Prospect Park saw a rare occurrence last week: Egypt’s shaabi superstar Hakim came to the BRIC Celebrate Brooklyn stage for his first performance in the U.S. since 2002, and gave what was no doubt one of the best performances of the summer. A last-minute replacement for Algerian rai musician Rachid Taha, whose travel was hindered by visa trouble, Hakim flew out from Cairo with his 14-piece band just for this one concert. Hakim is a big personality with a huge smile, great shoes, a transcendent voice and seemingly boundless energy. Since the early ’90s he has reigned over Egypt’s shaabi scene, the country’s very popular music that originated in the streets of Cairo in the ’70s and blasts from radios from across the Arab world to New York City bodegas.
The beating heart of shaabi is its distinctive and omnipresent rhythm, this night laid out by Hakim’s regiment of five drummers, joined by accordion, guitar, synthesizers, bass and horns. The crowd was one of the most adoring audiences we’ve seen in a while–many Egyptians, young and old, packed up against the stage, dancing and singing along with every lyric. One song, a beautiful tune from a recent movie, received such love from the crowd that Hakim sang it twice in a row, to equal applause the second time around. Thank you, Hakim, for such a glowing night and good spirits.
London’s excellent Krar Collective opened for Hakim, playing traditional Ethiopian songs with a modern feel. The energy that just three people–on krar (Ethiopian lute), drums and vocals–could conjure up was impressive. The group was an interesting complement to Hakim, hailing from a nation at the other end of the Nile from Egypt, separated only by the Sudans, and using some similar melodic qualities to those of the Arab world.