by Mostafa Ismail
photos courtesy of Mostafa El-Kashef
Imagine your three favorite bands are having a concert; now imagine that concert happening in the heart of your living room. Wouldn’t that be a dream come true?
SoFar is just that – albeit with a twist. It all started in 2009 when a group of friends in North London was frustrated by the traditional live music experience, and decided to invite bands to perform in their living room instead. Today, “SoFar,” short for “Songs From a Living Room,” hold concerts in living rooms for music lovers in more than 80 cities worldwide.
Attending the fourth SoFar gig in Cairo was definitely a one-of-a-kind experience. SoFar abides by certain values and rules that certainly bring the magic back into live performances. All their gigs are volunteer-driven; the bands, the media team, the host and the organizers volunteer to create a free, secret concert that is revolutionizing the traditional live performance movement. The reason it is secretive is to give exclusivity to audience members, who go willing and wanting to fully appreciate the performances.
Getting into SoFar is quite simple: after filling out a small application, the SoFar team replies with the date and time of the event, although the location and performers are a secret. Two days before the event, the location is revealed via e-mail, yet the performers remain a secret and the reason is quite convincing. SoFar believes in No-Headliners, meaning that they appreciate all performers equally and respect their effort to express and share their art.
On the day of the performance, we were asked to put our phones on silent, not to talk during the performances and to remain until all the bands had finished playing; that way, we as an audience contribute to a powerful Global Music Listener Movement that respects bands, appreciates their music and creates the space for the performers to fully engage us with their music.
There were four bands during the gig that I attended, which was SoFar’s biggest event in Cairo to-date. It was also the first time that everyone who signed up to attend came, and it was indeed a packed living room. All the furniture was emptied into other rooms and the house was full of people sitting cross-legged on the floor; there was barely any room for movement, yet ample space to enjoy a well-curated music performance.
The simplicity of the concept makes it appealing and powerful, and the movement has picked up fast, as the demand for spaces that give priority to the performance rises. The four bands that performed that night were Karim Omran, Al Manzooma, Of The Earth and Bluezofrenia. It was Omran’s debut as a solo performer and he used only two keyboards, taking the listeners on a deep, intimate journey in sound. The gig was followed by Al Manzooma’s trippy and blunt performance, which combined a mix of ambient sounds with deep poetic lyrics that made their performance unique. Of the Earth played some folk rock with lyrics and harmony; for the finale – a rock-and-roll band called Bluezofrenia asked audience members to get up and dance; and they did, ending the day with smiles, loose limbs, and new friends.
The atmosphere was welcoming and friendly, and it seemed as though everyone in the audience left with at least one new friend and an appreciation of the four bands. The hosts and the organizers were very helpful and pleasant, making sure that every one who was there felt welcomed and left welcomed.
So what is it that is so special about SoFar? That it brings good music right to your living room, or a friend’s living room, or a stranger that is soon-to-be your friend’s living room? Perhaps it is the intimate connectedness that comes with enjoying and listening – really listening rather than chatting, as you might do at a club – with a community of listeners who are only there to listen and feel the music.
For more information, see “Sofar Songs from a living room” on Facebook