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Spring Lessons: Musiksehen Black and White

Note: this post was begun on 03.July 2013, just before Morsi was ousted from power. 

A long while after the last post, and a second Egyptian uprising against the rule of Mohammad Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood happening as I write, a seemingly unrelated post on a Spring Lessons event that will be taking place tomorrow: Musiksehen Schwarzweiss, or Black & White.

The idea was born at the exhibition "Right to Left" curated by EP51 and Uqbar. The exhibition was titled "Arabic and Iranian Visual cultures" and collected works of graphic design by artists from the aforementioned backgrounds. Included, by chance or design, in the exhibition, was a book by Iranian graphic designer Peyman Pourhosein of Studio Khargah. This book revealed to me a visual history of Iranian film in form of posters, vinyl covers, and film stills. Knowing that many films produced before 1979 are banned from screening in the country and connecting the narrative of the Iranian revolution to at the time current events in Egypt, I found my brain, innocent of the backgrounds that surround the history of Egyptian Cinema, turning to it, willing to explore. 


My personal entry point to these films begins with the songs that I have heard sung for much of my life, names of composers, singers and dancers, titles with a dim resonance. Some research, popcorn evenings and many conversations later, two things became clear to me: the state of archiving in Egypt is, at this point, virtually non-existent, making it very hard to access archival material that is either privately owned, partially destroyed or sold to foreign investors. The second journey of discovery was into the past of Egyptian cinema and through it, into the society that gave conceived and nurtured the art for almost a century.

A sentence we keep repeating is that "Egyptian Cinema was made for singing". Tracing the genealogy of the songs and the characters behind them, their biographies, positions in life and politics, romantic twists and turns of lie is an exploration of the modern history of Egypt. The rediscovery of a pluralistic, accepting society, slowly eroded by politics and attempts at the creation of an ethnic identity from Nassers times onwards, delving into representation, views of self and others and the evolving position of women throughout the decades. Hence: Musiksehen Black and White, an sociocultural retrospective on Egyptian musicals and film music.

In what the Taz called "almost escapist" format, we delved into the past, reflecting through it on the current and drawing conclusions for a future. It may seem nostalgic to look back at musicals from a bygone era, but is also an occasion for a deeper sociocultural examination of social mores and topics, censorship, the politics of film. Joseph Fahim is a repository of knowledge, both familiar and obscure, on these topics and was kind enough to share that knowledge with small, but curious and grateful audiences. With a bit of help from friends in Cairo and Berlin, three lecture performances were held, one at the ZKU, as part of the finale of the annual Tandem / Shaml event, at the Fusion Festival and at the TAK.

As events in Egypt unfolded, we cheered the demonstrations on with a unique soundtrack, reporting on current developments between segments. Somewhere in the entre'acte, the current coalition for the salvation of the revolution decided, by the will of the people represented on the street, to declare that Mursi was no longer president and the prosecutor general would be appointed interim leader. At this point, it is not a military coup, rather a ouster supported by representatives of a wide spectrum of the minorities and beliefs in the country.

We celebrated. Both the ending of the first leg of the show and the nonviolent toppling of a dictator, attempting to implement an agenda of religious politics, failing, at every step, to keep his promises. We celebrated history and its integration into current events, a subtle reminder of what is possible. Anna Antonakis guided us through the representation of females in film, showed us roles and attributes, notions of femininity as seen on the silver screen and the internet.

Sama Almasry ended the lecture with a ditty about Morsis omnipresent fingers, now removed from their various pots. We launched into the past, re-imagined. an uprising that does not consider that past to build a future is without basis. To celebrate the latter, while remembering the former, Thomas Friese (aka Dj Tasmo, amongst others), we presented an audiovisual remix of a Mawwal from "Love and Revenge" featuring Asmahane. The first of many, he says, and we hope.

Musiksehen Schwarzweiss Remix one by Tasmo from Thomas Friese on Vimeo.

Set against what is being labelled, schizophrenically, the second Egyptian revolution, a military coup and a repeat of not-so-distant history, this format allowed us to reflect and look forward. It is not the last we hear of Nassers era, as current events echo the past, with war looming on the Sinai, Islamists imprisoned and the Military once again setting the agenda in Egypt. As Musiksehen ends, a tired euphoria came over us, but also the elation of new beginnings and hopes.

The Musiksehen format, contemporary and historical editions, delve into the cultures and thinking that continues to surprise us with turns in the historical plots and the resurfacing of past ideas and aspirations. Through music and videos, emotions and dialogues, they allow the critical eye to find, behind the facade of the glamour of the film and music industry, societies, their discourses, challenges and politics. The films create a world of elites and peasants, working women and transexuals, romance, revenge, revolution. The music narrates distant hearts or nearby ones, sings of generals and aubergines, of piss and power cuts.


The background of the format is a society that continues to evolve. A culture that has rediscovered itself, but also its roots. It is finding a new language in technology and art, new forms of expression and refinement for ideals accompanying its slow development. The unison of the visual, the auditive and the textual in art opens the window onto the intellectual currents and societal discourses, but also into how the personal histories of the figures on the screen relate to those. These figures are also mannequins for the self-image of societies, accidental or intentional archetypes and stereotypes. The Bint-al-Balad (daughter of the country), the Batal (hero), the ra'assa (Bellydancer), the motrib (singer) are figures that continue in Egyptian popular imagination- and political, as evidenced by Sama Almasry, the Ultras, various lyrical political commentators and the women of Egypt.

Maybe it was, on this evening, our escape into these embodied hopes and ideals, into a historical present that cannot be disassociated from the past. I am curious to see where else the format can be taken, if other topics can be explored through the music. But more than that, the developments that will no doubt occur over the coming months, both in the arts and in the societies that surround them, will continue to inspire.


koli ullah said…
Very interesting site. Spring lessons is more enjoyable.Click here: Clipping Path

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