do a concert with

I met the director and asked him when our segment would be filmed.  He
said “Well it’s starting  in 10 minutes and you are the second act”.
“Great”, I thought, “I’ll have plenty of time to play with Saiid

Five hours later I was still sitting there waiting.  There were
actually about eight acts each one a half hour long or so!  There was a
house band of great musicians.  The conductor also played nai and I
loved the percussion section – dumbek, riq and this old guy playing
amazing zagat (zils).  Some of the acts were great (a Nubian woman
singer who had these four Nubian guys dancing in the background) and
some of the acts were horrible (some cheesy pop singers and a group of
teenage boy dancers, “The Mad Boys” who did the corniest dance I’ve
ever seen while mouthing horrible English lyrics).

Finally they called us up.  Of should I say he called up my teacher.
Samir Sabry actually had no idea I was going to be on the show!  He
looked at me holding my rababa and his mouth dropped.”  He asked me
“where did you learn rababa?”  I said “Fikry taught me.”  Then he asked
Rami “and where did you learn tabla?”  Rami pointed to me and said “She
taught me” which confused the guy even more. So then he asked us a few
more questions.  I answered half in Arabic and half in English which
was ok because Samir Sabry speaks English well and translated
everything to the audience.  Then we played a few songs with Fikry and
I on the rababa and Rami drumming.  I felt bad because everyone kept on
yelling at Fikry to stop playing so that they could hear me play alone.

The songs went very well.  Afterwards the Samir said to me “If I give
you the tabla will you know what to do with it?”  “Ein Sh’alla” I
replied.  So he asked me to play a drum solo!  We played the Nubian
with Rami on the riq and it was really fun.  The percussion section of
the band got so excited they joined in!  The audience was great and I
think everyone was surprised.

By the time I finished playing I was dying to leave that smoky place
where I had been sitting for so many hours so we didn’t stick around
till the end.  So far four different people have told me four different
times that the show will be aired, so who knows.

Bonding with Saiiid
The previous night we spent the entire night at a recording session
with Said at a different studio.  We had to wait around for some time
(I’m beginning to recognize this waiting around thing as a theme here
in Egypt) which was cool  because I had just made a breakthrough in my
Arabic and we had the best conversation!  All in Arabic!  We were
talking about so many things and we realized that we have a lot in
common!  We took turns interviewing each other.  We talked about music,
practicing, family, exercise, food, smoking, traveling, concerts and
all kinds of stuff.  Then he tested me on my new Arabic vocabulary
words.  He told me that having me around is like adding pepper to his
tabla playing!

I sat right next to him in the booth when he recorded the tabla.  He is
such an incredible musician.  I learned so much just from watching him

Oh, get this – whenever Saiid has a gig, there’s this guy that comes
with him JUST TO CARRY HIS DRUMS!  And then the guy waits there for him
for hours JUST SO THAT HE CAN CARRY HIS DRUMS BACK!  Wow – I’d love to
have a guy like that.

Rababa Orchestra
Oh – the other news is that the conductor of the talk show orchestra
(the guy who also played the nai) also conducts a very traditional
orchestra with rababas, muzhirs and dahhol and stuff and he invited me
to come with my rababa this Saturday and sit in!  That should be

Dumbek Girls are Coming!
Today most of the Dumbek Girls Gone Wild in Egypt are arriving –
Marjory and Mariah in the evening and Natalia after midnight. Bashira’s
coming a few days later. Starting tomorrow night we’ll start having
rehearsals with Saiid and his eight piece troupe and the girls!  Saiid
said that Orbit TV is coming to film the first rehearsal and to
interview us and that they will also film the concert!  We just picked
up the fliers and there are posters up around town!  I’m getting so

Tuesday, March 01, 2005


Cairo, February 28

Lesson, Lessons, Lessons!

4 am Jam Session at Saiid's Studio

I’ve just been banished from Rami’s riq lesson- I’ve been taking over
his lessons.  His teacher is way cool – his name is Ashram Isam. He
used to play with his cat Mahumd Hammuda (who’s passed away) and he has
the coolest chops on the riq and on the dumbek!  He showed me this
amazing two finger slap and all this other stuff.  Every time there’s a
pause in the lesson I make him show me stuff on the dumbek (I just
can’t help it) and then we get carried away.  Rami’s getting really
annoyed that I butt into his lessons, so today I’ll try to stay away.

Today is lessons, lessons, lesson! I love it – our teachers come to our
house all  dressed up. Today Ashram is wearing a suit and tie.
Yesterday Fikry my rababa teacher had this snazzy galabeia on.  All day
with have lessons in our luxury apartment and after midnight we go sit
with Saiid until the morning.

Rami's Riq Lesson

I’m listening to Rami’s lesson and his teacher is chanting the rhythm
to him like this: Bom, britak, britak briitak, britak, bra ta
On the dumbek its different – he says, Bom, ripalak, ripalak, ripalak ect.

The lessons are supposed to be one hour but they always last at least
three hours.  Plenty of cigarette and tea breaks. Yesterday my rababa
teacher had to stop the lesson twice in order to pray!  I never know
what to do with myself when all of a sudden he starts prostrating and
praying. Also any time the Moazin starts singing outside to call people
to prayer we have to stop playing.

We’ve been waking up at around 1 or 2pm and spending our afternoons
going over the tapes and videos of our lessons. Yesterday we didn’t
make it out to breakfast until 7:30pm! We’re actually on American time.
 The girls will have no problem adjusting to our schedule.

I’m having intensive rababa lessons every day now because tomorrow I’ll
be filmed playing with my teacher for Egyptian TV, channel one!  It’s
this talk show called Samir Sabry – kindof like Opra Winfry in the
states.  It’s going to be aired Thursday night in Egypt and afterwards
all over the Middle East by satellite.  I’ll try to get someone to
record it.  He said I’ll also be interviewed and I hope I’ll get to
play the dumbek as well.  I guess this Samir guy speaks English well.

Ashram just took a cigarette break and is telling us about Ibrahim
Malfify - the greatest riq player in Egypt who played with Um Kol Tum.
He died in ‘61 and was Ashram’s teacher.

Now the lesson is over and Ashram will play a Mahhmud Hammuda style
solo on the dumbek for us to film! Yay!  By the way, Mahmud Hammuda is
a legendary tabla player who passed away a few years ago.  So far I’ve
met three different great drummers who say, “Mahmud Hammuda was like my
father”.  He must have been quite a personatliy. I wish I had met him.

Ashraf Channeling the Spirit of Mahmud Hamuda

There’s so much new material – I’m a little overwhelmed.

By the way, for those of you who are squeamish about cleanliness in
foreign countries, I’ve been drinking tap water, eating at local dives,
and I’ve never felt better.  Also every bathroom I’ve visited has been
very clean.  From what I’ve heard this is partially due to the strict
Muslim laws on cleanliness. People pray several times a day and must
wash themselves beforehand.

I also discovered the word in Arabic for vegan – its “Siamy”.  I guess
there is a sect of Christians here who become vegan for lent (around
one month) every year, so people really understand the concept when I
use that word. At the same time I discovered that fatira dough is
vegan, so now I can join Rami in his 6am fatira binges every night (the
fatira stand near our house is open 24 hours a day and is very tempting
after entire nights of playing music).

Gotta go practice!

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