I was invited to go to Egypt and perform in the final concert for the opening of the brand new Alexandria Library in Alexandria. I was in Brazil at the time and when I went to pick up my ticket it was only one way. That made me nervous, because I did not want to get stuck in another country without a return ticket. So before I would get on the first plane I called the guy in Egypt who is also a percussionist, and he promised me he had the return ticket in his hand and that he would give it to me when he picked me up at the airport. Ahemed kept saying "I love you Airto" "I have the ticket right here" Anyway I decided to trust him and I got on the plane. I flew from a small airport to San Paulo Airport and from there I had to fly to Frankfurt where I had a six hour layover. Finally I flew to Cairo, and Ahemed was waiting for me with my ticket.
We first took his car to his house because there was too much traffic at that time to go onto Alexandria. I meet Ahemed's family and his wife, who made me some wonderful food. Then we left around six for our really long drive. It was the straightest road I had ever been on, going through the Sahara desert. Then I saw this huge red globe in the sky and said "Hey! Look at the sun going down!" then Ahemed said "No, that's not the sun, that is the moon". I could not believe it, I had never seen the moon like that. So huge and red.
After a four hour drive we arrived in Alexandria and I was taken to the hotel. It was a great old hotel and finally I had my first good sleep, since I had been in Brazil. In the morning I stepped out onto my balcony and saw the Mediterranean and the streets just packed with people. Camels, donkeys, people and cars going in every direction. There seemed to be no set rules for getting about, it was all "freeform". There were about eight roads meeting at this one point. There were also many great sounds and music. I could practically touch the energy here. I had to go out right away. I started by speaking a little Portuguese, but a lot of people there speak English. They were wonderful people who were very helpful and I bought beautiful fresh fruit, which of course is completely organic. The dates and nuts were heaven! I walked a lot that day, trying to get the feeling.
Later I was picked up and taken to the library for a meeting. Wow! what an incredible building, it is more than a library, it is also a huge museum with part of it being underground. They have a replica of the ancient Alexandria Library right on top of where the original one had been, only it is smaller. From the excavations they had lots of great murals and artifacts displayed throughout the new museum. Everything about this place was created by an artist, it was beautiful wherever you looked.
So I get to the meeting to meet with the head of the art department, a nice young man who was obviously great at what he does, but had no idea what I do. Though I am sure he had some of my music, they did not know what I was going to do.
"So this is what it is going to be, there is a band of 14 Nubians that will dance and play instruments and sing. They are very gentle people who will have their own part of the show. Then there is another group of percussionists from Cairo that will play something they prepared especially for this opening. Then there will be 8 drum sets..."
"8 drum sets? You mean 8 separate kits with 8 drummers?" I asked him.
"Yeah! Counting you."
Then he continued with the rest of the info. " There will be a timpani player, a girl who plays with the symphony, who is well known here and she will play something on her own. Then we also have 5 percussionists from around here who will be involved in the concert."
I realized now that there were about forty people involved with this show and I said that we needed to get organized and figure out how we were going to put this all together. Who would go first and how are we going to get all these people to play together. His response was...
"Well, that's up to you, that's why you are here Airto. Whatever you say they will do it. It is great to have you here, you have two days to put this together. I have a lot to do today so if you will excuse me". Then he left the room.
Well, I just sat there looking at Ahemed across the table and wondered how I was going to do this. It seemed to takeforever to put together but we got all the instruments in one place. The first rehearsal lasted six hours and the second day we rehearsed for ten hours, The third day we rehearsed for about nine hours. Things had started to come together but the sequencing was hard for me to figure out and I was still working it out when they were calling me to go on stage. I needed ten more minutes but they had sold out and everyone was waiting so they were rushing me to get out there. I handed the paper with the order to Ahemed as I walked on stage and told him to make everyone copies.
To open the show I walked around in silence for a really long time until people started to giggle, then I just took it from there. I acted silly and made them laugh for a while and then finally I started to make sounds. They really listened, it was a wonderful audience. Then, when I started to chant they joined it! It was amazing. They clapped and chanted and communicated back. This lasted about 45 minutes until I brought the sound level down and quieter, until it was just silence. Then I bowed and everyone roared and applauded.
Next the seven drummers came out and played very nice. I had divided them into two rhythmic groups and then allowed them each to solo. After the drummers I had the Nubians come out and do their thing, and after about fifteen minutes I joined them. They were becoming more intense the longer they were on stage, screaming,clapping and dancing. Three more percussionist came out to join in, and by the end of their act there were about ten other artists joining in. It went very well! Then we brought out the timpani player. Vida was her name, it means "Life" and she played a wonderful solo. From there the show just went on, we all played together, and I played my tambourine solo and did some chanting. It was a great concert and afterwards we all went to eat. I was so tired and had to get fly home the next day.
When I woke up, Ahemed took me to visit an old Roman amphitheater. It used to seat about a thousand people and was all marble. They used to have sacrifices there, and I saw the places where they kept the Christian's before they were thrown to the lions. It was a bit strange. Then we left and drove to Cairo. I said I have to see the Pyramids and he said OK let's go. So we drove and drove. It is right outside Cairo, but when we got there the people were just coming out and it was closed. I gave it a shot and tried to talk my way in, while Ahemed was trying to convince them that I was a famous television reporter and they had to let me in. None of it worked, but one guy said we could get in if we took the camel road on the other side. He gave us directions and we drove like mad to get there. We passed through tiny little towns with chickens and children and people praying, all the way asking for directions and driving off again. Finally we saw we were on the camel road but it was blocked by camels and we couldn't get passed them. They just looked at us and laughed as Ahemed honked his horn. Eventually they let us pass and we speed off again. Then suddenly there was a man in front of us shouting not to go any further because it would ruin the tires. I said I have to see the pyramids and he told us to pull over and jump over the five foot high wall. He went over first but it was hard for me and Ahemed could not believe we were doing it. It was just sand on the other side and we were running across it, because he said we have to. We saw a man with a camel come over and we were negotiating that when a guard came over and said that night time was falling and that no one should be here at this time.
To recap all the characters 1. Me 2. My friend Ahemed 3. The man who helped us over the wall 4. The camel driver 5. The guard
I started saying how I had to see the pyramid and the guard finally said "OK I will take you". Well this made the others guys all start to yell and argue over who would take us. So I just said don't worry we will all go and I will pay you each something. That fixed everything! We were all happy.
So the camel kneeled and I got on. The camel driver kept saying lean back! But I still almost fell off the front. Wow! and the strange sounds the camel made. By the time I had to get off the camel I had found the thing you are supposed to hang onto so you don't fall off when it sits down. After we all laughed about my getting off the camel I paid the camel driver 50 Egyptian pounds. Well, then the guard and the man who helped us over the wall started to point out how he had done nothing. I laughed and told them not to worry. So the driver left and we all got closer to the pyramids. Then I saw it, The Sphinx. Wow that is magnificent! The guard announced that he wanted to take us someplace special, a place where they were still excavating.
It was like a cemetery, but there was a door with bars in it and I stood on the other side and asked the man to take my picture through the bars. I was horrified when he said what a great picture it would be of me standing on this guys grave! I felt terrible and knelt next to the grave in prayer asking for forgiveness. This gave the two guys helping me some new ideas. "If you like to pray I know a very holy place to pray. The best place! Follow me!" So off we went to a place farther down. It was through a narrow passage and I saw a sacrificed bird. We walked around it. Eventually we came to some metal bars and the guard told me to walk through them and down some dark steps. He said that he would wait there for me. Well it was pitch dark but I did it. I closed my eyes for a while so that my eyes would adjust to the darkness. The vibe was good and it was nice and cool, but the more I looked the more I realized I was amongst tombs. So I said some prayers for these people to be guided and have peace, and I asked for protection. If I was deserving.
It was too dark to go any further so I walked back to where the guard was and told him I was finished. It had started to get dark so they said we should go back another way, but when we got there I saw he wanted me to walk through another cemetery other poor peoples graves. I said I did not want to, but he convinced me to step where he stepped. It only took us five minutes to get back, and when we jumped back over the wall the camel driver was still there with a few other guys who were swearing that they had kept an eye on our car. So I gave the guard his 50 pounds and then another 50 to the guy who protected the car. The poor guy who helped us over the wall and had been with me the whole time was very upset about that, but I gave him 100 pounds and he was happy. We got in the car and started to drive away when I realized that the guy was chasing the car. We stopped and he said he was sorry but he had forgotten to give me back my camera. Finally, we had seen the pyramids and I was ready to fly home. Wow! what a gig