Between the familiar images of deserted streets and wildlife emerging in locations incongruous with the once uninterrupted flown of humans, there remains a wealth of personal stories unfolding behind the closed doors of near international lockdown. But what’s also happening in the museums of Lima, or the recording studios of Delhi? Our Isolation Dispatches series gives us direct insight from creatives around the world as they adjust to social distances measures in their respective cities.
This week Egyptian singer-songwriter, and former Liverpool resident, NADYA SHANAB tells us about life in lockdown in the Egyptian capital Cairo. Shanab has recently released an EP having returned to her home country after studying music at LIPA and completing a Masters at the University of Liverpool. As well as working on her music project, Shanab manages an art gallery in Cairo and runs her own label Hamzet Wasl Records.
Firstly, what’s the situation in your city – is it on full lockdown or a bit more relaxed?
We are on mini lockdown. Initially we had a country wide curfew of 7pm to 6am; all restaurants, fast food outlets, bars and cafes were closed to sit ins but could be open for delivery and take away until 5pm. Friday and Saturday all shops were to be closed and people were generally encouraged to be home before 7pm. Curfew was extended to 8pm and then again to 9pm with Ramadan kicking in last Friday, and the government have since allowed malls and stores to reopen all week until 5pm.
What are you doing as an artist to keep busy?
I was set to released my EP, Habeit A’ollak, in March. I had a gig scheduled in to coincide with it, but unfortunately that was cancelled when all venues were forced to close. After the initial delay, I decided to go ahead with the release in mid-April and I’ve been spending my time attending to the admin side of things post release. I am also taking this opportunity to plan my next musical moves, develop and nurture selected skills (I’m learning Swahili amongst other things) and to take a much needed break.
How have the cultural organisations such as galleries, museums and venues where you are reacted to the measures?
Most have closed their doors – or altered their opening hours to fit with the enforced curfew. Ubuntu Art Gallery – the gallery I manage – closed for several weeks and would only open by appointment, usually for a client to pick up purchased items. However, earlier this week we decided to open our doors – taking all safety precautions and sanitary measures – but with a significant decrease in on-site staff. The majority of our team work from home and one or two members come in to work from the gallery on an alternating rota basis. Other venues have resorted to technology to help with their activities either showcasing exhibitions online, conducting virtual tours or hosting live performances. The Ministry of Culture has also been airing a backlog of live performances from the opera house and other venues on national TV and their YouTube channel.
Can you give a few examples of what other Egypt-based artists are doing to keep themselves busy and to promote themselves in these times?
Many are resorting to online and live activities of some sort. Live performances, question and answer sessions or a mix of the two. Those with access to recording facilities and equipment at home or nearby vicinities have been working on new material. And many are also nurturing skills or developing new ones that they may not have had time to do. Some have also escaped to nearby towns on the beach.
How are you yourself getting through it – personally and professionally?
It’s been quite difficult to be honest. Despite not usually having a problem with staying at home for several days, I am now really itching for proper social interaction and the energy one gets from being around people. I miss performing and experiencing my audience. Live sessions online don’t quite cut it; you can’t read the audience and see if they are enjoying your set or not. The comments that come up on the screen aren’t really the same and I find them quite distracting.
I am trying to give myself a bit of a routine; I have a daily to do list I aim to get through and try to incorporate things I want to do every day to develop some sense of normality and keep myself disciplined. It’s very easy, in such a time, to give into being lazy and feel too comfortable on the couch or under your duvet. But I do allow myself some lazy days to keep things balanced.
How do you think this will affect the cultural scene in your city once things return to normality?
I think people are already so thirsty for cultural activities that they may have once taken for granted. I feel that once things open up again people will flood to them. However, no one knows when normality will indeed return and if it will return in the same format or an adjusted one. I think people have discovered how technology can change things completely and the different role it can play. Also, what platforms can be used differently and this may have an effect on the form of normality the cultural scene takes on.
Do you have any advice for isolated creatives at the moment?
Keep on creating. Listen to yourselves, your mind and your body. Allow yourself to be lazy and have days where you relax and chill out. Sleep and take this much needed pause to balance out from how we’ve been programmed to always be on overdrive. Do things that make you happy, things you may not have had time to do before. And work your way through your to-do lists like me, at your own pace. No need to feel guilty. Take this as a well deserved, enforced pause. And most of all, be smart and stay safe.