Why Is Travis Scott’s ‘Utopia’ Concert at Pyramids of Giza So Controversial?

The last weeks have often seen the name of Travis Scott in the headlines. Beginning with his much anticipated Utopia, the fourth studio album coming out through Cactus Jack Records and Epic Records tomorrow, July 28th, the American rapper has announced a manifold of events and collaborations, from music and fashion to film all coming out around the date of his grand release — but not without inconveniences, which might be why his momentum is getting only bigger.

So let’s cycle back to the Utopia concert Scott announced two weeks ago. On July 10th, Scott shared with his over 50M followers that he’d be debuting his new album at the Pyramids of Giza, on the same day of the release, which would host thousands of visitors and broadcast to 200 million viewers. This news, according to local sources, would boost tourism in Egypt which has lost its spark since the uprisings in 2011 and 2013, and which has been momentarily revived with the presence of popular performers such as Red Hot Chill Peppers, Black Eyed Peas and Maroon 5 most recently.

In that sense, Scott’s concert wouldn’t be the first one to be held at an Egyptian historical venue, nor the first time to be lent to a Western performer, despite the ongoing political scene in the country. However, this specific concert, for many reasons — only some known — had many bumps on the road and its final resolution has had the public turning heads from side to side like following a tennis match. Only a week after Scott announced the concert, rumours saying that the concert had been cancelled circulated along with other sources claiming the opposite, among those American ticket seller Live Nation, who only gave in and confirmed the cancellation of the event last night, after it was very clear that the show was off.

So why was Scott’s concert so controversial? The Musical Professions Syndicate, who rarely opposes such events, rose against the concert with reasons connected to the rituals Scott would perform, which would be inconsistent with Egyptian values. Is not unknown that the Syndicate’s mission is to preserve traditional Egyptian culture and in doing so, they campaign against Egyptian urban music, particularly rap, and the “reinterpretation” of Egyptian history, particularly in relation to African-American movements claiming affiliation with the Pharaohs. Has Scott’s 2013 mixtape “Owl Pharaoh” had something to do with this?

Not only the clashing of values between cultures was the reason, but the show itself — even though celebrating ‘Utopia’ — as was putting on elements that were detrimental to both the environment of the desert and the image of Egypt. “Unfortunately, despite highest efforts, complex production issues meant that the show could not be constructed in the desert,” said Live Nation last night. Did anyone mention fire, just as we’ve seen in previous concerts?

But the show doesn’t simply end like that. According to the managing director and CEO of the company authorised to organise the concert, Mohamed Serag, points that the cancellation of the message sent by Scott’s concert — one that suggests that Egypt is open for business and for cultural and music events — will not only amount losses to the tourism in Egypt and cost the company approximately LE 300 million directly, but it also compromises the artist’s future shows, as 10 concerts of the same magnitude have been agreed for the upcoming period, and the cancellation of the first iteration may trigger more annulments.

However it all goes, Scott sparks confidence and has posted on his Twitter account that “due to demand and detail logistics they [production company / bureaucracy] just need a bit of time to set lay on lands. I will keep you posted on a date which will be soon,” suggesting that the plan to play at the Pyramids is still on. We are all ready for the show, beginning tonight with the release of Utopia and the premiere of the recently announced Circus Maximus — a film Scott made with Gaspar Now, Nicolas Winding-Refn, Harmony Korine, Valdimar Jóhannsson and Kahlil Joseph.

Stay tuned — more surprises to come.

*Header: Amy Harris