Posted on 20/11/2017 by Kay Taylor

Following a Dream

Following a dream….. By Kay Taylor

I came across this article I wrote a few years ago …. and relived the nightmare / excitement of the whole thing.

Promoting tours and organising events is the same all over the world.  A lot of hard work and very stressful.  I have organised successful events in the UK for many years but when I discussed the idea of the Farha Tour with Yasmina, I had no idea what I was getting into.  Sometimes ignorance is bliss.  If I had had any idea of the enormity of the task, I am sure I would have thought twice about doing it.  It is in my nature to charge ahead and do things then realise the consequences later!

The dance scene in the UK has exploded over the last seven or eight years.  There are many folks teaching that have never been to, what I consider, the ‘source’ of belly dance.  This means many watered down, ‘UK’ versions of things going on. Not necessarily wrong but different.  I felt people should have access to some reference points & if they never travel to somewhere like Cairo, how will they know the difference between the professional standards set there and a student hafla in the UK?

In March 2005, I organised my first Farha Tour.  This brought together the professional musicians of Fer’et el Negoum led by singer Safaa Farid, our Tannoura, Sayed Amar, folkloric dancer and one of the principal dancers in the Reda troupe, Mohamed Kazafy & oriental dancers Yasmina of Cairo, Dandesh & Aida Nour.  What a line up!  A huge success with rave reviews, it was unfortunately a financial disaster for me personally.  It took me 6 months to recover and get over the nightmares then, undeterred, I started making plans for the next one.

I wanted Randa Kamel as my Egyptian star.  If you have never seen Randa, you should.  She is fantastic – an incredible dancer with powerful technique and a dramatic presence.  Yasmina was already on board & helped greatly with negotiations, following up things when I was in the UK & translating as required.  Randa agreed to come and join the tour.  I was happy – I could start the publicity.  Having learnt so much from the first tour, I knew this one would be so much better organised.  And, Insh’allah, make some money!

I applied for work permits – always an unknown quantity!  I contacted theatres, booked hotels & chased up work permits.  I paid deposits for theatres & sent more information requested by work permits.  I paid for flights for 13 people – all still with no guarantee of getting work permits to bring them into the UK.  Fortunately I do not have a nervous disposition – but even so, it caused a few nightmares.  3 weeks before the tour was due to start, having already paid out £10,000, you can imagine my relief when the work permits arrived.  Everything would be fine …. I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

Members of the Farha Tour flew into Glasgow, Scotland on a dark, wet and windy day.  Forewarned, they were all wrapped up.  Randa had recently returned from Finland and was well equipped with winter boots, hat and coat.  Unfortunately, not all of the instruments arrived – we were missing a tabla and the keyboard.  The tabla arrived later the same evening and we were assured the keyboard would follow the next morning.  It didn’t.  We spent hours trying to track it down.  Rehearsals went ahead without it and, two hours before the show was due to start, it arrived.  Elation turned to devastation as Ashraf plugged it in and it didn’t work. He asked for screwdrivers.  Once supplied, all the musicians helped, gathering round the keyboard, unscrewing the base and, all intent on getting it working, fiddled around with wires inside – until it worked.  Elhamdulilah!  We were in business.

The artistic content of the show, I leave to the artists.  Yasmina generally runs some ideas past me but I trust their judgement in it.  This means that the show is generally a surprise to me.  We were all thrown in the deep end a bit – lack of keyboard, less time for rehearsals, the logistics of the venue.  The dressing rooms were on a different floor so quick costume changes were difficult.  Though we had our own sound technician, Richard, with us, I had decided to rely on the in house technician to do our lights.  Unfortunately this is not how the venue understood it.  I had to quickly learn the basics of lights.  I knew how I wanted the show to look – and had instructed lighting technicians on the last tour – but had never actually been in charge of a lighting board before!  I gave Clare, one of my students and tour manager of logistics a choice.  Did she want to become lighting technician for the night and be able to see the show – or would she rather I did the lights and she was back stage helping with costume changes & in charge of the running order.  She opted to do the lights – so I was backstage and saw nothing.

For a first night, it all ran smoothly after the initial problems.  The audience loved it.  The Glasgow girls who were hosting the show did a fab job and it was a sell out.  We went on to a local Middle Eastern café after the show for something to eat.  Scotland is no smoking anywhere in indoor public places.   Not good for a bunch of Egyptians – most of whom were smokers.  It meant the band spent a lot of time outside despite the bitter cold.  Even the hotel rooms were no smoking – though I feel this was not taken too seriously.  They really enjoyed the show – but were pleased the next gig was in England where smoking is still allowed!  I had to warn them though, in 2007 England too is due to become ‘no smoking’.

In the morning I drove to Newcastle with Richard so we could get to the venue and set up the sound equipment in advance.  It was just as well we went ahead.  The bus couldn’t find the hotel so they were an hour late setting off.  Then the hotel rang to say they had left behind an oud and some electronic equipment so the bus had to go back and set off again.  Instead of arriving in Newcastle at 3pm to have a leisurely start, it was 5.30pm.  They booked in their rooms then had to go directly to the venue for a sound check – then they were on.

The show started.  The band went on stage to do their opening number to a huge round of applause.  Then into Yasminas first set.  It was at this point that I realised we didn’t have a shisha for her second set.  Yasmina intended to bring one from Cairo and forgot.  The Glasgow girls had sourced one for the gig there – but it had been returned to it’s owner. F**k!!!!  It was for a tableau set in an Ahwa (café).  Yasmina was insistent she had to have one.  I sent two folks off to a local restaurant to borrow one.  Yasmina came off stage to get changed and I put the show in a holding pattern.  Hebba, our baladi singer, did an extra song to fill time.  As I suspected, Yasmina refused to start without it.  A shisha is an integral part of an Egyptian Ahwa.  Safaa sang again and then my guys were back with shisha.  (Good news – the restaurant had said we could use it for the rest of the tour.)  It meant the show ran over – but no one seemed to mind.

We also filmed the Newcastle show.  Randa had insisted on a hairdresser at each venue.  It was the one night that Randa didn’t like her hair!  I was in fear of her refusing to be filmed.  But she was completely professional and put on an excellent show which is now available on DVD!  – Sold out now.

The next morning we set off to Southport.  As we were loading the bus, the borrowed shisha got dropped and smashed!  Back to square one.  I rang ahead to Southport and arranged for Anne to locate one there.  As ever, the journey took longer than planned so we went direct to the theatre.  It is a gorgeous Victorian theatre – old and plush.  A 450 seater and the show was sold out.  Unbelievably, the changing rooms were down 2 floors – I felt for the dancers having to run up and down to change.  While the band were checking the sound on stage, I was amazed to find Randa, Kazafy and Hebba laid out on the dressing room tables, apparently fast asleep.  Randa told me that she learnt to sleep anywhere when she travelled with the Reda Troupe.  Even more bizarre – she and Kazafy recognised Southport – they had been before when they both danced with the Reda Troupe – what a co-incidence.  I had never been to Southport before – it was a first for me!

It was a fab show, getting tighter and more together all the time.  Because of the distance from the dressing rooms, we had to stretch the numbers in-between costume changes a bit to give dancers the chance to get there and back.  The audience were great.  In Southport, our Tannoura, Sayed Amar, went down particularly well.  They had never seen anything like his whirling dervish act before.  Part of what makes the Farha tour so special is the mix of oriental, folklore & traditional dance.  In the UK it is rare to see male dancers within the world of belly dance.  To have Mohamed Kazafy with his strong saidi & playful semsamiya not to mention his fabulous duet with Yasmina was just a joy to watch.  But also to have Sayed Amar, professional Tannoura, whirling dervish, was spectacular bringing a whole new dimension to the show.

We packed up after the show and headed to the aptly named ‘Nile Hotel’.  It was run by a Moroccan couple who were delighted to host the artists from the show.  They were completely full – with us and dancers who had travelled to see the show.  So happy that they put an after show party on for us.  We arrived, exhausted, to loud music blaring out to the point of distortion.  The whole experience had a very ‘down town Cairo’ feel to it.  Our hosts were ready to party all night.  Kazafy and Randa turned out to be real party animals and, much to the delight of the other guests, boogied till the early hours.  I don’t believe our hosts went to bed at all!  They stayed up dancing and chatting till the last guests went to bed then cleared up, got ready for breakfast and waited until we had left before collapsing themselves.

The bus was definitely very quiet on the journey to London as everyone tried to catch up on their beauty sleep.  2 nights in the same theatre to look forward to – sheer luxury.  From an organisers perspective, good and bad.  Good that we didn’t have to travel.  Bad because London is so expensive.   By now, the show was running itself – we all knew what was happening and, if not quite seamless, there were no major problems.  Or so I thought.  It is always dangerous to become complacent!  Richard did a good job with the sound with conflicting directions from the band.  Tabla player Youssry was developing blisters from playing so hard as he couldn’t hear himself in the monitors.  Accordion player, Reda, had nearly sprained his wrist for the same reason.  Richard said that one of the band members had told him to change the mix in the monitors so he had.  It caused a few harsh words but Safaa placated everyone and Richard changed the mix in the monitors – all was well again.

We had an in house lighting technician, Nadine, who I directed from back stage on the cans.  Everything was running smoothly when Yasminas son, Azz, decided to have a tantrum back stage.  She was due to go on for her last set.  Up until now, we had had babysitters at each gig.  For some reason we didn’t have one the first night in London.  There was no one else to do anything.  ‘Have to go – just do what you think looks good’, I told Nadine as I threw the earphones down.  I grabbed Azz who was starting to scream, clinging onto his mother, ripped him away from her and took him out to the foyer.  He was beyond reason and screaming so loud I was sure they would hear him in the auditorium.  I took him outside and tried to talk soothingly to him.  I decided many years ago that I didn’t want children.  I am not particularly good with them and, so far as I was concerned, this was not part of the deal!  I managed to hand him over to Clare and headed back stage in time for the interval.  Yasmina was extremely apologetic.  The rest of the show went without a hitch.

The next night we could arrive later as we didn’t have to set up.  Unfortunately they had lost the keys for the dressing room backstage so it meant our dancers had to rush their make up but that really was the only hitch.  Nadine felt confident with the lights so I left her to it.  I wanted to take photographs.  We had our ‘official photographer’ in Southport but I also wanted some of my own.  As a dancer, I take good shots as I can anticipate what is going to happen.  It was also the first opportunity I got to see the show all the way through.  A lot of it through a camera lens admittedly but at least I saw it.  And it really was good.  Such variety.  Such good musicians.  And the dancers – each with his or her own unique essence which they bring to the stage.  Yasmina, cool and fluid yet with an intimate smile that pulls you in.  The humour and wit in her ‘Ahwa’ tableau and the glamour of her Samia Gamal & Farid el Atrash duet with Kazafy.  Randa, so powerful, so sensual, a woman in her prime.  I could not take my eyes off her.  She, for me, epitomises everything I love about this solo form of Egyptian dance.  I could watch her for hours.  (And have whilst spending 3 weeks going through 4 camera angles to make the DVD!)

After the show we all piled back on the bus and headed to Poplar Docks in London where my dad is based.  He was helping out by putting some of us up whilst others were in a local B&B.  We ate with my dad, then I took those staying at the B&B there.  Back on the boat I sat up chatting till 4am, others later.  A sort of end of tour release.  I just had to get the guys on the bus to the airport the following morning then I could relax.  Despite a significant lack of sleep, everyone was up and ready to go on time.  It was a wrench.  We had eaten, slept & worked together solidly for a week.  I had no idea what was going on in the world having been completely immersed in the tour and its issues.  I felt torn as I said good-bye to each in turn.  They had all worked so hard – with no words of complaint at the slightly chaotic way in which I do things.  Even Richard (who tours with big name bands in his day job), though slightly bemused, felt it had all come together.  He had read an article that Yasmina wrote about the 2005 tour saying:

“Kay is someone who throws all the balls up in the air from the start and trusts that they’ll come down in the right place,” was the description by one colleague of her working method. “The amazing thing is they almost always do.”

He felt he now understood what this meant.

Clare and I waved the bus off.  As I saw it disappear in the distance, a weight lifted from my shoulders.  It is a huge responsibility and as they drove off to the airport, it was like my old, pre tour life, was starting to seep back in.  We headed for Kings Cross & caught the train back to Newcastle, sleeping most of the way.

It really does take at least 18 months to recover from the whole thing, plan and organise another – or not.  Now I focus on taking groups to Cairo and showing them the nightlife and amazing bands and dancers in situ.

Organising big events takes up a huge amount of time and energy …. You have to want to do it for the love of it …. And just hope you make some money in the process.

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