West El Dayera (In the Middle of the Circle) was the opening song performed by Mounir in a live-streamed concert on YouTube on 29 May, an event which also featured known independent singers and musicians
For several decades now, Mohamed Mounir has carved himself a special place in the hearts of Egyptian listeners, while his fan base goes far beyond his home-country’s borders with concerts staged across the globe.
Mounir has embraced the Nubian musical culture and the Egyptian creative traditions at large since the launch of his career in early 1970s. To many, The King (as his fans refer to the singer) is a household name, speaking to generations and attracting large crowds to his live performances.
With lyrics often based on the work of famous poets, Mounir sings about social and human issues, family and friends, tradition, the country and its people. While doing so, his creative malleability allows him to feel comfortable in small formations as well as with an orchestral setting where the traditional tunes meet a variety of other genres.
Throughout his decades-long career, Mounir released 23 albums while giving frequent performances. Naturally, his fans were concerned when in 2018 he went through surgery and took time off from the stage. In late 2019, he returned with the launch of the album Homeland.
The King’s online concert live-streamed on YouTube on 29 May was one of the opportunities for the fans to reconnect with the singer, a fact which seemed to have come naturally. The concert was a surprise added to the ongoing WE Online Music Festival (3 May – 3 July), whereas the event was announced recently and not within the preliminary line-up.
The concert was an invitation to spend time with the singer and walk with him through the best-known songs in a friendly atmosphere that he aimed to create.
“The best live concert in history” is among the comments posted under the video, which garnered over 200,000 live views, with numbers growing rapidly and doubling six hours later as the listeners continued to watch the concert.
“Just seeing Mohamed Mounir singing makes you forget all the problems of the world, feel good about tomorrow, love all people and overcome any burdens,” Emad Mabrouk, founder of Nowhere Online Music Platform website, wrote on his Facebook page.
A few listeners, however, questioned Mounir’s vocal delivery in the setting provided, and some missed his performances surrounded by crowds, hoping the concerts will be resumed soon.
The online concert opened with a short video presenting Mounir’s musical history, with the narrator stressing that though the time changes, Mounir remains close to the hearts of all of his fans.
Minutes into the concert, The King appears seated on a musician’s high chair as he gives an introduction stressing the importance of taking precautions in the times of coronavirus, pointing to a mask and disinfectant. This thought was reiterated on several occasions throughout the event.
As the music part of the evening began, the first song was West El-Dayera (In the Middle of the Circle) from the 1986 album of the same name.
“We are all inside the circle. None of you are strange to me. We are all gathered in the circle of Mounir’s home, your father, your brother, your son,” he said, referring to the musicians and the audience watching from their homes. “The circle surrounds us, protects us; it is a source of safety. We all live in this circle and together we will pass the burdens that have come with the coronavirus.”
He then goes on to present the musicians, many of whom are the top performers in their respectful fields: Nour Ashour on saxophone (also playing flute), Sherif Nour on keyboards, guitarist Ousso Lotfy, drummer Hazem Abdel-Kadi, bass guitarist Ahmed Nazmi, as well as Zatona, Rozza, Ashraf Saadan and Reda Henkesh on percussions.
“Let me also present three beautiful voices,” Mounir said of the young musicians who joined him in a number of songs: Dina El-Wedidi, Nouran Abutaleb and Ahmed Zizo.
“They are all our hope for the future,” as he moved on to sing West El-Dayera, a 1987 song from the album with the same name, and in which he was joined by El-Wedidi.
Then came his 1981 hit Shababeek (also the album title song), which he sang twice, giving two different colours to the famous track. The first performance relied on a duo created by Mounir and Nouran Abutaleb, performing to the music emerging from Samer George’s bass guitar. Void of the band we are used to, the track became a soothing and musically gentle presentation of Shababeek, with Mounir’s unique timbre and Abutaleb’s pellucid singing tone underlining how “The whole world is windows.”
It was in the second take on Shababeek, accompanied by the band, where Mounir took the listeners back to the original version of the song.
Mounir is best known for many compositions touching on Nubian culture, hence no wonder that while keeping the evening in this spirit, Mounir continued his performance of numerous other compositions that look into the rich Egyptian heritage of traditional music and poetry, among them El Nas Namet (People Slept), Ka’eny Asfour Medala (As If I’m a Flaming Bird).
In its turn, Mounir’s Momken (Possibly) is one of the most interesting tracks in his repertoire, as it naturally invites to musical meanders over the genres’ spectra. With backing vocals of Abutaleb, the musicians were weaving the most delicate threads of jazz into the tune.
In Ya Shams Ghibi Mounir, he invited the three singers, as well as all of his fans watching the concert, to sing along with him. The positive vibes of the performance garnered a few claps from the musicians and video crew at the location; and what was definitely missing was the large audience spirit which adds an important colour to live concerts.
“Thank you, Mounir, that you still want to make us happy despite all that surrounds us. I danced and I sang with you,” Esraa Samak, a Facebook user, wrote following the concert, reflecting the mood of all the listeners watching Mounir from home.
The high spirit continued through a song to which Mounir invited Dina El-Wedidi while saying “this song was composed when you were probably not born yet,” referring to the 1977 Alemony Eineky (Your Eyes Have Taught Me). With lyrics by Abdulrahim Mounsour and music infused with a sparkling pop/jazz upbeat zest by Hany Shenouda, the song is from one of Mounir’s very first albums of the same name.
As the concert was coming to an end, Mounir began his final and highly emotional performance of Hadoota Masreya (An Egyptian Story). The song comes from the second part (1982) of Youssef Chahine’s autobiographical trilogy in which Mounir acted and performed on the soundtrack. Mounir preceded the song by thanking his doctors who helped him recover. As he stood up, he asked the viewers to pay tribute to the martyrs from the Egyptian army and police.
Watch the full concert follow this link https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XZaZTQjA5Nc