When Myriam Fares met press on June 22, she probably thought it would be another regular pre-concert chat about her show at Morocco's Mawazine Festival the following night.
She was certainly relaxed and full of good cheer and that may, perhaps, explain the slip of the tongue that got Egyptians roiled up on social media a few hours later.
After being reminded by a journalist that Fares used to perform up to three times a week in Egypt during her early years nearly a decade ago, she was asked why her concerts in Egypt has not been as regular of late.
Candid as always, Fares admitted she scaled down her Egyptian touring plans post the revolution because her ensuring stardom during that time made her an unaffordable prospect to Egyptian concert promoters.
“I will be frank. I artistically evolved and my demands grew higher, which makes me a little expensive for Egypt,” she said.
Before she returned to her suite, Fares social media channels blew up with angry Egyptians who criticised her comments.
Singer Ramy Galal took Fares to task on his Instagram: “When my beloved country becomes defamed, I will forget any friendship between us,” he said. “When Egypt’s name is mentioned, you should stand up in respect and in gratitude to the country and people who made you famous.”
Meanwhile, the famed Egyptian concert promoter Waleed Mansour shared an anecdote on his personal Facebook page regarding Fares’s financial demands during those early days.
“Fares used to take $20,000 in her concerts in Egypt, which at that time totalled up to almost LE 140,000,” he said. “This is about how much I pay to rent just one sound system in a concert for Amr Diab, (Mohammed) Hamaki, Tamer Hosny or Sherine.”
Unfazed by the online heat, Fares took to social media on June 23 to clarify her statements even further.
“My response was clear. As time passed I grew and developed artistically and with that my demands grew on the Egyptian organisers I work with – those who I worked with when my career began," she said.
“And this is very realistic. My situation is the same as all the rest of the Arab stars that play two to three concerts per year as opposed to one show a week in our second country Egypt.”
Throwing shade at Egypt’s struggling music scene
You know the Arabic pop scene is going through a strange time when an artist is criticised for asking what their worth.
However, there is more to Fares’s comments than she perhaps thought of at the time. While her phrasing was clumsy, her comments arguably struck a nerve with the Egyptian music industry because it is in the throes of reviving its once thriving live music market. Where the country was once a hive of concerts by the Arab world’s biggest stars, the deteriorating security situation pre- and post-Egyptian revolution made it both a personal and financial risk to hold large-scale concerts.
It was a view that one of Egyptian’s biggest pop-stars, Sherine Abdelwahab, shared with The National back in 2013 at the Mawazine Festival.
She said that her homeland’s revolution and its continued ramifications basically flatlined the local concert scene.
“It makes me very angry, to be honest with you,” she said.
“What is happening in Egypt now I don’t wish on any Arab nation. There is nothing really happening now when it comes to concerts. I rarely play in Egypt and that is sad, as there is no one prepared to invest in such an environment.”
To partly make up the financial hit, Abdelwahab decided to sign on to be a mentor in the first three seasons of the Arabic version of the television talent quest The Voice.
However, stability is slowly being restored throughout Egypt and as a result the music has not died. A growing number of big name Arabic pop-stars, such as Egyptians Amr Diab and Mohammed Mounir, are returning from their overseas bases to either perform or shoot music videos in their homeland.
The scene is slowly reviving
Palestinian singer and former Arab Idol star Mohammed Assaf, recorded the standalone single Aywah Haghani (translated to Yes, I Will Sing) as an Eid present for his Egyptian fans in 2015, when he was the peak of his fame.
The song is a tribute in every way. The track was composed in an Egyptian bubble gum pop style and Assaf's voice managed to sound uncannily like the aforementioned Mounir.
The accompanying video has Assaf walking Cairo’s streets and peering at the Nile River from a bridge, while the interior scenes was done in the traditional Cairo restaurant Kushari Abu Tariq.
In his exclusive interview with The National that year, Assaf said doing an all Egyptian single and video has always been dream of his. “From the beginning this was something that I wanted to do,” he said. “I love the Egyptian people. They gave us so much culture and beauty to the Arab world that I had to do something here.”
The big acts are coming
And international acts are now beginning to join the party. 2019 is already landmark year for Egypt’s concert scene with the US funk crew Red Hot Chilli Peppers performing a giant outdoor gig on March 15 at the mouth of Egypt's Great Pyramid of Giza.
It was only the second concert at the Pyramids in eight years. Where before, the famed site hosted large gigs by the likes of Frank Sinatra in 1970, a 1999 New Year's Eve concert by Jean Michel Jarre and Mariah Carey in 2010, the site was basically shut down for live events due to security risks post revolution.
Ironically, with Myriam Fares an A-list star in her own right and known for her dynamic live show, she could easily attract a great crowd to the Pyramids if the opportunity arises. It is a shame that it may not happen now because she simply asked promoters to pay for a show that her Egyptian fans deserve.