When we found out that CairoScene's very own Eihab Boraie was the brains behind Le Cyc - a one hour opera/graphic-novel-come-to-life, that details the toppling of an evil dictator, three years before Egypt's own revolution - we had to find out more.
Imagine an alternative universe powered by bicycle pedaling and ruled by a dictator called Mis De Berm with his parrot sidekick that perches on his mustache. Even if it was a Tim Burton film you'd probably think he'd smoked too much, but put in context, our very own Eihab Boraie's one-hour graphic novel-come-opera, that took three years to make, becomes a surrealist time capsule; a representation of governmental oppression over the masses throughout the world.
Boraie's Le Cyc revolves around a bike-powered utopia whose leader is decided based on a 'democratic' bike race, but the evil De Berm, who has been in charge for 26 years, the same amount of time Mubarak was in charge of Egypt at the time, gets rid of any rivals to his throne. But "he who pedals fastest, rules strongest" – a motto repeated throughout the production – transcends Egypt and can be applied to power hungry politicians across the world. What's eerie is that in the opera, the dictator does eventually get toppled by the masses three years before the 25th January revolution. This is a massively creative project that makes music, story-telling and art perfectly symbiotic with over 400 stunning individual illustrations made by artist David Willekes using ink, old wine and coffee and over 20 original compositions spanning from dream-like melodies to intense dramatics by the eight-strong band, Polydactyl Hearts, in which Boraie plays piano. The ethos speaks loudly for mixed media performance, pushing the familiar boundaries of how we perceive art or music. We speak to Boraie to find out where the idea came from and if he's a prophet…
It's a pretty mental idea. How did it come about?
It came aboot (about) by bridging my worlds together having lived in Egypt and Canada. I left medical school in Egypt for a vacation to visit some of my friends but when I arrived, they were biking across Canada. While they were doing that it inspired me to think of a world where all their pedaling could generate enough energy to power a small town. At the same time I thought about how much it would suck if Mubarak would be ruling that town and, in that, I realised there was a story I could create.
Before that I was in a couple of bands in Canada that never really amounted to anything and it wasn't until I went to medical school in Cairo that I wanted to work harder at music. I also wanted to find a project where I could incorporate music and visuals at the same time.
Who else was involved?
David Willekes is my favourite artist and a good friend. He'd just finished art school and was looking for a project. He was also one of the ones biking across Canada. I pitched him the idea and he said he was interested, then we started with a storyboard and a few songs here and there. As the project continued, more musicians got involved and eventually we had an eight-piece band including Claire Whitehead (violin), Martin Eckart (saxophone/clarinet), Dan Paille (percussion), Andra Zommers (vibraphone/vocals), and Brad McInerney (bass).
Why did you choose to make an opera which obviously has less commercial benefits then say, releasing an album with a story book?
It wasn't so much that I chose an opera; it was that I wanted a graphic novel that was told through music. It wasn't just a series of images, it was a story that would unfold and you had to watch it from start to finish. It was important that the visuals and the music weren't separated at any time and at the heart of it, it was our chance to create something new, that's never been done before. Either way, it was always going to be an uphill battle to get people to understand what we were doing.
Three years is a long time, did you ever get disheartened?
I knew what I wanted, and for me, because this was the first time I’d done something like this, every day, week or month that passed was exciting because I was slowly seeing something come to life.
What was the biggest challenge you faced in making Le Cyc?
The hardest part was trying to convey to the other musicians what the story was going to be as it was being developed from the storyboard and decisions of where a song would start and end was really tricky.
Tell us about the dictator in the film...
I didn't want to call him Mubarak because I didn't want it to be about one issue. I wanted it to transcend issues everywhere which is why I didn't set it in Egypt either. However the struggles I faced in my time living in Egypt helped inspire the story and, at its root, the message that we were trying to convey is that no matter how good we have it is you should always question authority because the moment you stop that is the moment they start taking away our freedoms.
This was in 2008. Did you feel like you were a prophet when #Jan25 happened?
I didn't feel like a prophet but I felt really proud that, in June 2010 we had screened it on a rooftop in Cairo. It was in mid June, in Egypt... and it rained! At the time I was pissed off but everyone around me was saying it was a sign! That it was Allah. We could hope we inspired people, but there’s no way I could be taking credit for the revolution!
What was the initial feedback like when you released it?
The feedback was good and people were really appreciative, starting to see their own struggles in it; from native Aboriginals in Canada to Palestinians who thought it was about them. For me that was rewarding. One guy even got his whole arm tattooed with artwork from the opera!
So, what is the live performance like?
We have a live band and the visuals on a cinema-sized screen and in order to understand the story you had to hear me in whatever character’s voice I was singing.
Where have you performed Le Cyc?
Ontario, Quebec and in Egypt. About 30 shows all in all.
Where did you take it from there?
On the back of Le Cyc's success we were commissioned to complete an original piece of work for the International Images Festival in Toronto, and this was the first time we were actually paid to create something. We created six short pieces which all had to do with transitions in different states from biological to landscapes to ideologies. It was called Hello Adventure and it was a world exclusive at the festival. We won the Overkill Award for challenging the notions of what is groundbreaking in art forms. We wanted to make something more disorientating and experimental, so we created a computer program that allowed us to control visuals with a Playstation 2 controller.
Where did the name Polydactyl Hearts come from?
Everyone in the band had a cat with an extra finger. We went out and got them together. Nobody wants a cat without thumbs.