What Egyptian hasn’t heard of Les Petits Chats, the band that used to rock the jeunesse doreeof Egypt (Alexandria and Cairo) from the early 70s to the late 80s? The kittens have grown older, but their music hasn’t dated the slightest and their next private concert in Palm Hills this Friday is bound to attract crowds of faithful fans.
Al-Masry Al-Youm was invited to attend one of the band’s rehearsals in Studio 32, Mohandessin, ahead of their concert, to enjoy some old hits from the seventies.
Les Petits Chats was famous for covers of Jacques Brel “Ne me quitte pas” or Jean Francois Michael’s hit “Je pense a toi,” back in the days when it drew young Egyptians into languid slow dances every summer. “We would perform twice a day, at matinees and soirees, and the concert hall would always be packed,” says Wagdi Francis, singer, founding member, and leader of Les Petits Chats.
The band made its debut in a troubled political context, when it started performing in Alexandrian Agami Palace in July 1967, in the immediate aftermath of the Six-Day War against Israel. “The country was isolated, foreign bands had stopped performing in Egypt, and there was a growing demand locally for western music,” explains Francis. “We seized that opportunity and founded Les Petits Chats, with the idea of putting together a professional band tailored to perform western music in the most refined hotels and night clubs,” he adds.
Famous composer, pianist and percussionist Omar Khairat is one of the original members of the band, along with Sobhy Bedair, the tenor of the band, actor Ezzat Abu Auf on keyboards, and Francis, playing both the bass guitar and singing.
“We used to spend the winter season abroad, in Lebanon, Syria and Kuwait, and the summers in the Palestine Hotel back in Alexandria,” explains Bidair, passing his fingers through his thick white beard. As for the band’s faithful public, who danced summer after summer to Les Petits Chats romantic tunes, Francis explains that they were attracted by the West and seeking a breath of fresh air to escape the tensions they were experiencing. “People would travel from Cairo to Alexandria to hear us play,” Bidair says.
Yet in the 80s, the public fell out of love with Les Petit Chats. “We had been playing in this 5-star hotel for many years when the manager asked us one day whether we would allow a belly-dancing show after our concert,” explains Pino, his face darkening. “After the belly-dancer came, the Arabic singer Samir Sabri, and gradually our orchestra fell into oblivion in favor of this Arabic trend.”
Pino adds: “As soon as I noticed the interest of the public in the belly-dancer, I knew the death warrant of Les Petits Chats had been signed.”
This Friday’s concert is the first time in many years that the band members will reunite, and they all seem to eager to perform once more as Les Petits Chats. “There is no special importance to this upcoming concert,” explains Francis, “except that we will be reunited onstage after a very long time.” Omar Khairat agrees with Francis, adding that “although I have hardly touched a drum for a very long time, I am confident about the next concert, and excited!”
Khairat left the band soon after it was created, in 1971, to focus on his own compositions. “At the time, people thought I was only a drummer, but I rapidly started composing music for the cinema industry and TV series,” he says. Khairat since became one of the most famous Arab composers. After a dreamy hesitation, Khairat describes how he feels nostalgic about the time elapsed: “We were young, successful, popular and constantly surrounded…everybody loved the band.”
Les Petits Chats hasn’t released a single tape or record in their extensive career, and their fans had to record the radio programs that hosted the band to capture some of their magic. “There is a 90 percent chance that we will record this concert,” Francis says, “but we need to make sure of the quality of the recording before announcing the release of an album.”
Seven historical members of the band will perform in Friday’s concert: three singers–Wagdi Francis, Sobhy Bidair and Sadek Gallini–George Locas the saxophonist, Omar Khairat on drums, Ezzat Abu Auf on keyboard, and Pino, the band’s guitarist.