Standing before a rapt crowd, Ahmed Adel oozes charm with his passionate performance of an Egyptian classic, evoking a romantic nostalgia for Arabic songs of the past.
After a melodious introduction on the Oud, the famed oriental lute, Adel croons his way through a “Mawal”, a traditional melody boasting long vowels.
“Ya leil” (“O night”), he sings, with the dreamy languor of the original performer, Egyptian legend Mohamed Abdel Wahab.
With cheers of “Allah!”, the mesmerised audience shows its appreciation.
“Modern songs are a hit for a day or two, a month, or maybe a year, but then we do not hear about them any more.
“But Abdel Wahab and (Egyptian diva) Umm Kulthum have lasted until today,” said Adel, before his performance in the tiny Mamluk-era hall at the Arab Music Institute.
Egypt, a cultural powerhouse in the Arab world, has long enjoyed a booming music industry.
In the past, the rise of revered singers, such as Umm Kulthum, Abdel Wahab and another Egyptian Abdel Halim Hafiz among others, saw Cairo billed as the Hollywood of Arab song, attracting talent from across the region.
But in the 1990s, Gulf countries vying for cultural dominance emerged as rivals to Egypt’s music industry, and Rotana, the Arab world’s largest record label, was formed in 1987.
The company is currently owned by businessman and Saudi prince, Al Walid bin Talal.
The 2011 uprising in Egypt that plunged the country into political and economic chaos also saw a downturn in the domestic music industry.
Yet the Egyptian metropolis remains alive with the sound of music.
Every day, in local cafes and homes the melancholic songs of Syrian-born star Asmahan and the tender rhythmic melodies of Egyptian singer Najat al-Saghira mix with animated conversations, modern pop music and Islamic chants.
Torn between stage fright and joy, Adel performs regularly at the Arab Music Institute paying tribute to his music idols.
During events such as the “Khulthumiat” (the music of Umm Kulthum) or “Wahabiyat” (the music of Abdel Wahab), organised by the 100-year old institute, Adel is often the lead singer with an entire troupe from the Cairo Opera House accompanying his powerful vocals.
“These events are very successful,” said Jihan Morsi, the seminal director of the opera’s Oriental Music department.
And to soar above Cairo’s 24-hour cacophony, she doesn’t just look to golden oldies.
“I bring (pop stars like) Angham, Saber El-Robai, Wael Jassar. They are beautiful voices that have an audience among the youth,” said Morsi.
Music production companies are also seeking to preserve the country’s music heritage through younger generations.
Sawt al-Qahira, or Sono Cairo, a historic record company, is betting on the internet despite financial setbacks and ongoing legal battles over the copyright to Umm Kulthum songs.
Known as the “Star of the Orient,” Umm Kulthum’s voice is still considered the Arab world’s finest, more than four decades after her death.
And with its wide variety of classics, the record label has struck deals with YouTube and other mobile application companies to keep this heritage alive.
Younger generations have also shown a renewed interest in the classics thanks to popular televised talent shows.
“Arab Idol, The Voice and others show people singing old songs,” said Doaa Mamdouh, the company’s internet services head, adding this has prompted many fans to dig out the original versions.
Classic black and white music video clips struggle, however, to compete against today’s torrent of slick, ultra-modern videos.
Rising artists from such places as Lebanon, Morocco and the United Arab Emirates harness millions of views on YouTube, usually singing in their own dialects.
Egypt’s music scene remains vibrant, including electro Shaabi music, an exuberant popular blend seen by purists as too raucous.
And there is a new genre known as alternative, or “underground”, which has emerged in recent years.
The band Massar Egbari, which roughly translates as Compulsory Detour, rose to fame with a relaxed style of rock and a distinctive performance of classics, such as by Sayed Darwish often called “the father of modern Arab music”.
Although the rock stars say they are influenced by classics, they don’t want to live in the past.
“Nowadays you can record something at home at a low cost,” said bassist Ahmed Hafiz. “After every era, something new appears, these are phases.”
The band, whose style its guitarist and vocalist Hani el-Dakkak describes as a blend of Sayed Darwish and rock band Pink Floyd, is also trying to distinguish itself through its message.
“We try in our lyrics to talk about social problems or things that nobody else will speak about,” said el-Dakkak.
Iddris Sandu, the 21-year-old expert behind Instagram, Snapchat and Uber
At the age of 10, Sandu began to learn the ropes of Programming independently at a public Library
During his days in high school, 16-year-old Iddris Sandu created a mobile software that caught the attention of the U.S Former President Barack Obama. This got him an invitation to the White House where the honorary Presidential scholar award was bestowed upon him. The 21-year-old talented guru who is currently based in Los Angeles has completed many phenomenal feats, one of which includes building algorithms for Uber, Instagram and Snapchat which has given them the repute they have today.
At the age of 10, Sandu began to learn the ropes of Programming independently at a public Library for a period of two years. It was there he got an internship offer from a designer who worked at Google at the company’s headquarters. He had his first encounter with programming at the age of 13, alongside the first-ever Google Blogger, Google Plus and a host of others. Sandu was still determined to affect the world around him positively and at age 15, he built an app that students at his high school used to get directions to their classrooms.
He considers himself a cultural architect and aims to create a level playing ground between Silicon Valley and the younger generation of colour. He was given birth to and raised in Harbor City, California by his Ghanaian parents. He recalls an unforgettable and mortifying experience he had at the age of 8, while on a trip to Ghana with his dad during an interview with Oxford University’s Music and Style Magazine.
He revealed that on the fourth day of the trip, he abandoned him in a village, took his passport and came back to the States. He further added how he was abandoned and was only able to get in contact with an NGO after almost nine months, it was with the help of this NGO that he was able to travel back home. It was on his return to the U.S that the first-ever iPhone was unveiled and this propelled his journey into the world of technology.
According to him, he was greatly inspired and thought – this device is going to change the world. The iPhone was so highly regarded because for the first-time regular consumers developed for other consumers. He explained that in earlier times, you had to have work experience for a few years at a tech company for your offer or input to tech or creation of an app to be regarded at all. Apple conquered that problem and he knew that was the future.
Sandu gained recognition far and wide inadvertently from this. It led to him being invited to a meeting with former President Obama. During this period, he wrote an algorithm that he sold to Instagram and later became a consultant to Snapchat and Uber respectively. He created for Uber, an Autonomous Collision Detection Interface software for self-driving cars. He left big companies in the tech industry with the purpose of bridging the gap between the ignorant and knowledgeable. He further went on to the need for invention and creativity among youngsters like himself.
Sandu believes that information is one of the various things that keep people divided. You must think on a more advanced level in order to become a creator rather than a consumer. He posits that people of colour, in particular, are more likely to be consumers than creators; he further went on to say it is hard to make a difference in the society when you are a consumer rather than a creator.
Sandu says he has been trying to change the narrative and he has experienced some success doing this. Upon meeting the late rapper Nipsey Hussle at a local Starbucks in 2017, Sandu and Nipsey were able to transform an abandoned store into the Marathon Clothing Store. All these happened while Sandu encouraged the study of STEM subjects in schools and at higher levels. According to The New York Times, the smart store offers exclusive music and other content to customers who have downloaded an app. The store drew its overall makeup from Nipsey’s cultural influences and Sandu’s solid background of tech and design. It attracted many big cultural icons such as Russell Westbrook, Vegas Jones of Roc Nation, among others along with many journalists.
In an interview with CNBC, Sandu said the store has helped him bridge the gap between culture and technology, and would love others to do the same. During the interview, Sandu expressed that we are in the digital age and we are constantly exposed to content instantaneously. He also said that more focus and attention should be placed on the more pressing issues affecting society and capitalize on that.
CNBC gathered the information that the genius is set to partner with Kanye West and Jaden Smith on some future businesses, clothing lines and disaster relief projects in 2019. Sandu has also partnered with Kanye West after he succeeded at creating his own music album whose sonics and instrumentals were created in just 3 days. Sandu is also working on a book that will discuss innovators such as Kanye West; Robi Reed, a casting director; and Edward Enninful, the editor of British Vogue.
Sandu is undoubtedly on his way to becoming a leader for the next generation of influencers and entrepreneurs; considering his passion to use all his connections to empower young people in America and to make a positive impact on the community around him.
Ethiopian youths “pimp out” jalopy Beetles to revive auto culture
Beetles became a common sight in Addis Ababa under former Emperor, Haile Selassie
When Robel Wolde bought a beat-up 1967 Volkswagen Beetle from a friend for 50,000 Br Ethiopian, it marked the start of an extensive restoration he’d plotted for years.
The 25-year-old Ethiopian painter quickly went to work.
He installed new grey leather seats, applied black stripes and decals along the orange-and-blue exterior and hired a metalworker to fit oversized headlights to the front bumper.
Two months and an additional $1,000 later, Robel’s vision was complete.
And with that, he joined the growing number of young Ethiopian drivers giving the Beetle — which has long occupied a hallowed position in the nation’s car culture — a 21st-century upgrade.
Some of this restoration work is inspired by shows like the old MTV hit “Pimp My Ride” — “pimped out”, American slang for customised vehicles, has been adopted in Addis Ababa.
But love for the Beetle in Ethiopia goes back decades and is rooted in both economics and nostalgia.
Volkswagen is hoping to capitalise on this goodwill. In January, it signed a memorandum of understanding with the Ethiopian government to set up a domestic auto industry, including an assembly plant.
Regardless of what comes of this project, Robel says the Beetle’s popularity will endure.
“Most of the time, Beetles are driven by old people,” he said, leaning on the bonnet of his car near one of Addis’ busier roundabouts.
“But when they are custom and pimped like this, they are a fashion statement for young people.”
The ‘car for everyone’ –
Initially developed in Nazi Germany as an instrument of propaganda, the origins of the Volkswagen Beetle “people’s car” date back to 1938.
Beetles became a common sight in Addis Ababa under former Emperor, Haile Selassie, who ruled for more than four decades beginning in 1930.
In 1974, when the communist Derg regime removed him from power, Haile Selassie was famously forced to duck into a Beetle before being escorted away from his palace.
Decades later, Beetles remain ubiquitous, in part because exorbitant taxes make buying new cars impossible for many.
Yet, it’s clear that the cars also have sentimental value.
When the Ethiopian-American novelist Maaza Mengiste sees one, she says she is reminded of the pale blue Beetle her grandfather drove — the same car that took her to the airport when she left the country as a young girl not long after the Derg came to power.
“I associate that car with Ethiopia, with growing up there and all the happy memories I have,” she told reporters.
Last year, Mengiste started posting pictures of Beetles on Twitter, using the hashtag #BeetleEthiopia.
Ever since, Ethiopians from a range of backgrounds have been posting photos of their own, sometimes offering equally personal memories.
“There was something about a Volkswagen that cut through social lines,” Mengiste said.
“It was a car for everyone. You could be looking for some form of stability, and you would manage to buy a Volkswagen and that was your step into an upwardly mobile but not extravagant social class.”
‘I pimp all of it’ –
Like Mengiste, Kaleb Teshome, a 29-year-old mechanic, has been riding in Beetles all his life.
For decades, his family has owned a garage that specialises in fixing up the cars.
Now, Kaleb works alongside his father at the garage, where more than a dozen Beetles compete for space on a tiny dirt lot, with others lining the nearby road.
Many of the Beetles have been brought in for standard tune-ups.
But every few months, Kaleb is asked to do the kind of custom work worthy of “Pimp My Ride,” a show he still watches online even though it was cancelled more than a decade ago.
“I’ve known the cars since my childhood. I know what they need,” he said.
“It could be paintwork. It could be big tyres. It could be a sound system. I pimp all of it.”
One recent morning, he showed reporters his own “pimped-out” Beetle, a shiny green-and-black 1972 model with massive tyres that would look more at home on a truck.
“When I drive it on the street,” he said, “even people who drive luxurious cars say ‘Wow.'”
‘Part of history’ –
Whether “pimped-out” or not, the Beetles of Addis Ababa seem destined to become collectors’ items.
In July, Volkswagen marked the end of the Beetle’s around eight-decade run by launching a limited, 65-unit “Beetle Final Edition” at its factory in Puebla, Mexico.
For Robel, the painter, the news was further validation of the investment he’d made in his own car.
“If production of the Beetles has stopped, that means we have a treasure,” he said.
“They will become part of history. That is their fate, so I think I am lucky. Even if I get a really good offer, I don’t think I will sell.”
Discovery of ancient skull in Ethiopia unearths new clues on human evolution
The skull, known as “MRD”, was discovered not far from the younger Lucy — the ancient ancestor of modern humans
A “remarkably complete” 3.8-million-year-old skull of an early human has been unearthed in Ethiopia, scientists announced Wednesday, a discovery that has the potential to alter our understanding of human evolution.
The skull, known as “MRD”, was discovered not far from the younger Lucy — the ancient ancestor of modern humans — and shows that the two species may have co-existed for about 100,000 years.
“This skull is one of the most complete fossils of hominids more than 3 million years old,” said Yohannes Haile-Selassie, the renowned Ethiopian paleoanthropologist of the Cleveland Museum of Natural History who is a co-author of two studies published Wednesday in the journal Nature.
It “looks set to become another celebrated icon of human evolution,” joining the ranks of other high-profile hominid findings, Fred Spoor of the Natural History Museum of London wrote in a commentary accompanying the studies.
“Toumai” (of the species Sahelanthropus tchadensis) is around 7 million years old and is considered by some paleontologists to be the first representative of the human lineage. It was discovered in Chad in 2001.
Ardi (for Ardipithecus ramidus, another species of hominid) was found in Ethiopia in 1994 and is believed to be around 4.5 million years old.
And Lucy, the famous Australopithecus afarensis, was discovered in Ethiopia in 1974 and is 3.2 million years old.
Australopithecus afarensis is one of the longest-lived and most studied early human species.
The new skull, MRD, belongs to the species Australopithecus anamensis.
Discovered in February 2016 at the site of Woranso-Mille, just 55 kilometres from where Lucy was found in the Afar region of northeastern Ethiopia, MRD offers “the first glimpse of the face of Lucy’s ancestor,” according to a statement announcing the finding.
Other lesser-known Australopithecus fossils date back at least 3.9 million years, but they featured only jaws and teeth. Without the skull, scientists’ understanding of the evolution of these extinct hominids has remained limited.
‘Dream come true’-
The finding challenges a previously held belief about how humans evolved.
“We thought A. anamensis (MRD) was gradually turning into A. afarensis (Lucy) over time,” said Stephanie Melillo of the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany, a co-author of the Nature studies.
But MRD reveals that the two species co-existed for about 100,000 years, the scientists said.
“This is a game-changer in our understanding of human evolution during the Pliocene,” Haile-Selassie said.
Melillo agreed, saying it also raised new questions like whether the species competed for space or food.
Though small, the skull has been determined to be that of an adult. Facial reconstructions show a hominid with cheekbones projected forward, a prominent jaw, a flat nose and a narrow forehead.
To the researchers’ surprise, the skull represents a mixture of characteristics of Sahelanthropus like “Toumai” and Ardipithecus like “Ardi” as well as more recent species.
“Until now, there was a big gap between the oldest human ancestors, which are about 6 million years old, and species like ‘Lucy’, which are two to three million years old,” said Melillo. But MRD “links the morphological space between these two groups,” she added.
At a press conference in Addis Ababa on Wednesday, Haile-Selassie described how Ali Bereino, a “local guy” from Afar, found the jaw of MRD and immediately brought it to Haile-Selassie’s attention.
The cranium was soon found nearby, and workers spent days sifting through earth that was “1 per cent dirt and 99 per cent goat poop”, Haile-Selassie said.
“People were not disgusted by it… but some of them of course had to cover their faces because the smell was so bad,” he said.
It was a small price to pay for the discovery of such a complete specimen, he said.
“I did not believe my eyes when I saw the rest of the skull,” recalled Haile-Selassie, who described the discovery as “a eureka moment and a dream come true”.
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