Radio Muezzin

By Stefan Kaegi

A freed slave became the first muezzin because he had a honey-sweet voice. Later muezzins used to climb the minaret to make the call to prayer, the Adhan. Until the 1950s, most of them were blind - to keep them from peeping into windows from the minaret. Now their voices resonate via loudspeakers - while they stand in the mosque with a microphone in their hand.

In Cairo most muezzins are government employees who often sleep in the mosques and rarely visit their families living in remote villages. Besides being responsible for the call to prayer, they are also often caretakers of the place of worship, they clean the mosque and close the doors in the evening.

Their calls mingle above Cairo, the city of a thousand mosques (there are actually about 30,000), forming a multifaceted soundscape. This is however about to change: The Minister of Religious Foundations wants to introduce a centralized muezzin by the end of this year. The government will broadcast a single muezzins voice live on a radio channel simultaneously to all government mosques. This will abolish the cacophony, but also the diversity of prayer cultures. Will thousands of Egyptian muezzins fall silent?

“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 recite the Qu'ran 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.



Concept & Direction: Stefan Kaegi
Composition & Sound Design: Mahmoud Refat
Video Design: Bruno Deville, Shady George Fakhry (Kairo)
Dramaturgy: Laila Soliman
Stage Design: Mohamed Shoukry
Light Design: Sven Nichterlein, Saad Samir Hassan (Kairo)
Director’s Assistance / Performance: Dia'Deen Helmy Hamed
Production Management: Juliane Männel, Lana Mustaqh (Kairo)
Touring Support: Mohamed Sleiman
Technische Leitung: Sven Nichterlein, Saad Samir Hassan (Kairo)
Translation & Supertitles: Ebtihal Shedid, Bassant Hassan (Kairo)

After a preview in Cairo december 2008, "Radio Muezzin" premieres in Berlin.

A production by HAU Berlin and Goethe-Institute Egypt.
In Co-production with Athens Festival, Bonlieu Scène nationale Annecy, Festival d’Avignon, steirischer herbst festival (Graz) and Zürcher Theater Spektakel.

Funded by the German Federal Cultural Foundation, Pro Helvetia - Swiss Arts Council and the Department of the Mayor of Berlin - Senate Chancellery - Cultural Affairs. In cooperation with El Sawy Culturewheel, Cairo.