THE RELUCTANT EGYPTIAN ROCK STARS MAINTAIN THEY ARE NOT A "POLITICAL BAND," YET THEIR MUSIC CONTINUES TO MOVE A NATION STILL IN TURMOIL.
Cairokee’s studio in the leafy Cairo neighborhood of Maadi is tucked away at the back of a residential building on a relatively sleepy street. The space is cozy; part recording studio, part office, part boys den. After I settle into their lounge area, one of their two rescue kittens promptly decides to curl up in my lap, only moving to change nap positions and stick his nose in my purse. At this first meeting I spent several hours talking with Hawary, the lead guitarist, and Sherif, who plays keyboard and does backup vocals. I didn’t know what to expect from one of Egypt’s biggest rock groups, but both are easygoing, unassuming and refreshingly open.
Cairokee was founded in 2003 by a group of childhood friends with a penchant for American rock music. The band grew up listening to Pink Floyd, The Beatles and Metallica, among others. Since abandoning an earlier project of singing English covers, the group has ridden the line between their musical favorites and their Arab roots. In early 2011, after years of modest recognition, they were suddenly thrust into the spotlight following the release of “Sout El Horeya” or “The Voice of Freedom,” a collaboration with Hany Adel, lead singer of the band Wust El-Balad. The song documented the protests that led to the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak. The success they began to enjoy was the direct result of their ability to represent the events and emotions of that period. People heard their own voices echoed through the lyrics of songs like “Sout El Horeya” and “Ya El Midan,” a collaboration with veteran singer Aida El Ayoubi that captured the essence of Tahrir Square during the revolution.