A nostalgic journey back to the times when our society had clear values and morals, Wa’fet Nasyet Zaman (Standing on the Corner of My Old Street) sums it all up in the story of the old street corner. Released by Egyptian actor, scriptwriter and rapper Ahmed Mekky on his official YouTube last month, the seven-minute clip gained over 10 million views in a few days, quickly becoming the most trending video in Egypt.
Whenever you see a group of guys standing on a street corner these days, the first thing you might think about is that they are there to harass girls or smoke hash—which is, in most cases, true. But Mekky harks back to the old nasya (corner), where the men would be there to protect the girls of their neighborhood; they kept girls safe and were never a threat. Before the days of the ipad and the iphone, the street corner was a social gathering, where you would learn from the expertise of older generations, acquire the good ethics, and even resolve problems and conflicts, says the top hit song, written and produced by Mekky.
“I have always had this conversation with my friends, that we lived a phase in our lives where we would never see a strong man hitting a weaker one or a dispute between one man against 16 others, and where attacking someone from behind was extreme cowardliness. … I feel so much pain when I see this happening casually today,” Mekky tells Egypt Today .
The song highlights several controversial issues and ethical deteriorations in our society, including harassment, lack of respect for older people, drug abuse and the influence of social media. “I made sure to tackle this [social networking] in the song because standing on the corner for us was like a school where we learned the real essence of life, a rehearsal for what we would face in the future, we picked up the expertise we needed to be able read the people around us, and it trained us to live normally. I don’t think that people who live behind the screen live normally … They are plastic or robots, who lack feelings and emotions because they do not deal with humans and all their relations are electronic.”
Calling in to a local TV show hours after releasing the video on his YouTube channel, Mekky gave his take on why things have changed so much. “There are many factors that led to the deterioration of values and ethics in our society nowadays, the most important is the lack of role models. In the past there was a leader for each district, an old man who is like the father to all those who live in this neighborhood, we used to respect this man, obey him and ask his advice when we had problems,” Mekky said, emphasizing that he “learned a lot of morals from standing on the corner of my old street as I described in the song, as well as useful hobbies like raising dogs and pigeons.”
Mekky added that parents in the past were not afraid of leaving their children on the streets because they were safe. “Nowadays the smell of the drugs youth smoke in the streets is spreading everywhere.”
Street smarts Although the first teaser for the song was released in August, it took over three months to launch the full clip because of the “difficulty of the song,” Mekky says. “I wanted to deliver a harmonic mix of eastern and western music that does not sound like two different types simply played side by side. ... It took long hours and several attempts to mix the audio tracks,” he explains.
The song is a blend of modern rap performed by Mekky, along with Jazz and Blues music, interspersed with the instruments and soul of traditional Egyptian music, and the pure voice of folk singer Hoda el-Sonbaty. The song also starts with a native Egyptian “mawal” performed by the singer Zigzag.
“I heard her [Sonbaty’s] voice and found it fit perfectly for the song, and it has many good features. It is a strong folkloric voice that carries a great deal of suffering; and this is what I wanted for the song, which I presented in a way similar to popular tales,” Mekky says.
The clip is indeed real, starring some of Mekky’s friends and neighbors, and featuring locations the rapper frequented. “More than 90 percent of the characters in the clip are my friends and people I know from primary and secondary schools; those who appeared in the scene with the pigeons are my friends at Kerdasa Homing Pigeons Association, and the ladies next to them are residents of the area near their homes,” Mekky says. “We shot in real places at Al-Hussein, Old Cairo and Haram, so that the residents [of these places] would sense the meaning of the song, as well as to look at the beautiful folk side of these neighborhoods.”
Despite the song’s objection to social media taking over our lives, it is this very same media that Mekky chose as a platform for his song, and the Youtube numbers speak for themselves. “The response to a good thing is seen from the people in the street. I have received a lot of positive reactions from people saying the clip represents them and touches something inside them, which makes me happy.”
Having suffered from a liver virus that strongly affected his health and due to which he was unable to pursue his workout routine, Mekky dropped over 30 kilograms. Going back to his fit body shape for the video clip was quite a challenge for Mekky. “My body was extremely weak … Two and a half months before shooting the clip, I intensified my workout, training three times a day,” Mekky recalls. “The phase where I was sick influenced my artistic choices … I became certain that I only want to present what I feel and love,” he adds.
As for his plans for 2018, Mekky reveals he will only be focusing on his music album, “where all the songs will be about topics stemming from inside me.” He also intends to takle on a new cinema project, but will not take part in any drama series this year.