Hippies on Camels

In 1978, the Grateful Dead began a spiritual and mystical journey playing three of their shows at the Sound and Light Theater in the shadows of the Great Pyramid of Giza in Cairo, Egypt.  Phil Lesh took on this project, because he wanted to play at places that held power.  The Egyptian government approved the concerts after the Dead agreed to donate all proceeds from ticket sales to the country’s Department of Antiquities, which preserves Egypt’s ancient wonders.  Not everything ran smoothly, as one of their trucks got bogged down in the sand and had to be pulled out by camels, and due to an injury Bill Kreutzmann had to play his drums one-handed.

The renowned Nubian Egyptian oud (musical instrument of the lute family used in southwest Asia and northern Africa) player Hamza El Din, along with the Nubian Youth Choir, joined the Grateful Dead onstage during all three concerts that they performed at the foot of the Pyramids of Egypt.  The collaboration resulted in the hypnotic, polyrhythmic instrumental ‘Ollin Arageed’, which Hamza wrote.  This tune has a beautiful history behind it, as it supposedly played for a person only once in their lifetime, at the celebration of their first wedding.  The rhythm is composed of three different beats on the tar (Iranian long-necked, waisted lute family instrument), accompanied by a melody handclapping, feet beating on the ground, and, traditionally, singing and the noise of women’s jewelry in their soft movements to those rhythms.  On the second night, as they sang and danced to this, the moon went into eclipse, which must have been pretty cool.  Mickey Hart became good friends with Hamza el-Din, and over the next seven years, Hamza would perform this with the Grateful Dead live four more times at concerts in the US.

Written for Sadje at Keep It Alive What Do You See #80.


15 thoughts on “Hippies on Camels

      1. True. I was just curious what tickets would cost in the Middle East at the time. I lived in Saudi Arabia for 6 (long-ass!) months during the early 90s. Needless to say, there were no concerts of any kind there.

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  1. I liked reading Bill’s account of this adventure….like trying to use one of the chambers of a pyramid as a natural echo chamber.

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