For both nights this weekend, Radio Muezzin will be performing at Esplanade Theatre at 8pm.
In Cairo, the voices of muezzins reverberate throughout the city 5 times a day. They have become embedded in Cairo’s delightful culture. “The Minister for Religious Affairs is currently introducing the centralised muezzin. Via one radio station, only one proclaimer at a time is to go on air for simultaneous transmission from all state-owned mosques. This will silence thousands of Egyptian muezzins, and put an end to the hitherto cultural cacophony.”
Radio Muezzin is about four Egyptian muezzins “who find themselves becoming individual representatives of a religious culture, instead of passively allowing the many faces of the Islamic culture to be reduced to just one, simplified, enemy image for people in the rest of the world.”
Muzlimbuzz was honored to have had the opportunity to speak to Stefan Kaegi, the director behind Radio Muezzin.
Muzlimbuzz: You’ve worked with varying contexts, from Argentina to Latvia and Cairo to Vancouver. What are the major lesson(s) you’ve learnt in interacting with people from such diverse backgrounds?
You always start from the scratch again. Me and my label Rimini Protokoll, we try to use theatre not to show the viruosity of gifted actors, but to focus on life. Travelling to all these places you find: that our world is already itself full of stagings, role plays, entertainment and fiction. So sometimes it’s just theatre enough to frame it. Sometimes not. I really like to listen to people when they talk about their lives. I work as an editor and director – in a similar way as a speechwriter for politicians i try to understand what the life of my protagonists can mean to people who come from the other side of the social scale or the city. Theatre was always trying to be close to reality, and maybe today we don’t need as many filters anymore as all the arty methods that the history of theatre has developed.
Muzlimbuzz: In Radio Muezzin, the 4 characters become individual representatives of a religious culture. What kind of culture do you think you represent?
Me myself? I am not sure. I never stage myself. I guess I keep changing colours acording to the protagonists that I work with.
“Radio Muezzin” focuses on four muezzins: a blind Qu’ran teacher who travels to the mosque in a minibus for two hours every day; a farmers’ son and former tank driver from Upper Egypt, who vacuums the carpet in his mosque; an electrician, who began to learn the Qu’ran by heart after a serious accident, and a bodybuilder and runner-up world champion in Qu’ran recitation.
“Radio Muezzin” has them meet an engineer who learned to encode radio signals at the Aswan dam. In a mosque made of carpets and fans, they become the protagonists reconstructing their own lives. Between their words and the video images of their daily lives emerge new voices that describe the transformation of the call to prayer in the age of its technical reproduction.
Radio Muezzin is not a piece about Islam or about religion. I wouldn’t have been interested in treating this complex subject. It is a play about biographies, about centralisation, about voices and how they disappear behind technologies.
Muzlimbuzz: What inspires you?
For each project there is a different sparkle triggering my ideas. Some years ago I ran into a shareholders meeting for Daimler AG, the company producing Mercedes cars. And I found this crystallized form of visible capitalism so inspiring that we decided to bring theatre audiences to this unique ritual imposed by financial legislations and just frame it – the way it is – as theatre.
When it comes to Radio Muezzin: I heard the first Muezzin when I was 14 and travelled to Turkey. I was very enchanted to hear that in the midst of the traffic noise of Istanbul, there was such a human voice given this importance and liked the calm of the azhan.
In Berlin we performed in the HAU theatre situated in Kreuzberg – which is a neighbourhood inhabited by almost 50% of Muslims, mostly Turkish, where the azan is banned in public space. So it was quite a relevant discussion, but generally in Europe the play also undermines pre-judgements of the Western world about Muslims. It brings people closer to a distant reality that we think we know all about. And this will probably also happen – in a very different way – in Singapore, where people may not know much more about Egypt than in Germany.
Muzlimbuzz: Will Singapore get to see more of your work?
I would love to come back with new works. I just premiered “Soilprobe Kasakhastan” – an on-stage simulation of one of the worlds fastest growing oil-procucing contries and the German comunity which was deported there after the second world war and after the fall of the wall came back – generations after their ancestors had left Germany. Together with my partner, the Argentinian playwright Lola Arias I curate a festival for interventions in public spaces in Warsaw and Zürich in June – which is why unfortunately I cannot come to Singapore myself. And next work we develop a film-project on economical relationships between Nigeria and Europe.
Muzlimbuzz: We’re excited to see Radio Muezzin this weekend! What do you have to say to those who have yet to get tickets for it?
We take you to a trip through Cairo with video images from the city and a lot of soundscapes. We give you an insight into where religious life and everyday chaos in a megalopolis clash. The play has many dramaturgical layers. I like shows, where you can define your own focus. Come and find out yourself!
For more details on Radio Muezzin, check out this link: http://www.singaporeartsfest.com/107