Greetings, readers. I’m currently in Egypt. Earlier this week, this storied Land of the Pharaohs became country no. 25 on my World Karaoke Tour! And I’m here now to tell you how it all went down. I’ve been taking plenty of photos on this 2-week trip that I’m now in the middle of; in upcoming articles I’ll post many of those pictures, and I’ll talk about the stunning historical sights that I’ve been seeing. But the focus today, in my initial dispatch from Egypt, is on my experience of the Egyptian karaoke scene. Priorities! 🙂
Night no. 1: Giza
I’ve actually sung in Egypt on two different evenings so far. My Egyptian karaoke debut occurred on Monday, September 17, 2012 at the Laguna Lounge Cafe & Restaurant in Mohandessin, a neighbourhood in Giza (Giza being internationally renowned as the city in which you’ll find the Great Pyramid and Great Sphinx).
The show was run by Edward, who calls himself the Karaoke MC. He runs karaoke nights throughout the week at various locations in the greater Cairo area. Check out his Facebook page! Here’s Edward in action running his show:
Edward, as well as the folks who were hanging out at the Laguna Lounge, were very nice to me and made me feel welcome. I ordered some chicken parmigiana and then started flipping through the song book. The first song I ever sang in Egypt? Naturally, it was “Walk like an Egyptian” by The Bangles! But despite the groundbreaking nature of that performance, I’m not posting a video of it in this article, for reasons that will soon become apparent.
And now you can watch my performances of two of the other songs that were on my set list at the Laguna Lounge on Monday night. First, here I am singing “Blister in the Sun” by the Violent Femmes:
And here you can watch me that same evening, showing my tender side as I croon “Lady in Red” by Chris DeBurgh:
I’ve noted before that when I go to karaoke in foreign countries, many of the singers will still choose English-language songs. This was not true in Giza, however. During the roughly three and a half hours that I whiled away in the Laguna Lounge, only one other person sang a song in my native tongue. All the other tunes performed that night were in Arabic. Have a look at Edward singing one of them:
Obviously, I’d never heard any of those Arabic songs before. But I found them quite enjoyable and fun to listen to.
When watching the above videos, you may have noticed a conspicuous element of the local culture: most of the attendees were smoking. In particular, they were inhaling from large hookah pipes, known in the local vernacular as hubbly-bubblies. I’m used to the nightlife scene in New York City, where bars and restaurants have been smoke-free since 2003, so breathing inside the Laguna Lounge required an adjustment. 🙂
Another cultural difference was even more profound: in many countries including, of course, the United States, karaoke is strongly associated with the consumption of alcohol. Many people are reluctant to take to the stage until they’ve imbibed some liquid courage. Egypt, however, is a Muslim country, and consequently, many bars and restaurants do not serve alcohol. That was certainly the case at the Laguna Lounge. And yet, the people at Laguna managed to sing just fine. 🙂 And fortunately, I’m quite used to taking the mic without being liquored up, so I wasn’t any more nervous than usual. (Note: There’s no legal prohibition on the sale of alcoholic beverages in Egypt, but in practice, many nightspots do not serve them; you’re more likely to find potent potables at hotels and other venues that are frequented by tourists.)
Night no. 2: Cairo
The following night, Tuesday, September 18, I attended Edward’s show at Moulins Rouge Café & Restaurant in the Zamalek section of Cairo. Zamalek is a swanky district located on Gezira Island, an island in the middle of the Nile River, and it abounds with restaurants, bars, and cafes. Here’s what the Moulins Rouge looks like on the outside:
Despite the name of the establishment and the windmill on the façade, you won’t find any can-can dancing inside this Moulins Rouge. Well, at least not on a Tuesday night. But what you will encounter is one of Edward’s outstanding karaoke shows.
And now we get to the reason why I didn’t post the video of me singing “Walk like an Egyptian” at the Laguna Lounge. The reason is because I did that song again at Moulins Rouge, and this encore presentation went even better! The crowd at Moulins Rouge was enthusiastic in general throughout the evening, and responded well to my homage to their homeland. And so my Tuesday night rendition of The Bangles’ greatest hit is the one that I shall share with you. Here now is a video of me singing “Walk like an Egyptian” in Egypt:
Like I said above, I couldn’t get enough of the Middle Eastern hits that I never have the privilege of hearing back home. Here are some locals at Moulins Rouge, singing an Arabic-language song that I particularly enjoyed:
Incidentally, at Moulins Rouge, as at Laguna Lounge, no alcoholic beverages were available.
Will I manage any additional nights of karaoke in Egypt? Time will tell. If it happens, you’ll read about it here. Either way, there’s much more coverage of my Egyptian adventure to look forward to!
Meanwhile, now that the tally of countries on my World Karaoke Tour has reached 25, I can’t wait to make it to 50!
UPDATE (September 29, 2012): Well, I didn’t make it to any more karaoke nights during the remainder of my roughly two-week sojourn in Egypt. It wasn’t for lack of effort. In Luxor I found an establishment that offered karaoke, but the two nights per week when karaoke was available did not not line up with any of the evenings when my cruise ship was docked in that city’s port. On my last night in Cairo, a Friday night, Edward the Karaoke MC had a show; but the location was at a mall that was about an hour away from my hotel by taxi. That was just a little too far for me. So I went to my hotel’s casino instead, and played some blackjack. I left with more than the amount I started out with.
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