Burt County Plaindealer: "Straight Outta Cairo"

Burt County Plaindealer: "Straight Outta Cairo"

Oct 02, 2018

Youssra El Hawary and her band performed at the Storefront Theatre Sept. 19, just days after playing at the Kennedy Center in New York City.

Susan Skinner/Burt County Plaindealer

On Monday, Sept. 17, 2018, I had an “Instant Message” on Facebook from the Lyons Storefront Theatre. It read, “Our next event is this Wednesday. Open at 5:00 start at 6:00. An Egyptian singer. She performed at the Kennedy Center a couple nights ago and Lyons was mentioned. How awesome!!!”

To think I almost didn’t go. My husband was headed to Montana to pick up cattle and my son, who lives in Lincoln, Neb., regretted on Tuesday. Alone, I drove to Lyons, never having attended an event at the Lyons Storefront Theatre. I went because I was curious. I love new experiences and was looking forward to another one.

The bricked Main Street of Lyons was closed off with saw horses. No admission was being charged for the event. Rather, on an unattended table, a plastic gallon jar was labeled that all donations were going to the Fire (or was it the Fire and Rescue) Department. As is standard for the area, the stage was on the back of a low-boy trailer.

I was there at the advertised start time on Facebook. I picked out a large cushion in the front row of the bleachers. Now, these were not just any bleachers. These bleachers are stored behind an old storefront and pulled out for performances. They completely cover the sidewalk and extend onto the bricks of the street. The slanting rays of the sun moving toward the horizon actually felt good after of day of temperatures in the high 80’s, but falling evening temperatures. The breeze was light and variable and felt fantastic.

While waiting for the act to start, the music broadcast was something probably never before heard on the main street of Lyons, Nebraska. To my ear, it sounded Middle Eastern. Now, I have never been to the Mid-East. The closest experience I’ve had was being in a Lebanese restaurant complete with belly dancers in Panama City, Panama. But that is a story for another time.

Corbin Wheaton, local sponsor, introduced a trim, young diplomat named Jay R. Rayman. He is the Director of the Cultural Programs Division of the United States Department of State and responsible for the “Center Stage” program. Rayman specifically came to Lyons, Nebraska, because of his curiosity about the Storefront Theatre.

Under the “Center Stage” program, five different acts are being brought from Egypt and the Ukranie to tour in the US between July and December of 2018 and one of those acts was the group performing tonight.

Wow. World Class entertainment, for free, on the back of a drop deck trailer. I had no idea.

Youssra El Hawary, the lead singer, gave lyrical explanations in English of the songs before her band played them. While the songs were in sung in Arabic, one could capture much of the meaning by the tone, rhythm and changes in volume. I was impressed by how the songs were ordered. There was a delightful variety of tempos, moods and featured instruments. One song sounded like it could have been part of a New Orleans jazz club act. Some others featured the accordion. Never knew that an accordion could sound so great, but Youssra played it skillfully. The performance was enchanting.

The following blurb is from the “Center Stage” Web site: “Now fixtures of Cairo’s indie scene, El Hawary and her five-piece band meld the sounds of Cairo’s underground with French chanson, indie rock, and jazz to underscore an idiosyncratic artistic world. Her compositions are bellwethers of everyday life in Egypt, and of the charged alchemy of the Mediterranean basin.”

Attendees in Lyons, Nebraska had the opportunity to enjoy a world class performance. The audience gave a standing ovation, but a few rain drops fell while the band was acknowledging the audience, putting a damper on any hopes of getting another song, a disappointment to many.

This group had just performed at Kennedy Center in New York City and here they were in an open air setting on the back of a tractor-trailer in a town of 814.

Cairo is a city of well over 9 million people, larger than any city in the United States. Wonder what they thought? Did they travel to get the Lyons in the daylight, past miles and miles of cropland? Did their trek take them by the East Hub just a few miles away? Our landscape must have been a big contrast to that of their large urban area.

I wanted to be able to listen to their music again, so I purchased their CD. When investigating the “Center Stage” Web site, I found the English words to her songs. Fantastic!

I look forward to sharing the lyrics and music with my husband, who said with a smile, “but no belly dancing.”

Love livin’ in Burt County.