Emigrating from the Egyptian Underground
By: Gregory Pártay
As the world shifts into a phase of ignorance towards the Middle East, it is necessary that those suffering rise up and let the world hear their voice. Jaffa Phonix represents the voice of those suffering and cries out against injustice. Emerging from the Underground the Abu Ghaben brothers brought to light these injustices through music.
Faisal, the older of the two brothers, sits across from me coolly a collectively sharing everyday jokes. He sits relaxed in his suit, slowly sipping his tea among the throng of people surrounding us. The background noise does not bother him nor do the people. He sits concealed from this milieu, little does his encompassing environment know that he was one of the foremost leaders of the Egyptian Underground in his prime.
As we sit there I decide to start from the beginning. From the roots of his ideals and beliefs.
How did you end up in Egypt and what is life like as a Palestinian without any citizenship?
Well, after the destruction of the Palestinian society that followed the Establishment of the Zionist State of Israel, around 800,000 Palestinians were premeditatedly, ethnically cleansed. My Family moved to the adjacent Kingdom of Egypt, and since then it became the country of refuge which we cannot leave or live in as equal citizens. My family immigrated to many Arab countries and ended up in Kuwait in the late 1970’s. After the American invasion of Kuwait, Palestinians were personas non gratas due to the denouncing stance of the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, Yasser Arafat. After this second wave of ethnic cleansing we ended up in Egypt as our initial refuge country.
As he describes these I can catch a tone in his voice, one I can recognize when listening to Hungarians speak about the events proceeded by the First World War.
What are your major points of inspiration and did your struggles in life have any impact on your music?
Due to the democratization of music making in the late 1990’s, and to the break out of the second Palestinian uprising, the Intifada, I felt that music was the best of medium to disseminate the complexity of such an experience, in a palatable, approachable form. So my musical endeavour stemmed from being Palestinian as music could be utilized to unuglify the charged nature of the message I wanted to deliver.
My major inspirations were the Sex Pistols, the Gallagher brothers, the Prodigy, and the Palestinian Fidaeey anthems. All had a common denominator of rawness and the intellectual representation of the downtrodden.
Do you have any fond memories from your musical career?
Apart from the heavy drinking and drug abuse, the only incomparable visual experience to miss was the gradual appearance of the crowds while ascending the stairs to the main stage. As a socio-politically marginalized individual, nothing could be of a bigger impact than seeing thousands of people’s eye balls affixed at you for a given number of minutes. It was a catharsis of some sort.
On the flip side, once we played a gig as per an invitation by the French Embassy in Cairo, the cultural counsellor of the French cultural center came back stage to tell us to remove the Palestinian flag from the stage. I should have told him to cancel the show, but for frailty of my character back then, I could not handle telling all the turn out to go home. The venue was in a very old church in Cairo, the was a ginormous sculpture of Jesus of Nazareth right in front of the stage, hanging off the ceiling, It was a grim, orthodox hall, and the echo demolished the fatness of the beats. I learnt a lesson of physics that day, if you play in a closed church, it better be packed with people, is it decreases the reverberation of sound.
Why did the group break-up and how did you find Islam?
Quitting music was the conclusion of realizing my childish, narcissistic delusion of infallibility. In simpler words, when I realized that I am a part of what I complain about as a human being, and that I can contradict myself at times due to that, all sense of absolutism faded out like a last underground trailer. To be an artist you need to be sure of what you offer, if not, you consume art. I simply could not have the courage to stand on stage and be confident as I realized that all what I think of is mental construct that did not relate to objectivity what so ever. When I realized that being unable to fix things is a part of worsening them, I realized that my preaching was vain, and that the truth must be somewhere else out there.
After the pulverization of my augmented realms of relativity, which were mistaken for perfection, I started to look for the absolute which can give a meaning to my existence. The fruition of that search came after an exhaustive study of philosophy, astrology, history, and religion. The theistic approach I developed made me ready to understand that there must be a behavioural protocol to follow in order to please master creator of everything. Islam is simply the only religion that speaks about God. Judaism is more about Jews and the literary interpolation was easily spotted in their literature, Christianity had no textual corroboration whatsoever to its claims, which were self refuting to being with. All Non-Abrahamic religions were serving their followers to live better lives, but none had anything to do with the absolute truth I sought.
Why did you move to Hungary and do you enjoy being here?
Coming to Hungary was to for educational purposes as I could not obtain a degree during my occupation with music making. The decision came after meeting a Hungarian guy in Cairo who became a Muslim after a year of studying religions. I was familiar with the country as I visited it for partying previously, so the idea of being in Budapest for a number of years was not as far out as it could be.
I like being here because it is not Egypt. So the first thing I like about Hungary is that it is not Egypt 🙂 . Second reason could be that Hungarians could be racist and unfriendly, but to a moderate degree compared to their European neighbours, maybe because Hungarians know who it’s like to be the underdog in hostile surroundings. The economy here is tough, but the Hungarian terrain is ridiculously beautiful, and God has given people here something to thank him for.
Hungary is like an old model high-end vehicle, it’s got affordable essential quality, even if it looks shabby or outdated from afar.
As I sit across from him and listen to him speak about his past endeavours I realise this is a man who had given up his passion in music in search for something far more rewarding, love, life, peace and religious contentment.