Between political strife, rioting, demonstrations and the general cultural upheaval caused by the aftershocks of the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, the country seemed like a less than ideal location for a music festival and sightseeing tour put on by a group of Americans. Yet, nearly 300 people, mostly of them from Southern California, flew to Cairo late last year to take part in the Do Lab's winter solstice event The Great Convergence.
In the planning stages for nearly a year, the itinerary for the trip included visits to ancient sites throughout the country and lectures and panel discussions by Egypt experts Dr. Carmen Boulter and geologist Robert Schoch. The music event (held in front of Great Pyramids, no less), featured sets from Beats Antique, Random Rab, Apparat, Eskmo and Bluetech. The eight day trip ended with a cruise down the Nile.
It was to be a once in a lifetime experience. Everyone told them not to go.
Despite myriad warnings from concerned family and friends, The Great Convergence's intergenerational group of travelers touched down in Cairo this past December. What they found on the ground was not chaos or hostility, but a warm welcome from locals excited about their presence and grateful for their contribution to a suffering tourism industry.
Still, it wasn't an easy venture. “We've done much larger events,” says Do Lab cofounder Jesse Flemming, “but we've never actually organized people in other countries with such a huge time difference, a language barrier and all kinds of travel arrangements. We were outsourcing a lot of what we normally do in house as a company. It was a lot harder than we thought it was going to be.”
This exclusive video content is taken from the forthcoming documentary by The Confluence about The Great Convergence.
Among the intentions for the trip was for attendees to participate “in a great astronomical alignment, drawing upon the lessons and wisdom from our past and inspiring us in our creations for the future” As such, The Great Convergence was designed as a spiritual tour of Egyptian holy sites during the period of “galactic alignment” as outlined by the prophecies of the Mayans and other ancient civilizations. (Stay with us here).
Tour stops included the Great Pyramid, the Sphinx, and temples and holy sites including Dendera, Luxor, Edfu, the Valley of the Kings, and Karnak. Each location served as a place to take part in offerings tied to the spiritual awareness mindset that is a defining characteristic of other Do Lab events like Lightning in a Bottle.
This itinerary and intention was largely influenced by the event's co-executive producers Flemming, Isis Indriya and Tamer El-Shakhs, along with author and Egyptian mysticism expert Nicki Scully, who first visited the country with the Grateful Dead in 1978. Core members of the Do Lab team studied the historical and spiritual aspects of ancient Egypt with Scully for months in preparation for the trip.
Scully also connected the Do Lab to Mohamed Nazmy, the president of Cairo-based Quest Travel. The business caters to spiritual tourists and has worked with individuals including artist Alex Grey and author and lecturer Marianne Williamson. Through Quest, the Do Lab was able to secure private access to sites including the sub-chamber of the Great Pyramid as well as a rare private sunrise ceremony at the Sphinx.
But despite influence of Nazmy, a sort of man-about-town godfather figure in Cairo and beyond, TGC attendees found that of the seemingly innocuous spiritual practices they had planned to partake in at each site were largely banned by suspicious local authorities.
“It was really bizarre, Flemming says, “because [Egyptian officials] didn't want us to do anything spiritual; they don't want any sort of meditation or chanting or om-ing. You can't sit in circles, you can't wear all white. You can't do a lot of things that a lot of spiritual people would want to do at sites like this that have so much energy and power.”
With the rules concerning such practices often lost in translation, a host of logistical issues arose. The main musical event at the pyramids had to be pushed to the day after the solstice and was almost shut down when one of the artists played a recording of chanting that had been done by the group while inside the King's Chamber. This action set off the local police, who marched into the event and carried out 30 statues of Egyptian Gods and Goddesses that had been installed on site. This made it so that the event's headliner Apparat was unable to play.
“We had been studying all of these gods and goddesses for months to decide what statues we wanted to have there,” Flemming says, “and they carried them all out and locked them inside a police car because they thought that we were worshipping these Gods and statues. You can purchase them at any store at any street on any town in Egypt, but we couldn't have them at our event because they thought that we were meditating or worshipping.”
Quest assisted the group in getting around such barriers by keeping guards at bay so attendees could do their intended ceremonies in small windows of time. “When the guards would come back, they were like, 'Play tourist!' and we would look around like, “Wow, look at how amazing these stones are.'” Flemming says.”We were almost kind of renegade out there, doing as much as we could.”
Despite such logistical challenges, the overwhelming sentiment between the SoCal journeymen and their Egyptian hosts was ultimately one of mutual appreciation.
“I'm sure the media in their country was telling them not to go,” Nazmy says, “and one of the newspapers here said, 'Oh my God, how can you bring 300 Americans to Egypt?' We just trusted that the organizers would bring good people, and the organizers trusted us to do our best for them.”
For both sides, the result of this trust was nothing less than revolutionary. “You cannot really imagine what they did for us, considering the current circumstances here and what we're going through,” says Mohammad Abdul, the owner of the boat on which TGC toured the Nile. “To see a group [of Americans] walking the streets and visiting the monuments gave everybody hope that the future will be better.”
“The gloom and doom that we heard from U.S. media could not have been further from what we experienced from the Egyptian people” says Russell Ward, The Do LaB publicist and owner of media firm The Confluence. “Protest is a sign of a functioning democracy and they are new at this system; the tragedy is that media hype is keeping tourism dollars from helping those who need it and keeping us from experiencing our roots.”
This is a welcome sentiment for Egyptians eager to show the rest of the world that the country is a largely safe place to visit. “These monuments belong to all of us, to mankind,” Nazmy says. “What we have is yours, and we're a global family, so please come home to Egypt.
“Oh by the way,” he adds, “we love your music.”