Cairo’s most famous park hosted “Like Jelly” in its Geneina theatre last Friday. Also performing were “High on Body Fat”, who were notably featured on Arabs Got Talent, as their opening act. The park is absolutely gorgeous at night with panoramic views, clean air, and the scent of different flowers competing for your senses. The locale won many people over before the performances even began.
It is peculiar that the Geneina theatre is located at the edge of the park near the residential areas when the park itself is enormous as the sound of the concert no doubt leaked to the apartment buildings beyond the boundaries which could have been avoided if another area of the park was used for the venue.
Like Jelly’s musical offerings are creative and fresh. The band challenges traditional genres and their blend of humour, rock, recital, Broadway tunes, and even poetry makes it very difficult to label them. Their music depends heavily on the band members’ abilities, meaning that their involvement, charisma, and on-stage presence are what drives it and engages the audience.
Though a charismatic performer is never a bad thing, the downside is that sometimes the music can suffer, depending on the members’ ability to engage rather than merely perform. With Like Jelly, however, it is nearly always a hit, and their music had their audience laughing out loud.
Guitarist Mo El Quessny explained the artistic choice of their musical style. “We have no clear and defined musical influences, we go through periods and we have matured over the years. Right now we do a lot of comedy and we have an obvious theatricality about our music.”
Both acts are talented and did what they do quite well, but showcasing two performances that mix comedy and music became a little redundant after a while. The problem was not that they sounded the same, but rather that they seemed too similar when they are, in fact, very different. The attempt at comedy through music, though executed radically differently by both groups, seemed to blur as the audience’s ability to pick up on nuances (or even blaring differences) which diminished after the first hour and a half.
The lyrics of the band at times challenged the norms of censorship usually observed in Egypt. Though the lyrics were never completely over the top, we did notice at one point two stony-faced older ladies with a child in tow leaving the show in exact conjunction with a rather risqué song, possibly because they were offended.
“We try to practice some degree of self-control, we are against censorship but we try to make it work. So far we have not had any complaints from audiences or venues,” El Quessny said.
The band’s lyrics always incorporate some form of political or social commentary but, contrary to the overwhelming wave of Egyptian ‘alternative’ bands that naively try to ‘capture the Egyptian street’ (whatever that means), it does not feel dated or forced. The band is conscious in their music to avoid sounding like they are trying too hard and this translates quite well in the resulting music.
Instead, the songs sound mature and developed, largely because they do not take themselves too seriously. The concert had many different turns; at one point a collaboration with Yosra El Hawwary ensued and at another the lead singer brazenly sang a song in fluent Portuguese. With Like Jelly, spontaneity is actually what it is and not what the band members think it should sound like. An opinion apparently shared by the scores of audiences who left no seat unfilled last Friday and caused a traffic jam as the show ended.