and Cheb Khaled
by Mark Kraft
Khaled and Hakim played at a rather large, somewhat old concert facility that was part of a high school in Berkeley. It was a zoo getting our tickets at Will Call... the line was very long! (3000 people arriving 30 minutes before the concert trying to get their tickets from a half-dozen workers..) As a result, the concert was somewhat delayed and commenced even as people were still funneling in.
who is perhaps Egypt's most dynamic pop performer. Soon, practically everyone was on his feet, dancing in celebration to "El Ha'e Aleeh". Women and a few men from the audience came on stage and danced enthusiastically and alluringly to the band.
It was refreshing to see the diversity of the people who were at the show... most were of Arabic background, but most people probably don't truly understand how diverse that can be until they see it for themselves. (They think of everyone as either a generic American or, if it fits their preconceptions, they think of them as Arab. They rarely think of them as Arab Americans.) As one woman said while waiting in line to her friend "So, he looked at me and asked me where I came from. Are you Italian? No? Are you Portuguese? No. Greek? Are you an American?"
The crowd, as I said, was diverse. There were those who looked Caucasian, who looked Slavic, who looked Mediterranean, who looked French or Spanish. There were Black Arabs who switched between French, English, and Arabic effortlessly. There were lesbians who had that Berkeley/San Francisco geek chic... some who were dressed Butch. There were effeminate bois dressed in house gear smiling, kissing, and dancing with their friends. There were middle-aged women and men dressed formally, yet sometimes dancing in the aisles themselves. There were younger women who wore Levis and blouses who really knew how to move their hips. There were guys who work slacks and shirts who also really knew how to move their hips. There were packs of timid women wearing open-faced khimars (a head scarf) smiling broadly like young teenagers at their first concert. There were a few women wearing the full veil, but not many.
If I were to make one generalization about the crowd, it would be that they loved their cell phones. Lots of people were meeting up with friends and using their cell phones to locate each other amidst the crowd.
In the middle of Hakim's performance, the house lights came on and DJ Cheb i Sabaah, the promoter for the event, announced that fire codes required that people take their seats. Most did, very reluctantly, though there was a lot of booing... not against the promoter, but against the city that is charged with public safety, and, I think to some extent against that part of American society that really does feel the need to make people generic and controlled.
After Hakim, Cheb i Sabaah deejayed during the change between acts, mixing Arabic music and breakbeats seamlessly together in a way that got everyone moving again. (Where does he get his stuff? I want his music collection, but I'd settle for a playlist!) Cheb i Sabaah is really impressive... but then again, he's been spinning his particular mix of world music in the Bay Area for over a decade. We picked up his CD "Maha Maya" which is a really nice thing indeed, comparing favorably to other artists like Banco de Gaia, while being more organic and interesting. We're definitely going to have to go up to S.F. at his regular club night and see him spin live.
Khaled came on after the intermission and was...well... pretty darned impressive, with an incredible voice and a really wide repertoire. It was interesting to notice all the outside elements of music that were in the performances that night... ska, reggae, soul, rock, French cabaret, jazz, house, drum 'n' bass, etc. Listening to him live was far preferable to hearing most of his recorded work, and revealed more depth than even the recordings would indicate. My favorite songs, however, were the more lyrical pieces that highlighted his incredible vocal talents. Amazing!
In short, it was a very good concert indeed. The concert wasn't a repackaging of Arabic music for western audiences, but a revealing look at Arabic music today and an indicator of how exciting the possibilities are when cultures share influences, yet retain their individuality.
Have a comment? Send us a letter!
Ready for more?
Drum Solo Choreography Video, Volume 1
and I By Thania
the Legends" The John F. Kennedy for the Performing Art presents