Thursday, November 19, 2009

First day of rehearsal

November 18, 2009

Personally speaking, the most impressive aspect of the MGM Grand Hotel--an indoor city peppered with slot machines and poker tables--is the lion habitat! Not sure how happy these lions are, but there is something awesome about the way the coolly eye throngs of tourists with cameras through thick layers of plexiglass. Or so it seems. In fact, the lions cannot see nor hear the casino, just the enclosure's four waterfalls. They don't live there either, but rather on a reserve where 37 of them roam more freely. They come in twos to the enclosure, on rotation, in daily 6-hour shifts. Quite system, and quite a show!

A crew is busy building the Sahra stage in the Arena with trees, arches, video screens. Sahra is all about presenting a pan-Arab vision, and the diverse visuals in the show will compliment music and dance. Here's a glimpse of the stage so far:

The Sahra show will also include a tribute to giants of the film world. More on that in a later posting. But today, I got to interview a legend of Egyptian film, actress Nabila Ebeed, who has starred in some 86 films. She was fabulous and charming, and surprisingly down to earth. It impressed me that she patiently told her story to an outsider more or less clueless about her distinguished career. It also impressed me that she came here all the way from Cairo to be honored. She did it for the kids and for the symbolic unity this show represents.

Today's rehearsal was divided between Assala Nasri rehearsing with her Cairo based band, and Khaled's band working on two pieces for the finale. There are all sorts of interesting elements being added to the singers' core bands. String players from Sudan and elsewhere are coming, just two here so far. Six singers who worked with Fairuz make up a fabulous Lebanese vocal chorus. Lebanese ney and flute maestro Bassam Saba is here, at times directing the musicians. Sudanese composer, arranger and singer Yousef El Moseley is also on hand. He wrote arrangements for a Fairuz song that Assala and Khaled will sing, and also the big finale, an Arabized, international reworking of John Lennon's "Imagine."

The musicianship here is awesome, and towards the end of a long day, I was seeing some real spark and chemistry between people from very different musical worlds. This is what the creative force behind this whole thing--Dawn Elder--had in mind from the start. And when it started happening, she was beaming. Then back to her constantly ringing cell phones...
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