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An American Punk-Rock Band On Tour In The Land Of The Arab Spring

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An American Punk-Rock Band On Tour In The Land Of The Arab Spring

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An American Punk-Rock Band On Tour In The Land Of The Arab Spring

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From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.


And I'm Melissa Block.

It's a tense time for many Americans living and traveling in the Middle East. Anti-American protests over a video insulting Islam turned violent in many countries, including Egypt. But that's not stopping all travelers especially one group with a musical agenda.

Kimberly Adams reports from Cairo on the Black Lips, an American punk band on tour in the region.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: It's really nice to be in Cairo. This is our first time ever in Egypt. It's awesome to be here.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: Yeah, thank you all for coming. Thank you.

KIMBERLY ADAMS, BYLINE: The four members of Atlanta band, the Black Lips, were supposed to tour the Middle East last year, but the wave of Arab Spring protests forced them to change plans. And yet even with the simmering anti-Americanism persisting through the region, singer-guitarist Ian St. Pe is determined to see this through. Cairo is the band's second stop.

IAN ST. PE: It is kind of wild coming over here at this time with all this stuff that's going on in the region. And I just want to say, hey, don't hate us because one person did something.

ADAMS: The crowd at this culture center, known more for folk music and poetry readings, is a mix of Egyptians, European and American expats, even some families with small children. Some of them climbed up on the side of the stage to watch. Many admit not knowing much about the Black Lips, saying they came for the local openings acts - rock groups called Zero-50 and Faking It.


ADAMS: Twenty-year-old Ghada Ali says she supports the demonstrators outside the U.S. Embassy earlier this month. But Ali, who wears the hijab, doesn't see any problem with coming to an American rock concert.

GHADA ALI: (Through translator) When I go here, it won't affect my attendance at the embassy. Some people would say that if I totally boycotted the United States, I shouldn't go to the concert, but I don't see it that way.

ADAMS: Drummer Joe Bradley says the band is trying to keep politics out of their tour.

JOE BRADLEY: We want to share music and we want to learn as much from the cultures that we experience as hopefully they can learn from us. But hopefully, the music will get them moving.

PE: This is Ian. We got that rock and roll back beat. I think of the one - they might not even really know rock and roll, but it makes your big toe shoot up in your boot and makes your hips go back and forth. I think they'll enjoy it all.


ADAMS: The crowd of more than 250 seems to enjoy the show with dozens dancing in a tight group pressing close to the stage - men and women in the mixed group still keeping a respectful distance. Security is now tighter than normal. A basic metal detector and the no-smoking and no-drinking rules keep the rock concert pretty calm, with some help from the band.

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #3: Hey, watch your language.

ADAMS: The group acknowledges they sometimes tone down their shows for more conservative audiences. They learned a tough lesson in India in 2009, when nudity and same-sex kissing onstage cut short their tour and sped their exit from the country.


ADAMS: Twenty-three-year-old Ibrahim Abdul-Wahab has a big smile on his face after the concert.

IBRAHIM ABDUL-WAHAB: They were especially double awesome. They were active with the people, with the audience. I felt so high in the show, I lost myself completely. It was mind-blowing, yeah.

ADAMS: Abdul-Wahab hopes more American bands tour Egypt, which he says sorely lacks in the rock department. Backstage, Black Lips members Cole Alexander and Ian St. Pe, sweaty after the show and perched atop a giant speaker, say they want that too, and hope a documentary being made about their trek through the region will help.

COLE ALEXANDER: You have to build a circuit, you know, like when the Berlin Wall fell and the Iron Curtain was rolled back, like, some punk bands started touring Eastern Europe and they had to kind of like make connections and then share the connections with other people. So, yeah, we're going to try to pass on some of the information that we have.

PE: The other American bands hopefully will want to come over here after they maybe see our documentary or something and it'd be kind of cool. There's no reason why the world can't be ours.

ADAMS: After Egypt, the Black Lips head to Lebanon, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates. For NPR News, I'm Kimberly Adams in Cairo.

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