Dispelling stereotypes; putting right misconceptions; the maverick Egyptian musician, orator, DJ and lecturer in his homeland’s culture Karin Nagi seeks to confound critics and the ignorant alike with a humorous musical whirlwind “detour” through the social and geopolitics of the Middle East. Leaving aside his country’s contributions to the ancient Seven Wonders of the World, and the history of the Pharaohs, Nagi confronts a number of more pressing problems: namely mass migration, globalization and the Arab Spring. As he wryly notes on his latest album’s opening narrated ‘Your First Arab’, it’s almost as if the entire news hour is dedicated to them. In light of this and the, as it turned out precarious, events that led to a toppling of many regimes in the Fertile Crescent, those countries that have tenuously come out at the other end of the Arab Spring unscathed remain in a minority. Libya, and Syria, which has turned into a vacuum, plunging the entire region into the most complex civil and international war of attrition (used now as a front in a new proxy cold war between Europe, the USA and Russia) would be two of the worst examples however of what can go wrong. Hardly a smooth transaction of power, Egypt is functioning but still teetering, whilst other regimes look to solidify their tight grip with totalitarian terror.
With all this in mind and as a light-hearted response, Nagi attempts to spin out the positives and counter the West’s suspicions, unease, and in some quarter, hostility. The fetishized images of the noble Bedouin sheik, the kowtowing subordinate to the great white masters of antiquity and desert exploring hero, the belly dancing beauty of carnal esoteric knowledge and the shifty Bazaar trader peddling either magic carpets (more of that in a minute) or tat, appear everywhere in popular Western culture. And in some cases they certainly exist but on this unveiled cornucopia of delights these characters are brought up-to-date. Ribbed for example with adroit observational oration by Nagi, the gypsy caravan swaying ‘Oriental Magic Carpet’ song and the hypnotic ‘Reorientalism’ both take on the West’s fascination with the “Orient” catch-all term; used to denote anything from – and between – Morocco to Japan, and south of the European borders. Nagi turns these lazy clichés into a grand tour of the lands that gave birth to the Arabian fairytales of Ali Baba and The Forty Thieves.