A night to remember: The Looperia Project charms Cairo with music with a Sufi twist
If you can make it across Qasr Al-Nil bridge on Thursday night into the grounds of the imposing back-lit structures of the Cairo Opera House complex, the Looperia Project will be regaling those who dare venture out with their“sounds from the depths of Africa.”
As many cultural events are understandably postponed due to the current circumstances, the musicians behind the emerging band Looperia are planning to soldier on to bring their sound, and what guitarist and founder Mohamed Kamal describes as his vision, to as many people as they can, performing outside the Mahmoud Mukhtar Museum.
“I had a dream, I had vision,” said the band’s founder, explaining his desire to combine an eclectic mix of styles from around the world. Kamal’s main focus was on the mix between Sufi music, which he sees as a unique, beautiful and spiritual experience, and African music, in particular the similarly spiritual Gnawa music of Morocco.
The name Looperia represents the band’s spiritual outlook on their project. In some scientifically questionable pronouncements, Kamal links the “infinite looping of the earth and moon”, and the “infinite looping of the Universe”, with the image of the whirling dervish, key to Sufi ideology. The band also makes use of modern technology; significantly, the loop machine, which allows Kamal to record the band’s riffs and play them back during live performances.
The band has moved away from its reliance on electronics as the project has developed since the band’s first performance at Makan last October, and the acquisition of new members including vocalists Mahmoud El-Sagher and Shareen Abdu has allowed the band to develop what drummer Amr Abdel Fattah describes as more humanity.
The final link in the loop that makes up Kamal’s vision is Nabil Sami, a photographer by trade, who projects visual art onto the band while they perform. Sami tries to synchronise between the music and the images. He collects images which explain the band’s spiritual lyrics and improvises his projections onto the band during the show, reacting to the nature of their performance. Kamal sees Sami’s work as adding a unique dimension, guiding the audience’s thoughts and impressions during the performance.
Looperia do not see their project as a part of the mainstream music scene; they are an underground band and proud. “Any commercial music these days, maybe it lasts for two years and then nothing,” Kamal said. Committed to his vision, Kamal doesn’t want to be a passing fad, a footnote on Egypt’s music scene. As percussionist Amr El-Zamaty confirms, they want to be a part of history.
However the underground scene brings its own challenges. Egypt’s uncertain political situation makes surviving as a full time musician difficult, and all the band members, apart fromEl-Zamaty, have other jobs. El-Zamaty struggles to earn a living. “You don’t have concerts like before from day to day,” he said. “It can be cancelled at any time.” In this atmosphere, no one wants to commit to employing and paying a musician.
Looperia have already had a concert cancelled and are finding it hard to stay positive, and keep on composing and playing music as the country around them is rocked by continued political upheaval.
Which is why their gig on Thursday is something special; something of a spiritual Sufirescue remedy for those intrepid enough to make it to the venue. “We want to get our music to as many people as possible,” Kamal said. “It is important to play in these times.”