Last night I had the opportunity to see Wust el-Balad a band that, according to Wikipedia, “is considered to be the most successful rock act in Egypt, and the whole Arab world.” I’m not sure if that claim is true, but they’re certainly very popular and often talked about. But I have to say, at the risk of offending thousands (hundreds of thousands?) of nightclub-loving Egyptians, I thought they kind of sucked.
Wust el-Balad sucks? They’re like a Cairo institution! Yeah, I guess. But really they sound like Phish. (Sorry Levi, habibi, you know I love you but even when we hang out I want to listen to anything but Phish.)
Rather than playing Arabic melodies in a modern-rock style, Wust el-Balad played pseudo-Latin rhythms that incidentally had Arabic lyrics. They used cheesy “jazz” breakdowns and gratuitous James-Brown-style-“Can-we-count-it-off?”-moments to prove that they are a “tight” band. The effect, for me at least, was thoroughly unimpressive.
Which isn’t to say I didn’t have a good time. I saw Wust el-Balad at After 8, a popular Cairo nightclub. And I love dancing on top of broken beer bottles in a smoke-filled room as much as any other Oberlin grad. (Which is not to say that the vibe at After 8 was exactly like 16.5 South Main…) But loving a good dance party didn’t make up for the fact that Wust el-Balad was a totally boring, slightly cringe-inducing band.
I’ll give them another try. I probably won’t have a choice. They seem like they might be hard to avoid. But next time I go to see live music in this city I’m going to make sure it’s either Arabic folk music or something at least a little bit edgy. Because I don’t want to pay a hundred pound cover to listen to the Egyptian version of Phish.
If you’re skeptical about my assertion that Wust el-Balad sounds like Phish, I suggest that you watch the two YouTube videos below: