December ‘14
Insight Interview

December ‘14
'Cairo Jazz Club'
'Cairo Jazz Club'


They many sell food and drinks, but they serve good moods! And this has been the secret ingredient that marks them as Cairo's ultimate live music hub. I present to you Alexander Rizk, one of the mega creators behind Egypt's hottest nightspot 'Cairo Jazz Club'.

What can you tell us about yourself?

I'm a man of few words, but when it comes to 'Cairo Jazz Club', you will find I have a lot to say.

When did you discover your passion for music and Jazz?

I was always passionate about music and arts in general. Many of my friends in university were musicians, which was how I came to meet my partner, Akram Al Sharif. For one of my classes, I filmed a documentary about some of my friends putting together a concert. The time, effort and passion that went into the preparation were tremendous and inspiring. It made me realize how the production of music involved so many roles and responsibilities beyond just the musicians. Only then I knew it was something I wanted to be a part of.

What inspired you to start 'Cairo Jazz Club'?

My two fellow founding partners, Akram Al Sharif and Ammar Dajani, were both performing musicians. The consensus among us was that the first step towards developing a healthy and active music scene in Cairo was a quality venue that offered a quality experience to both audience and musicians. From a nightlife perspective, we wanted a venue that we ourselves would enjoy going out to - somewhere with high quality offering and service that was still laid back and casual. On a personal level, all three of us wanted an opportunity to make a living doing something that we loved and that helped us contribute to music and to happier living.

What's the philosophy behind 'Cairo Jazz Club'?

Our philosophy is simple. What we sell may be food and drinks, but what we serve are good moods. We have always understood that, when people go out, what they're really paying for is a fun night out. Whether through our stage, our kitchen, or our bar, that's what we strive to deliver. And it has always been our belief that the basis of delivering such an experience is quality.

Did you expect this huge success?

Well we definitely didn't plan it. For our first year or two, we were more underground and we were happy with that. But at some point 'Cairo Jazz Club' became part of the 'happening' circuit and our clientele started multiplying and changing. We were immediately aware of how this would affect how we were perceived and how it would impact our own approach to the business. But we were also aware how this would help us fulfil our initial objective of providing wider exposure to our bands. I believe part of the jump that the music scene made from 'underground' to 'independent' was due to a new wave of clientele that come out for the venue, rather than the bands, but quickly became fans through exposure.

How can you evaluate the Art and musical scene in Egypt today?

There are two ways to look at this. One is by looking at where we were and where we are today. And we have definitely come a long way. When 'Cairo Jazz Club' first opened, we had one live night a week. For the first couple of months, we had only three or four bands that we rotated. Today, we feature over 30 bands and DJ's every month, working with a roster of about 50 acts, and new bands are constantly forming. The growth in music support services is also an excellent indicator. Look at how many venues, studios, sound engineers, equipment suppliers, and other service providers that have come up over the last decade. However, looking at the scene as it stands today, there's definitely still a long way to go. The music business is struggling to find new footing all over the world, and things are no different here. The revolution certainly helped shake things up. Some of our independent artists have made it into the mainstream, or at least benefited from more exposure in mainstream media. Generally speaking, the independent scene has gained more respect, appreciation and momentum. But I do feel we're going through a moment of confusion - a moment of 'what now?' where music makers are looking to find their new footing. If you're optimistic, like I am, you should expect an explosive new phase in Egyptian independent music very soon.

How can you describe your journey?

Challenging but lots of fun.

What are the challenges that face you in the business?

Where do I begin? I don't think people realize how much work goes into ensuring their fun night out. People think the nightlife business is easy but it's far from it - especially in Egypt. There are so many different government entities to answer to, it's a full time job just dealing with those. Throw in live music and you just added two or three more authorities to the mix and a host of new things that can go wrong. And 'Cairo Jazz Club' has many of its own specific challenges. For example, our policy has always been to treat every night as an event in its own right. It takes a whole team of people to do the monthly programming and a lot of marketing muscle to promote 30 events a month! Live music presents its own challenges. From equipment malfunctions to musicians who are late for their sound checks to last minute band cancellations, these are challenges we deal with on a daily basis. But perhaps the biggest challenge we're constantly facing is maintaining a healthy balance between our developmental objectives and our bottom line.

What's your advice for those who aim to follow your path?

Both the nightlife and music businesses are challenging and demanding. You have to love them to be in them. But if you do, you will find them most fulfilling and rewarding.

What's next for Alexander and CJC?

'Cairo Jazz Club' has always been on an upward expansion curve and the plan is to continue that trend. We're constantly looking for new ways to offer our guests a quality experience, and our musicians better support. In 2010, we started CJC Agency, our event organizing arm and 'live music specialists'. The Agency has been growing steadily, organizing more events, workshops and festivals outside of the venue and outside of Cairo. We also opened sister venue, 'Alchemy' about two years ago, to help us provide an experience that is a little different from what 'Cairo Jazz Club' has to offer. As for me, I hope to continue to be serving the music and contributing to a happier Cairo.

By Rania Ihab