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SOFAR: Turning Homes into Stages

SceneNoise correspondent Kamila Metwally meets with Alia Megahed - an Egyptian music lover who has brought the secrecy and intimacy of living room gigs to the usually-stuffy Cairo music scene, having started a local chapter of the SOFAR phenomenon...

Sofar Sounds is the curator of secret, intimate gigs in living rooms around the world. They introduce emerging artists to new fans through a magical concert experience that is then shared to music lovers around the world. A groundbreaking concept and an alternative form of live music experience, it seems like a reaction to the existing, out-of-date ways we’re used to enjoying the arts.  

Sofar launched its fist intimate gig in North London in a tiny flat in 2009 as a result of that frustration by the traditional live music experience. Today, Sofar is one of the world’s biggest live music discovery communities, “curating secret, intimate gigs in unique spaces all around the world. Bringing the magic back to live music.” In November alone, around 3 gigs are taking place every day in people’s living rooms, garages, and rooftops across 80 countries in the world.

Sofar can happen anywhere and invites anyone who is a true music lover to attend the event; it is not about who you are, it is simply about enjoying live music in a warm, comfortable and personal setting which allows both listeners and musicians to fully indulge the experience. We sit with Alia Megahed, one of Sofar Egypt’s organisers, to find out how the magic happens in Egyptian living rooms.

So, how did Sofar end up in Cairo?

Last year I attended a Sofarevent in New York and I fell in love with the concept of listening to music in such a friendly, intimate setting. Everyone was respectful and attentive to the artists playing. I felt that it would be really cool to be part of this empowering music community and spread it to Cairo. I then got in touch with Rafe Offer, one of the founders of Sofar, and found him to be a super friendly character was very excited to bring Sofarto Egypt. I then teamed up with Nora El Fargary and Aly Kassem and started organising the amazing Sofar Cairo.

Why private living rooms, garages and intimate acoustic spaces?

Because one of the founders of Sofar started it from a living room! He was actually at a bar in London with his friends listening to Friendly Fires. During the event, the place was loud, everyone was talking, and he just wanted to listen to the music being played live. He was very disappointed, and couldn’t really experience the music, so he offered them to come and play for a small group of people in a friend’s private living room. They enthusiastically accepted the offer to play and this is how it started. SOFAR stands for: Songs from a Living Room.

The global network of Sofar is changing the perception of “live” events and concerts; can you tell us more about the concept and its application in Egypt?

We are not really reinventing the wheel, these types of personal music events have been there for quite a while. We are simply introducing this opportunity to the true music listeners of Egypt, where they can also be part of a growing global music community.

What are the rules?

We have three very simple rules: 1. Come on time and stay until the end; 2. No talking/ texting/moving around during the show and 3. Support all acts that pass through our door.

Apart from the live music events and performances by musicians, do you think you will be curating artists’ talks with contributing acts?

Part of the Sofar experience is that you get to meet and appreciate the musicians in a snug friendly environment, this naturally what happens when you gather people of similar interests in one room.

What’s the vetting process like of the acts you choose? And is there a criterion for your selection?

We don’t have a specific criterion, and don’t stick to a certain genre of music. Our Sofar team scouts for inspiring talents and recommend them to the global Sofar team. From there all musicians and acts go through a screening process that is evaluated by a diverse group that make up our ‘listeners panel’ who will then unanimously evaluate and vote for the authenticity and talent of the artist approved.

Do you need to be a well-established band or musician to play at a Sofar gig?

No you don’t, Sofar is actually known to spotlight emerging artists by introducing them to connectors and new fans.

Which acts/bands have played live in Sofar Egypt?

The first Sofar kicked off with Hisham Saeed and Ahmed Adel, who played Bedouin music, as well as Hany Mustafa, Ahmed Safi, Abdallah Meniawi and Ahmed Saleh. The second gig was special because we were a part of a global listening session with 40 other cities, experiencing Karen O’s unreleased album Crush Songs. This was followed by performances by Abdallah Meniawi and Ahmed Saleh, Shady Ahmed, Nada El Shazly, and the Digital Monkeys who fire-spun outdoors. The third Sofar hosted Aya Metwalli, Rash Radio and The Nour Project.

The intimate acoustic setting of Sofar makes it a very exclusive event for its attendees. How do you curate your guest list?

We don’t curate the guest list. Sofarians are true music listeners who appreciate the music and their artists, and these are the people who we aim to spread the word to.

Did you face a problem of over-application in Egypt?

No, we’ve never faced a major problem. We have been lucky to have a large number of people register, however we are limited by space and can’t accommodate more than a certain number of people per event. 

Where do you get the money from?

Donations! We accept donations from attendees, we usually ask for a 50 EGP donation fee to cover expenses. It’s a free event and based on volunteering, from the artists to the light and location.

In Egypt, is it hard for you to organise a Sofar event in someone’s living room? Did you face any cultural boundaries? 

No problems, except, of course, the disturbance of power cuts! 

A few days after your ‘secret’ and ‘exclusive’ event, you release the music videos of the participating musicians online, spread the word of mouth and make both the event and music ‘available’ and public to practically everyone who has come across a link to a Sofar video. There is somehow a contrast to Sofar’s main proposition, which is organising ‘secretive gigs’ around the world for a limited number of attendees. How would you reflect on that contrast?

The only major “secret” or exclusivity about Sofar is that attendees don’t know the location or who’s performing. A couple of days prior to the event, the location is revealed only to registered members of the Sofar community and the bands are always unannounced. The is no “exclusivity” in the sense of who the guest is, but in the fact that we are limited by deadline and space. Following any Sofar event we share pictures and videos on our social media platforms in order to better share and spread the word about the artists and their music.

In Egypt, Sofar is somehow associated with a privileged class. Your events have taken place amongst the more fortunate people’s living rooms. Do you have any plans to organise secret gigs in living rooms in areas such as Embaba, Shubra or Haram and dig out ‘other’ underground talent?

Sofaris about music. Period. Sofar does not discriminate against classes or talents in any sort. Whether the event took place in Zamalek or in Shobra, Sofar stands for what it is. Sofaris based on people’s word-of-mouth; therefore the Sofarians almost form their own community, without our interference, though we are definitely always interested and looking into new and unique inspirational spaces to host our gigs. We will continue to seek, evaluate and understand how Sofar can better serve the music community in Egypt as a whole and we always welcome any feedback from our fans and musicians.

What’s the process for getting involved as a host, a musician or attendee?

If you want to play, host or volunteer in a Sofar, contact us on cairosofar@gmail.com  If you want to know about our upcoming events, just subscribe to our newsletter through: www.sofarsounds.com, and follow us on Facebook.

 


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