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A Musical Adventure Through Sinai

Seif Bibars sets off on a Sinai adventure, where he plays a DJ set in Nuweiba, attends a Psy-Trance Christmas party in Dahab, and attempts to reach the Rainbow Gathering...

The Sinai Peninsula - the meeting point of two continents - was the only land bridge that connected Africa to Asia prior to the digging of the Suez Canal. It's technically not an island, but is surrounded by sea on all sides. Sinai is a nature haven, with many virgin areas that have not been tarnished by any industrial projects like tourist hotels. Hoteliers in Sinai are usually interested in prime spots like Sharm El-Sheikh, and it would not be profitable for big chain hotels and restaurants to open up shop in towns like Dahab and Nuweiba. In fact, McDonald's tried to open up shop in Dahab, didn't last a month, and closed down. A series of privately owned hotels and camps are scattered along the route from Dahab to Taba, offering affordable lodging and a different experience not offered by your average hotel chain. Sinai, to me, resembles an area lost in time and drenched in history; certain properties don't even have electricity or running water, taking us back in time to an age before technology dictated our lives.

Last week I was invited to play a gig in Nuweiba at a festival that is still in its first edition. Starting my weekend off early, I got on the festival bus on Wednesday night; we arrived Thursday morning after an 11-hour bus ride. I got a hut so close to the water I could hear the waves crashing on the sandy beach of the Ananda Camp. Putting down my luggage, I headed out to sound check as it was around noon and my set was supposed to start in 30 minutes - but there was a problem with the generator that wasn't solved until 8 PM.

I was intended to open the festival with a morning session; after the technical difficulties, that went down the drain and I was now meant to play a normal House/Techno warm-up set. I was scared to go into the set blind without knowing what to play - it's a good thing since the best moments created by any DJ are usually improvised, not planned, but the scariest thing a DJ can encounter is not knowing what to play next. Even though I never prepare my sets completely, I usually do go in knowing which track goes with which, and which sound effect goes best with which track. This time I didn't, and it was awesome; the set itself was really good, and the whole time behind the mixer I was dancing and having fun. The set was great and most of the people enjoyed it - I had started the festival!As I got halfway through my set, the festival was in full force with some people dancing and others doing things in hidden places or in their huts (ahem). People were doing what anybody would do on any day by the beach: eating, sunbathing, drinking, getting stoned. Sinai locals started to arrive when they heard the music and everything seemed to be flowing perfectly. The crowd represented so many different people - foreigners and Egyptians with different backgrounds and personalities all coming to together for one sacred hedonistic goal; no prejudice, no judgement, no misconceptions. A functioning group dynamic was formed and everyone intermingled seamlessly.

As day one drew to a close and the festival was gearing up to start its second half, I had to leave for a Christmas party in Dahab. I found my way to the town of Nuweiba where I hitched a ride to Dahab with a Bedouin and his son. Dahab has a very special place in my heart; it was where I played my first gig, in a club that was once without question the best nightclub in Sinai.

Don't let Dahab's quaint and quiet exterior fool you - the small town can turn extremely rambunctious at times, and usually does, especially during the holidays. This Christmas I was invited to attend a Psy-Trance Christmas party in Dahab. Psy-Trance used to be a series of wobs and squelches played over 144 bpm and persistent kick-drum that would make any man take out a pistol and shoot himself in the nuts. Modern Psy-trance has nothing to do with that; it tries to extinguish the musical Nazi in you with its near-perfect compositions and its bounce-inducing drum kits. It is a bit fast but you are still able to dance to it. The attendants at this Christmas party were all sharing some sort of connection, driving the crowd to a stellar peak.

As the party drew to a close, I excused myself and started to plan my way to the Rainbow Gathering, a gathering of travellers who come together to appreciate nature, somewhere off in the desert.

My first option to get to the Rainbow Gathering was a 30-minute boat ride, followed by a 30-minute 4x4 ride, and finally a 3.5 mile hike. The second option was a 25-mile hike! I chose the latter. I packed my trusty backpack, donned my mountaineer boots, and started heading out, drink in hand. I figured that, since I love hiking and I love drinking, why can't I combine both?

Time of day: 6 AM. I walk out of the hotel and, as soon as the sun hits my face, I feel the wind sucked out of me and I start melting on the sidewalk - it's 37 degrees in December. The sun made me retreat to my bat cave to reassess the situation; I looked at the bed and decided to crash for a few minutes before waking up and going to the Rainbow Gathering. I woke up stumbling, groggy, and confused, with my backpack's death grip making it hard to get up. I look at my watch and realise I only have 12 hours left for my flight; my hopes for making it to Rainbow are destroyed. I feel like I have no purpose in life; there is an emptiness inside me, a void yearning to be filled. So, I head to King Chicken, Dahab’s best chicken place. 

The food certainly made me feel like I’m a human being again. I walked back to my hotel and realised that there was a live concert. Suddenly all my worries departed, and a warm, fuzzy feeling enveloped me as the sounds of SemaZen filled the place. Rawan Risheq, and Atef Malhas make up the sensation that is SemaZen. Risheq's exalted voice comes forth accompanied by instrumentals from Malhas to form a sound that they describe in their own words as “Rainbow music, ritualistic music, family music.” They were joined by the infamous Moose El-Smile on percussions, delivering song after song of pure bliss and joy. Risheq's personality imprints in her music, as she pours her heart and soul into every song she sings. After finishing their performance, SemaZen made their way to the valley where Rainbow Gathering was being held (you know, the one I royally failed to reach). After returning from Rainbow, they are set to perform in Cairo on January 5th, 7th, and 10th at Rooftop, 3elbet Alwan, and Darb 1718 respectively. Go catch them if you know what's good for you.

I was flabbergasted by all the things I did and all the experiences I gained in only three days. I played the opening slot of a new Sinai festival and I attended a Psychedelic Christmas party and a live concert that made my inner feels tingle. I never made it to Rainbow, but I did meet with many people coming and going from the gathering and I saw the effect of such a ritual on those coming back from it - like a sense of clarity has set on them, as if they had, only for a split second, connected with something bigger than us all.