The lesson we should all take away from the Akon concert last Thursday at the Cairo Opera House is the following: Never voluntarily attend a music event which has LE 1,000 tickets for sale; especially when said concert is being hosted in a car park. Save your money and avoid personal injury by using it to buy, say, 167 Mars Bars, or a weekend in Dahab, or as a down payment on a tok tok.
The beautiful people in the LE 1,000 area learnt this lesson the hard way two hours into concert, as the ground suddenly opened up and the podium on which they were royally herded suddenly collapsed, sending guests and furniture tumbling down.
People were reportedly hurt. Preempting the personal injury claims, event organizer/advertising mogul Tarek Nour apparently placed an announcement in Saturday’s El Wafd daily denying that his company had anything to do with the construction of the event’s set.
Meanwhile, Culture Minister Farouk Hosni has taken the incident to the administrative court, launching an investigation into the collapse of the makeshift theater.
While the world was moving in front, LE 150 ticket holders milled around at the back of the car park, in between the Portacabin toilets.
It seemed like years were spent in this wilderness. Teenagers held off the unremitting boredom of it all by break-dancing in groups while this reporter ruminated on whether volunteering to cover a never-ending pop concert held in a car park was a form of Seppuku.
Between 8 and 11:30 pm, we were subjected to DJs Feedo and Ahmed Shaker, who played records and sang insipid Arabic RnB numbers respectively.
They were accompanied by a troupe of female dancers, who occasionally flashed across the giant screens when the latter decided to work.
A giant Amr Diab loomed over the performers on the central screen, like “The Wizard of Oz, as his Pepsi commercials were repeated endlessly.
People in the LE 150 section grew tired of their incarceration and, in a reprise of “The Great Escape, surged across the barrier separating them from the promised land of the LE 250 area ahead. Huge fridge-sized bodyguards – one of whom bore a huge stick – could do nothing to stop them as they sprinted joyously forward to join their LE 250 brethren.
As if in punishment, Lebanese chanteuse Melissa then appeared on stage, in gold lame leggings. Some say that she once had a hit a few summers ago.
By midnight, seatless members of the audience had been on their feet for three and a half hours and there was still no sign of Akon. Nile FM DJs appeared on stage and announced that the reason why we had been kept waiting was that “Akon was stuck in traffic! before preceding to regale the audience and their aching legs with witticisms about how he “should have taken the metro.
“B******T, shouted the crowd.
A strange interlude then followed. What I believe is a Beethoven symphony was played, accompanied by a “dramatic display of dry ice and flames, which again was a throwback to “The Wizard of Oz.
This went on for approximately 15 long minutes.
At about 12:40, a gentleman sporting a mohawk and a tartan skirt which wasn’t actually a kilt bounded on stage, and went through the motions of warming up the crowd, quite successfully, before roaring; “Akon if you in Cairo lemme hear you say something.
“Konvict [sic] Music, a weedy voice said from nowhere. For He had cometh.
Akon and kilt man began their show with great gusto, whipping the crowd into a frenzy of pogoing and arm waving. Akon – who as would subsequently be revealed was lip-synching – churned out all the hits including “Smack That and an interesting adult-themed variation on “I Wanna Love You while he bounded across the stage and threw water at his audience.
Akon – who is Senegalese-American – expressed his pleasure at being “back in Africa amongst “his people. Alas when his people reciprocated this feeling by attempting to mount the stage they were descended on by bodyguards with such enthusiasm that Akon felt compelled to instruct them to “take it easy, yo.
What made this hour or so really tedious is the fact that Akon isn’t a very interesting fellow. His music relies on heavy bass lines accompanied by Akon’s strange semi-falsetto. In between tunes he insisted on enlightening us with his morsels of wisdom (“a man once told him that to succeed in America you need money, power and respect, and I can stand in Cairo and know that I’m not the only person from the Ghetto! ).
Then, as an introduction to his next song, he whittered on about falling in love with a stripper, before taking off his shirt, causing at least one woman to fall over in delight.
Things went wrong from there. Suddenly overcome by the need to stage-dive, Akon did so twice, to the alarm of his bodyguards.
It was then that the fact that Akon was lip-synching was revealed; either that or he has a remarkable ability to project his voice whilst flying through the air without the help of a microphone.
Apparently, spurred on by the success of this endeavor, Akon then declared, “Today we’re one people, one blood, one world and that he was going to cross from the front of the stage to the back of the crowd, on top of our heads.
He called it his ‘bridge of peace,’ and instructed everyone to put their hands up so that they could carry him. “This won’t work unless we all work together, he screeched, while people started working out where the nearest escape exit was.
Off he went, crawling over the hands elevated over people’s heads, like a demented crab. I wondered whether he has some kind of Jesus complex, and this is his version of walking on water.
Halfway through, the surge of the audience caused a wooden lighting rig on which people and equipment had been perched to collapse, sending both toppling on top of other audience members. Akon was unperturbed – despite the fact that people were injured – casually remarking that this bit of the night could be edited out of the film.
As people fled the area, Akon, still pursuing his bridge of peace, could be heard instructing people to “back off before his disembodied voice was eventually heard saying, “help me, help me like a girl.
He eventually parked himself on top of a car, surrounded by stick-wielding bodyguards who waved these weapons at Akon’s adoring fans in order to keep them back, resulting in extensive damage to two cars.
The concert ended abruptly, Akon hurriedly ferried backstage on his bodyguards’ shoulders, leaving destruction in his wake.
As is traditional with large-scale music events in Cairo, Thursday’s concert will be remembered for the shoddiness of its dangerously-bad organization, the extortionate ticket prices, and the profit-driven and meaningless separation of the audience according to how much they are willing to pay.
Akon is complicit in this farce through his late arrival, and decision to carry on with the performance even after he saw people injured by the lighting rig collapse under his very nose. If the media reports are true however this is a singer who – if he doesn’t actually court controversy – often finds himself embroiled in it. One wonders whether the stage antics are a ruse to cover up for the mediocrity of his music.