For many members of the Egyptian musical group Fabrica, their current visit to the United States is not their first time coming to the country. However, for many members of the audience at Busboys and Poets on January 20, 2014, it was their first time seeing an all-Egyptian group of singers performing several songs from the musical Les Miserables–especially a performance that was done entirely in colloquial Arabic.Despite the uniqueness of the performance, the singers were received quite well by members of the Washington, DC community who came out to Busboys and Poets on January 20 in celebration of the MLK Day of Service. The event, aptly named Warm Up, DC, was part of a project run by Meridian International Center and the Global Service Leaders (GSL) to honor Martin Luther King’s legacy of service. The event started at Busboys and Poets with a “knit-in” to create items to donate to Martha’s Table. The knitting was also accompanied by presentations by Meridian’s President and CEO, Ambassador Stuart Holliday, Busboys and Poets owner and DC mayoral candidate Andy Shallal and crochet kingpin, Dwayne B!
After performing their set, Fabrica singers returned to Meridian International Center for a briefing on federalism from George Washington University professor Dr. Steven Billet. The group started in Washington, DC as part of a larger tour of the Northeastern United States organized by Meridian. After DC, the group will head to New York City, Boston, and Vermont, where they will be putting on full-scale performances of Les Miserables. The group will also get the chance to perform in Vermont’s State Capitol after meeting with Governor Shumlin.
The decision to perform this particular musical was not one made at random. The show’s message holds special significance for the Egyptian performers who are experiencing some of the same revolutionary events as the characters in Les Mis.
“The message of Les Miserables is all about a better day and a better future,” explained Nesma Mahgoub, a Fabrica cast member who plays Eponine. It’s a message, in her opinion, that many Egyptians can relate strongly to. With Egypt having recently passed a new constitution, the country is at a crossroads in its history. Just as France was about to turn an important page in its history in the 1800s, many Egyptians are hoping for a brighter and more hopeful tomorrow.
Nesma also commented on the cross-cultural power of the music. “Translating the music to Arabic leaves it open-ended,” she said. Many American audience members will not understand the translated lyrics, but “music is an international language,” Nesma remarked. Anyone can appreciate the positivity and optimism of the songs, even if they cannot understand the songs word for word.
Because Meridian is equally interested in strengthening multicultural ties, Fabrica will be visiting various musical and cultural organizations throughout the US during the duration of their tour. In DC, the group went on a bus tour of the city to see famous sites such as the White House, the Capitol Building, and the various memorials found around the city. After their tour, the group went to an open-mic night at BloomBars in Columbia Heights to support local artists. The group will continue their tour later this week and will be returning to Egypt on January 30.
To find more information about Fabrica, click here.