It might seem like an unusual name for a band, but considering the current circumstances with garbage in Egypt, using the name ‘Zabaleen’ is not so odd. As garbage men clear up the garbage from the streets, the band uses disposables to create beautiful music. The idea of banging on garbage is not entirely new, as there is famous group Stomp that do the same. Yet, putting in mind that this band originates from garbage-filled Cairo, the band’s name and theme are very relevant.
The band started by fluke. The Earth Week, an environment awareness week, was taking place at the AUC (American University in Cairo), when Youssef El Kady was asked to get some friends and play music, by banging on garbage. He got Shahir Eskander, Nayer El Mamoun, and Noor Ayman for percussion, Aly Mourad, to play the guitar, Ahmed Safi El-Din as a vocalist, and Ahmed Dahan, to play the Saxophone. As the idea proved to be a success, the ‘Zabaleen’ got formed’. For a fairly new band, who have just started in April, they have a great group dynamics and work well together. They understand each other and cover up easily for each other’s flops, like the time they were supposed to end the song and Dahan continued his solo, catching the group members off guard. They take it lightly, and laugh about it, and the group understanding gets better by time. “I remember that day we performed at the sit-in, and in the middle I was thinking, “What the hell are we doing?”, said Eskander. That was one of their earlier performances, which was done during a sit-in at the AUC new campus organized by the group ‘El Balad Baladak’. The song was against the two-year extension of the emergency law. Other topics they sing about include the environment, as well as a happy song that urges people to be cheerful. Their set of songs is a mixture of songs with lyrics as well as instrumentals. The lyrics, a mixture of Arabic and English, represent their split identity. It also allows the group to reach a larger audience. “And it works with rhyming,” said the Safi El-din, who writes most of the lyrics and could come up with a song in 30 minutes. The music, on the other hand, comes out through improvisation during their jamming sessions, and despite their differences in their taste in music, what comes out, always pleases every member.
The band still didn’t have a concert on their own because their set of songs is not enough for a two-hour concert. So far they have performed on various events, like the Earth Week at AUC, the Environment Day at Azhar Park as well as the open-mic night at Makan, a small cultural venue in Saad Zaghlool street. The group members all agreed that the first open-mic night was one of their best performances. Other performances include the Funyard, a summer school for kids, where one kid went up to them and said: “You are not Zabaleen. You are stars” and a collaboration at el Sakia with the band “like jelly”. The members expressed their fear before going up on stage with another band. “We’re always more nervous before the performance. We can’t screw up, because it’s not our concert,” Eskander said. “But the Egyptian audience is great, they cheer for anything,” continued El Mamoun.
The band’s aspirations include writing more songs and hopefully getting a record label.