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Al-Ahram Weekly On-line
26 April - 2 May 2001
Sting singing at the pyramids. Two great wonders in one place at one time, writes Nevine Khalil who, needless to say, is a fan
When Sting softly serenades "ya leil, ya leil" in Desert Rose many of his fans can only hold their breath. Which is precisely what they were looking forward to doing last night as Sting's serenade rose "to empty skies above" the pyramids. It is the place where, 20 years ago, he had one of the "greatest" memories of his life. "Riding a stallion by the pyramids in the moonlight. I will never forget that," he told a packed p
photo: Abdel-Hamid Eid
ress conference on Tuesday.
Some 8,000 were expected to attend Sting's live performance at the blockbuster pop concert by the pyramids yesterday, a venue that hosted the likes of Jean-Michel Jarre and Lionel Richie to Cairo.
Since the concert organisers aimed to bring "eastern and western cultures together through music," performers at the mega-gig also included the leading star of Algerian Rai music and Sting's Desert Rose partner Cheb Mami; Egypt's dynamic contemporary folk singer Hakim; and Lebanon's newest pop artist Elissa.
The sponsors of this high profile event also pledged to donate 10 per cent of ticket revenues to the children of Palestine through Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP), a British charity organisation.
Sting said it is "very interesting" to play in the Middle East at such a sensitive time in the region's politics.
"My opinion is that the future lies around the negotiating table in the peace process. I'm not with bulldozers and tanks. And the sooner we get there the better," he urged. He believes that some of his songs "sing very directly about the situation in Palestine in a metaphorical way. It was very moving. I don't take it for granted."
Before Cairo, he was in Amman, where he was "very gratified to see that people knew almost every word, verbatim, and they would sing along with me." Feeling the response to songs he had written over two decades ago made him "very emotional."
Not only does the British artist's 1999 duet with Cheb Mami capture the listener's imagination, it also brings Sting closer to the hearts of his Arab fans when he courts them in their own language. And on Tuesday he came, if anything, even closer, appearing at the press conference clad in a white disdasha (long tunic) and Palestinian kufiya (scarf). He was given the outfit in Jordan where he performed two days earlier, Sting told reporters.
The singer brushed aside concern that he might be criticised for performing at a concert where revenues will be channeled to Palestinians.
"A charity for children can't be criticised," the singer said matter-of-factly. "I am here because I want to be here. I have great joy in singing."
And people will listen. The former lead singer of The Police is one of the most popular and successful solo artists on the world stage. His 1999 album Brand New Day, which featured Desert Rose, went multi-platinum and won Sting two Grammy Awards for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance and Best Pop Album. He was also chosen to be an inductee into the National Academy of Popular Music's Songwriters Hall of Fame this year.
Sting says his message is "intrinsic in my songs and my music", but he told Al-Ahram Weekly that he had "no idea" whether he will compose or write songs for the Palestinian cause any time soon.
Sting's fellow performers underscored the importance of the concert. Egypt's Hakim said that he was delighted to take part in a cultural exchange mixing Egyptian folklore, Algerian Rai, Western music and Lebanese pop. Lebanon's Elissa said that her performance at the concert "is the least I can do for the Palestinian cause."
After being badgered by politically-loaded questions, Sting reminded his inquisitors that his was not the art of politics. "I am a singer. When I have an opinion, I can express it, but my job is to entertain. I don't want to be a politician."
Sting believes that so few artists from the West hold concerts in the Middle East because it is logistically difficult and very expensive to bring over equipment and crew.
"People aren't used to doing it but people like me say you can do it, it's safe, you'll have a good time and people will enjoy your music."
The British artist spoke of other difficulties facing cultural exchange between East and West. He recalled the circumstances surrounding his duet with Cheb Mami, whom he describes as "one of the greatest singers in the world."
"When I gave [Desert Rose] to my record company, I said I want this to be [released as] a single in America. They said we can't get this on the radio because the guy is singing in Arabic. I said I don't care. I want you to do it; and now his voice is very famous."
Cairo brings back "very fond" memories of his days as lead singer with The Police, when the band performed at the American University in Cairo in 1980.
Sting is sure to go home with many more dreams of gardens in the desert sand, after sweetly intoxicating his Arab audience.