Cairokee tunes caught on camera by Brazilian Filmmakers

Published November 8th, 2015 - 06:00 GMT

How does a couple from Brazil travel the world and end up in Cairo, where they shoot a music video with a leading Egyptian rock band for a song written by a legendary Egyptian poet about Palestine?

Leo Longo and Diana Boccara were working as a television director and producer for various major production companies in Brazil when they decided to use their month-long vacation to take a road trip throughout the southern United States, exploring the musical heritage of cities from Nashville to New Orleans. Upon their return to Brazil, and hungry for more travel, the couple decided to embark on a much longer and more challenging endeavor, combining their wanderlust with a love for music and filmmaking. They sold all of their belongings, including their home, to finance their ambitious new vision.

Thus was born “Around the World in 80 Music Videos,” an independent and collaborative project that aims to shoot eighty music videos with rock bands in twenty different countries all over the world. The music videos are all shot in a single take and premiere every Monday on the project’s YouTube channel, along with a behind-the-scenes video that details the couple’s journey and process.

In a Skype conversation with Muftah, Diana described the concept behind the project, which she calls “the first global series on music videos,” and stressed collaboration as one of the most integral parts of their vision:

"We really wanted to create a new way to work – not work for money but work for something that you can collaborate with and create together, instead of just going to the location and shoot and go home and get paid. To be able to collaborate with more people and create something different and independent, something that was ours…"

"We choose rock bands around the world in every country that we go to, but they’re always bands and artists that we identify with, that we like, that we love the song or love the music or their vibe or their style. Because it’s really important for us to identify with them to create something together. Because the whole idea of the project is to collaborate, is to create music videos, but they’re not ours, they’re not the bands. They’re both. They’re both worlds colliding."

This spirit of collaboration was crucial to their success in Egypt, where they filmed music video #29 (out of thirty-one so far). The duo had been struggling to find a location for the shoot, when an Instagram follower and fan of the project, Mahmoud Khattab of the Instagram account @somewhereincairo, graciously offered to let them use his apartment building. He had no idea they would be collaborating with perhaps the most famous and beloved contemporary Egyptian band, Cairokee – a formerly underground rock group whose songs became emblematic of the Egyptian street and revolutionary sentiment in 2011.

In the immediate post-revolutionary period, the band’s music often lifted popular morale with odes to Tahrir Square and hopeful lyrics about the country’s future. However, Cairokee has also consistently been politically and socially critical, never shying away from the country’s turbulence, corruption, and social ills.

For its music video, Cairokee chose a song entitled “El Khatt Dah Khatty,” or “This Handwriting is Mine,” off of the group’s third album Sekka Shemal, or An Indecent Path – so titled, according to Ahram Online, because it is about “how people find themselves forced to tread an ‘indecent path’ in order to make their way in the country, and how doing what’s right is almost invariably a fruitless endeavour.”

The choice of song is particularly telling, especially now. One of only three songs on the album not written by lead singer Amir Eid, “El Khatt Dah Khatty” is a ballad penned by the late Egyptian “poet of the people” Ahmed Fouad Negm. An unwavering political dissident who spent much of his adult life in and out of prison, Negm’s irreverent poetry delivered scathing critiques of every Egyptian president and Arab regime and reflected the hardships suffered by ordinary people at the hands of the powerful. Though much of his work focused on a distinctly Egyptian context and experience, this particular poem was about Palestine.

The poem was written in 1970, when Negm was serving one of many prison sentences and heard about the events of Black September – in which the Jordanian military expelled the PLO from Jordan – on a transistor radio smuggled to him by prison guards. He funneled his anger, frustration, and sadness into this poem, which reads as follows:

"This is my handwriting,
And these are my words.
cover the paper with tears, oh my eyes,
The olive groves are mine, and the land is Arab.
Its breeze is my breath,
its dust is of my people.
And it would not forget me
Even If I tried to forget.
this is my handwriting,
And these are my words.

"I shall write, oh my eyes,
you are forbidden sleep.
And I shall dim my eyesight with tears all day, until I pay my debt
that is as sacred
As prayer and fasting.
For debt to the free man
Is bitter agony, disgrace,
And worries towing hidden grief.
this is my handwriting,
And these are my words.

"I shall write on my hand,
With my blood as ink,
oh my resolve, don’t fail me, oh my people, do join in.
And when we fulfill our promise
We shall rejoice in the names
of those who died young
In shelled houses and schools,
And those workers buried under the factory’s rubble.
this is my handwriting,
And these are my words."

The words, originally sung by Negm’s creative partner, composer, and singer Sheikh Imam, take on a new form in Cairokee’s soulful rendition, but remain as tragically relevant and poignant as ever. Lead singer Eid told Ahram Online,


"We visited [Negm], only weeks before his death, because we wanted him to listen to the songs, and he loved them. When he listened to El Khatt Dah Khatty, he said it was as if he were hearing it for the first time. He told us he had been feeling that his words had become old and worn out, and that our music had revived them once again. I was truly humbled."

Given the current upsurge of violent attacks in Palestine, and the regularly scheduled attacks on Gaza that leave schools, mosques, and homes demolished, Negm’s reference to “those who died young in shelled houses and schools” still rings heartbreakingly true. Cairokee’s decision to revive these words at this moment in time, to emphasize that “the land is Arab” still, seems, if only symbolically, a message of resilience, defiance, and hope. It is an insistence that this generation, like that of Negm’s, will not forget. At the very least, we will remember our handwriting.

By Sarah Moawad

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