Hamid El Shari
Hamid el Shari is probably the most consequential music producer in Egypt’s modern history. He came to Cairo from Libya, and from his start in the 1980s, he produced in a new way, simply, with keyboards and drum machines, not the orchestras of the past. The tuneful, polished sound he developed became the standard for Arab pop, some would say, right up to this day. Some people called this style “shababi,” meaning “youth music,” though as you will see, Hamid rejects this term as a put down. Afropop’s Sean Barlow and Banning Eyre met Hamid at his home in a mostly Libyan complex called Rehab City, on August 9, 2011. The complex is way outside Cairo, past the airport, more than an hour from downtown, even without traffic. In a facility just hear his house, Hamid is developing a radio and television station focused on events in Libya. During a break, we toured the studios of Rehab FM. A confident, gregarious fellow, Hamid was generous with his time, and his music. The Afropop producers left with a flash drive filled with all sorts of hard-to-find Arab music. Here’s their conversation, in English, with no translator, so pardon the idiosyncratic grammar. As they began, there was a Ramadan soap opera unfolding on the television screen in his living room.
B.E.: What’s going on? Is it drama or comedy?
H.S.: Comedy. Black comedy. After revolution. It’s about before the revolution and after the revolution. They talk about it.
B.E.: Thanks for talking to us. Why don’t you start by introducing yourself?
H.S.: My name is Hamid el Shari. Half Libyan and half Egyptian. My mother from Egypt, my father Nubian, from Benghazi. I came to Egypt since 1978. And I live here, and start my life. And, al hamdo-lillah [thanks to God], everything is okay. My age is 50 years old. And I have 14 children. Married four times. LAUGHS. That’s all.
B.E.: Let’s talk about your life and music. How did you get involved in music?
H.S.: When I came to Egypt, there was traditional music. Classical music. Same way, same thing. And I think to do something different between our generation. The music was 60 years old. Same mentality, same instruments, same lyrics. You know? And I think, “How can I put myself in this world, this music world?” I said, I have to be different. Different. Then I make the drums and the guitar, bass guitar, and keyboards, and to do something with natural instruments. Sagat. Arabic instrument. Like Arabic hi hat.
H.S.: It’s not castanet. It’s near to hi hat. More than castanet. Castanet is Spanish, you know? And I start with this. First, I start with my voice. We produce our music with other voices. Alaa’ Abdel Khale’, Hakim, Mustafa Amar, Amr Diab, you know? And we make a group, a big group with voice and instruments and the melody and a show. Lighting. Screens. That’s how to make a difference between us and the generation before us.
B.E.: So you came right in with the idea that you wanted to do something different. And first you recorded your own voice.
H.S.: Yes, my voice. The band was called Mezdawiya. It was me and my brothers and my cousins.
B.E.: Mezdawiya mean?
H.S.: Mezdawiya. It’s from Mezda, Libya. It’s a place in Libya. There comes from hear of very famous Libyan artist, Nasr el Mezdawi.
B.E.: So this is your group. When did you start?
H.S.: We started in 1981, but we were very new. A new style, you know? And we didn’t get success, because it was very new, different, very different. We can sing in a training suit. We can sing without shoes. We can sing cut like this. (Points to his ponytail.) It was so different, you know? Then in 1983, we start to be famous. With young people. And step by step by step by step, we come al hamdo lilllah, all the music comes like this. All the music is our style.
B.E.: So Mezdawiya did well. Who was your first big superstar?
H.S.: The first voice? Alaa’ Abdel Khale’. He’s an Egyptian singer. He’s very, very nice voice. I can give you CDs for his songs. He was the first singer in my music, Hamid music. I don’t know what to call it. Then Hanan in 1985. Hanan is a lady Than Aly Hemeda, with the song “Loulaki”. SINGS. It’s a famous song, this one. I will give it all.
B.E.: So this music was changing the sound. No more orchestra.
H.S.: No. We can use it, but in its place. Not all the time. Not like Umm Kulthum. Never. I like Umm Kulthum. I love her. And Abdel Wahab. But in Umm Kulthum, we take some songs, and do them in our style, with a new voice, a young voice. It’s got some success, but not like Umm Kulthum, of course.
B.E.: This is a time when Cairo was very important. People were coming here to record.
H.S.: Because Cairo is the Hollywood of the East. The Hollywood of East. That’s why we come, all of us, here.
B.E.: Talk about that little bit more. Why Cairo?
H.S.: Its history first. So nice mentality. Very kind people. They can listen to everything, pop, reggae, rock. All mentalities, you get find it here in Egypt. In Cairo, especially.
B.E.: And there were a lot of musicians to draw upon, right?
H.S.: Yes, sure. That’s why you come here. Very, very professional musicians. Around the world, you will get so many players from Egypt. You know Hossam Ramzy?
B.E.: Yes. He worked with Led Zeppelin.
H.S.: Led Zeppelin now, now, but before, he was with Peter Gabriel, Genesis.
B.E.: I saw him with Robert Plant and Jimmy page in New York some years ago.
H.S.: He’s Egyptian.
B.E.: Sure, I have a number of his records.
H.S.: And Ali, he was playing with George Michael. He now is solo, but before he was solo, he was with Hossam Ramzy. Singer. Ali. Izmo Ali. From Torquiya. His mother from Egypt. That’s the history.
B.E.: So the time when you started making this new sound, and these new singers are merging, it’s a big time of change. This is the 1980s. It must’ve been very exciting. What do you remember about that time in Cairo and how it was changing?
H.S.: Changing… I remember, it was a war, you know? We were catching our style, and the generation before us is catching its style. It became a war. We want to be the first, and they want to be the first. Stars. And, thank God, we won in the end. We win. Thank God.
B.E.: The future always wins over the past, doesn’t it?
H.S.: Yes. I’m looking forward. Never looking back. That’s my mentality. Never look back. And if you are successful, you will have enemies. If you have a tree with so many apples, everybody comes. They take your attention. But if you haven’t got anything, you just go on. You know what I mean?
B.E.: Egyptian music is rooted in tradition. A lot comes from the Koran, what we’re hearing right now from your neighborhood mosque. So maybe that’s one of the reasons that the older generation was more conservative in your time. They were holding on to the past. What did they say about you and your music?
H.S.: You know, between the different generations, and all around the world, they have this war. We are the roots. Okay, you are the roots. I agree about that. But we are above the roots. We are the branches.
B.E.: So you mentioned some of these early stars, and by the time we get to 1990, your style is really on top, right?
H.S.: Yes that was a big time for me. 1990.
B.E.: And this music is also being produced in Lebanon and other places. What was special about Egypt at that time. Let’s talk about the 90s, when the music is very established. What’s special about your sound at that time?
H.S.: The instruments. I changed the listening of the instruments. The piano. You can get piano. You can get guitar, Spanish guitar, electric guitar, rock guitar. But inside the Oriental mode, all of them. The same style, but changing the sound, only the sound. The style is Oriental. And the scales.
B.E.: You are using maqam?
H.S.: Yes. Arabic maqam. That’s right. Bayati, Rast, you know. The scales, the Arabic scales. We do all that, but by guitar and drums and keyboard.. That’s what we do.
B.E.: It is difficult to play makam on guitar, because you don’t have quarter tones, right?
H.S.: We do it. The quarter tones. We do it. They put frets, extra frets, between. We do all of them. Because we were so young. And very hyper energy. You understand? We did everything. We weren’t afraid. We weren’t scared of anything.
B.E.: Let’s talk about history for just a moment. I know that in the time just before we are talking about, the 1970s, it was a very turbulent time here. It was the time of Sadat and his open door policies. There was the rise of sha’bi music. Ahmed Adaweyya, and I think there was a conflict between his music and the more established music of people like Abdel Halim Hafez.
H.S.: Yes. That’s right. Pop music and classical music. That’s right. But we know who won. You know why? Because Adaweyya, he sang in the voice, the tongue, of real people. “Salmet-ha Omm Hassan” (All Health to you Umm Hassan). “Ya Gama’a Yalli Fou’” (You People Who Are Above Me). He talked politics, but by the tongue of people, you know? The traditional people. He sang they way they talked.
B.E.: People could find themselves in Adaweyya’s words in a way they didn’t with a more highbrow singer like Umm Kulthum.
H.S.: No, no, no. You will feel it. He was talking from the people. And he has charisma. You know? We never have like this before Adaweyya in pop music. Until 1990, it becomes Hakim.
B.E.: Let’s talk about Hakim. Tell me your story with him. How did you first meet him?
H.S.: He came from Said, Upper Egypt. You know? Minya. Before Assyut. And he said, “Hamid, I want to sing. I want to make an album.” And when you hear his voice, he is so talented. So hyper. So powerful. We agree, and we do the album Nazra, the first one. He got a very very good success with the people. Because it’s pop music. Not classic.
B.E.: We heard a story that at first you met his needs, a little girl, because she was recording an advertisement for milk.
H.S.: Yes. That’s right. His cousins. His brother’s kid. He was in the company. And we saw her, and he said, I want to sing too. So it was very nice
B.E.: The way we heard the story. It was the family of Hakim who brought him along. They did not want him to sing.
H.S.: Yes. That’s right. Because his uncle is the mayor of Minya. Like the mayor of New York.
B.E.: Ah, big man. So he doesn’t want his nephew to sing. And we were told that you had instructions to tell your team that Hakim was not a good singer. You were supposed to discourage him. Do you remember that?
H.S.: Yes. It’s a very nice story. A very nice memory. That’s right. When he had success, all the family was, “That’s good Hakim. That’s good Hakim.” Before and after. Like revolution. [LAUGHS]
B.E.: That’s great. So when this uncle came to you and told you to tell Hakim that he was not a good singer, maybe you were not expecting that he would be so good. Do you remember what it was like when you first heard his voice?
H.S.: Yes. He was very, very… unique. He is unique. There is nobody like him. That’s what I know. A unique voice. Charisma.
B.E.: And you could hear that right away?
H.S.: Yes. First time. We may contract after two days. Sonar. You know Sonar? Do the dealers of Pioneer and Gold Star. Very big company at this time.
B.E.: So you had to disappoint the uncle.
H.S.: I remember all that. Since a long time, 21 years ago. But I remember the story. The Hakim was an engineer. I said, “No, he has a very talented voice. A very unique voice.”
B.E.: And afterwards, they were all happy.
H.S.: Yes. All of us were happy. Until now.
B.E.: Oh, yeah. He’s so great.
H.S.: He’s a good man. And he likes his job. Researching. Making deals with many many famous singers around the world. James Brown. That’s good. That’s music. Culture. For Egypt. From England. From Morocco. From America. Together, we get unique music, unique songs, unique words. Maybe it helped me that my father is Libyan. That I’m not from Egypt. That’s a different culture. Maybe. Why not?
B.E.: Maybe it made you more open.
B.E.: So back to the 1990s. We have Hakim. Who are some of the other big stars that you brought forward?
H.S.: There is Mustafa Kamar. He is a very, very famous. He was 21 years old. He was very young, and he had blue eyes. In Egypt, he was a talent, you know? A unique voice. I can give you his address. You can talk to him. He is very, very nice, like Hakim. But Mustafa is like jazz music inside Oriental music. We made many albums, like with Hakim. And concerts. Big concerts. In Alexandria. He was so, so successful. Mustafa. Because he had a unique voice. SINGS Like Western songs, or music in USA. SINGS. He sang like that. And he was very successful. There was nobody like him.
B.E.: So by this time, people know you as a great songwriter. Tell me about some of the people who came to you to write songs for them. I think one of them was Amr Diab, right?
H.S.: He’s very famous. You know, Amr Diab, he changed from ethnic to the world. He was ethnic, from Port Said. All of us were ethnics. You know, ethnic music. We changed this with “Habibi Ya Nour El ‘Ein” (My Love, Light of My Eye) Do you know the song? It was the first song to get a music award in Monaco. It changed us from ethnics to the world. International.
B.E.: Interesting. Hakim said that he got with you because he wanted to make sha’bi music international. And you had the same idea.
H.S.: Yes. That’s right. We did it with Hakim as well. After Amr. First Amr, and then Hakim came.
B.E.: You worked with Amr Diab from the beginning. What was your earliest impression of him?
H.S.: He has a future plan, you know?. He’s thinking about the future, not now. Not looking at his foot, his land. But outside land. That’s why a like him. And we gave him all of our power, and we got a very good producer. Because of that producer, very, very attentive, very scared to lose his money. With Amr Diab, we made a lot of money. We recorded in London at Abbey Road. We do something like that. That’s why he became an international singer.
B.E.: What was his real beginning? What years are we talking about?
H.S.: Since 1996. In Monaco. Because we did the song called “Habibi Ya Nour El ‘Ein” and she sold millions. Millions of copies. Sales. He took in the music award. That was a big time for Amr Diab. That’s what changed our minds, changed our mentalities to look outside. And then came “Awwedooni”. “Awwedooni”, they take many films, American films, movies.
B.E.: Now, by that time, this is the big music in Egypt. The old music is going down…
H.S.: Not going down.
B.E.: Okay. It has its fans. But you have won the war.
H.S.: Yes. I am the big enemy. [LAUGHS] The leaders of war. But I like it. It was challenging. So nice. I like it.
B.E.: It is so great to talk with you about all this. One of the things that those old-timers said about what you were doing has to do with taarab.
H.S.: Taarab, yes. Yes. Soul.
B.E.: Soul. Sure. But some people complain that the new music did not have taarab. What would you say to that?
H.S.: Because… in the century, our century, there is taarab. But not all the songs are taarab, or “soul” in English. Beat is very important. Beat. Before we did not have a punchy beat. Beat. Rhythm. We make it basic, the rhythm. Oriental rhythm. It is not foreign. It is Oriental. From Egypt, from Libya, from Morocco, Turkish. Oriental, you know. But we cover it with Western instruments. That’s the difference between us and the generation before.
B.E.: I see. And of course, the beat is important, because people are going to dance to this music. People did not dance to Umm Kulthum.
H.S.: That’s right. Umm Kulthum. Listening. But we have taarab, you know. Taarab with a singer. They can do taarab, soul music with a singer. But the music must be different from the singer. Beat or soul or jazz or blues. That is our mentality. The song will be jazz. Okay. We will take the melody and make it jazz. The singer will sing his thing, taarab, beat, fun, reggae, anything. But our music has a style, you know. We can do jazz music, but the singer will sing taarab. Like Ihab Tawfiq, Mohammad El Helw, Ali El-Haggar. All of them, they sing taarab. But the music is modern. It is not like the classical music.
B.E.: Okay, so you say the music has changed, the rhythm has changed, but taarab is still there?
H.S.: Yes. It is not the basis. But he can do a piece, or part of a song. Yalil. Improvising.
B.E.: Like mawwal.
H.S.: Mawwal. Mawwal. In Arabic, mawwal. You are pretty good.
B.E.: I try.
H.S.: In English, improvising. Yes, we can do it. Many times we do it. Many times, we do this part.
B.E.: Well, when you have a singer like Hakim, he can definitely do it.
H.S.: Yes. And Mustafa, and Amr Diab. And all of them. But it is not the basic, you know? One part, two parts. You know. That’s it.
B.E.: If we come now to the present time, the generation has changed. Your style is now the standard. That’s what we hear on television and on the radio.
H.S.: Praise God. But the next generation will come and change it.
B.E.: That’s it. Now, we’ve been talking to people about this, and asking them. We’ve talked to experimental bands, rock bands…
H.S.: Wust al Balad, Cairokee, Black Teama.
B.E.: Right. Even heavy metal bands. And we’ve also talked to experimental jazz bands, and some of the people who play at the Cairo Jazz Club. Like Mohamed Bashir.
H.S.: Yes. I know them.
B.E.: Taking music from the South…
H.S.: From Sudan…
B.E.: … and to doing it in a new way. And we’ve been hearing also about singers and instrumentalists who work in the neighborhoods, mostly at weddings, kind of underground. Sha’bi with keyboards, even some Sufi singing…
H.S.: Yes. It’s the same style. If you hear it, you will feel it. It’s the same style. No big change, you know?
B.E.: The same style as…
H.S.: As our music.
B.E.: Your music is still the standard.
H.S.: Yes. There is no big different change. But I hope that will come this day. That we will see the change. Because we need to change. Not by me.
B.E.: By other people.
H.S.: Yes, other people.
B.E.: But do you have any idea what change will look like? What will Egyptian music sound like in 10 years?
H.S.: Um, I think the beat. It will be more basic, you know. Maybe there are no instruments. Only beat. You understand. Like Assyut. Moulid. Maybe ney. Or mizmar. Only this. And all the rest beat, rhythm. If you hear the Indian music, you will feel the beat is India. You feel the beat, the rhythm is Indian. That’s right. I hope that when you feel the rhythm, you will say it’s Egyptian. It’s Egyptian, you know? Not just Oriental. Egyptian. I think in Egypt, it will become like this.
B.E.: So what is it that tells the ear, this is Egyptian?
H.S.: The tabla. Tabla.
B.E.: The same drum they call darbuka in some places.
H.S.: Yes. Tabla. Tabla. Darbuka in Libya or North Africa. But in Egypt, we call it tabla. That will let me know it is Egyptian or Moroccan or Algeria and or Libyan.
B.E.: And then there’s also this electronic music, house music, or more experimental music, like Mohamed Refat’s 100 Copies label. What you think about that?
H.S.: You are talking about house music? Techno music? I like house music. I like it so much. I will do a song on my next album, House music. I will take a Moroccan melody, Moroccan. Maghreb. And I will do it in house music style. And the composer, the arranger, is not me. My son. Because he feels it. It’s his generation. More than me. The only thing is I’m singing. Between Libyan singer called, a girl called Asma Slim. And me. In the next album. In sh’Allah.
B.E.: Let’s talk about your own recording career. How many albums have you made?
H.S.: Twelve. In 30 years.
B.E.: So even as you are writing for all these other people, and creating their releases…
H.S.: Not every year do I do an album. Two years, three years. In 30 years, I make 12 albums. Other people might make 35. No, I cannot. I don’t like that. Because I work with other composers and arrangers. I’m a star maker. You know? That’s why I don’t do every year a new record.
B.E.: You are a star maker.
H.S.: Yes. That’s my own. I look. I go to a moulid in Assyut. I go to a wedding in the Delta. I’m searching. I like to search. To research and go to Assyut, El-Magaga, to Aswan, to Tanta. I like this. And listen. And see. There’s a nice voice here. Come, I take it. I produce it to the company, and they make a contract, and we start.
B.E.: So you have had that experience, just finding someone singing, maybe at a moulid. Maybe they aren’t even thinking about having a career, and you just take them and produce them.
H.S.: Yes. Mustafa Amr is like that. I saw him in Alex, Alexandria. He was in the street. It was near the college, in the summer, a place called Mamoura. I was on my holiday, or days off. Many people, you know? I hear and I say, “What’s that?” I go out from my car, and listen. One man sings. Wow. Slowly, I go inside with the people and listen, listen, listen. And he finishes. And I told him. “Oh, yes, I know you.” “I want to take you to Cairo to see the company and we want to make a contract with you.” He was very happy. And he was very, very, very talented. And he did many tapes. So nice. You can ask them about this.
B.E.: Great. That’s what it’s all about, finding the raw talent.
H.S.: It’s so nice. To make a chance for other people. So nice. His dream was to sing, you know? But he didn’t have the chance. There are many people like this in Egypt. He has a nice talent, has a nice voice, has a nice everything, but they cannot get the chance. And you can do this for him. So nice.
B.E.: Let me ask you about Sherine Abdel Wahab.
H.S.: Sherine has the most beautiful voice in the world, in the Arabic world. … She is near people, her lyrics and her music. I like her so much.
B.E.: When did she start?
H.S.: in 2000, in the new century. Like Hamaki.
B.E.: And what is her story?
H.S.: She was singing Umm Kulthum. When she was young, nine years old. Very nice.
H.S.: In Cairo. Very big. And a very good singer. She has great sense. You can feel every word she singing. The warmth. I will give it to you.
B.E.: So then we’ve got Mohamed Fouad. He’s one of the big stars now, right?
H.S.: Sure. He is a big star. New generation star.
B.E.: What is special about him that we should know?
H.S.: Because he chooses the lyrics that are so nice. He got in trouble with the revolution. Same as Tamer and Amr. Crying on the TV. For Mubarak. Mubarak, Mubarak. I told you. He’s my friend. Mounir and Mohamed Fouad. My best friends.
B.E.: I want to ask about the word shababi or shababiyya. I gather it means
“youth music” and I have heard people refer to your sound that way.
H.S.: I don’t know why.
B.E.: What does that word mean to you?
H.S.: I don’t know. Me, what is shababiyya? There is no shababiyya. There is music. Do Re Mi Fa Sol La Ti. How to use these notes. That’s music. No shababiyya. No old, no new. Quincy Jones, now 70 years old. But he still does it. You know Quincy Jones. “We Are the World.” I don’t know who calls it shababiyya. I don’t know. It’s called music. You can call it Arabic music. Rock music. Reggae music. Soul music. R&B music. But shababiyya? Youth music? There is no style that’s called youth music. You can go to a club and dance house music, to a garage band, underground. Yes, we are 50 now, but you can do that. I don’t know who is calling it shababiyya. It’s a wrong name.
B.E.: Let’s talk about lyrics, words. You were just mentioning that the soap operas for Ramadan this year have to have that new spirit, that new edge after the revolution. A lot of people have been saying to me that that’s also going to be true for music now. People don’t just want to hear love songs anymore.
H.S.: Yes, that’s right.
B.E.: They need something new, something more engaged. What do you think about that?
H.S.: I do two albums, two albums after revolution. It’s about country, not about person. We talk about country after the change. Two albums. I will put them on your disk.
B.E.: These are new singers?
H.S.: New. All of the new singers. Only output one song for me, and my daughter, in English. And all of them are new singers.
B.E.: Is there a title?
H.S.: “Arabian Story.” “Hekaya Arabia” Part one. Part two. I will give it to you.
B.E.: Maybe you could tell me about the songs and what they say.
H.S.: One of them says the revolution catches many faces. Before, and after. That’s my song. The revolution catches many faces.
B.E.: That’s nice. I understand that some of the big singers got into a bit of the trouble with people in Tahrir, because they said one thing, and then another. Before and after.
H.S.: Actually, I think they are having a new experience about revolution. This is maybe the third revolutions that I have lived. I was in the students revolution in Libya. 1977. This was so small, but we did something. After that, I escaped from Libya. But they haven’t an experience about revolution. They are not against the rebels. No. They are having the experience. They are scared about what will happen after. Because it’s a revolution. What is going to go on afterwards? You don’t know. Nobody knows. Me as well. I don’t know what’s happening. But it’s revolution, change.
B.E.: You said this was your third revolution. Libya in 1977…
H.S.: Yes. Ands Tunisia, and this one.
B.E.: You are in Tunisia also?
H.S.: And in 1969, in Libya. But I was young.
B.E.: So this kind of thing is more familiar to you.
H.S.: We need more time to catch what we want, because it’s young. The revolution is young. Young Egyptians. 20, 21. 17. 16. It’s so nice. It’s amazing. Amazing! But Amr, Tamer, or Mustafa, they have no experience. Many singers. They think, now revolution, the country will be so good. They think about that. No. We need five years, six years, nine years. 10 years. Like Ukraine. Until now, there is a problem. The revolution, and against the revolution. Ceausescu in Romania. Same thing. 1989. Same thing. Nazis in Germany. 1949. Until now, they have a problem with change. They have no experience to take with the change. They think it will be fast. But what happens now? No. Revolution must have time to change, to take the right person in the right place. That’s a revolution. Not now, or tomorrow. We are not going to be there. No, we need more time to be in a good place.
B.E.: There’s a lot to figure out.
H.S.: It’s difficult, you know?
B.E.: I think also there’s the business side to it. Now that the CD market is gone down, you don’t make much money from recordings anymore. So an artist like Tamer and Amr, you have to have the big concerts.
B.E.: You have to have concerts, and I understand that concerts are organized by big people, who are connected with big politicians.
H.S.: That’s right, yes.
Tamer Hosni as musician and actor on Cairo billboard
B.E.: So if the big politicians are getting cut off, that’s another reason to be scared of change, right?
H.S.: That’s right. I’m sad, you know. If you haven’t an experience to take about revolution, don’t talk. Like Amr Diab. He didn’t talk. He makes himself silent. That’s the right way. Tamer talked. “Anybody who likes Tamer must go home.” Oh! Oh my God. “No revolution. Go home.” I told him. I called him and told him. But he go to Tahrir, you know. And take a microphone. 5 million people. “Hey, hi everybody. Who loves Tamer? Please go home.” Very big mistake. “No revolution go home.” In the world, in the history, you go home. That’s the reaction of the people. They drive him from the stage. You understand.
B.E.: So do you think he will recover. While people forgive him?
H.S.: Sure. Because his songs are so nice. I like him. He is my friend. He was here in Rehab, beside me. But he took another place. He has nice songs. Tamer has nice songs. But I’m going the Amr way more, because he’s my generation.
B.E.: I saw him recently in Morocco, at Mawazine.
H.S.: Mawazine, yes. Many people. Very famous people.
B.E.: And Adaweyya was there.
H.S.: There’s a difference between Amr and Adeweya. Both pop. But so much different. Different styles. I was watching. I like in Mawazine the culture of Moroccan song. Like Jil Jilala, Nass El Ghiwane. I like this sound.
B.E.: Yes. Nass El Ghiwane was there with a big new sound.
H.S.: Yes. Sufi music.
B.E.: It was a great festival.
B.E.: Cat Stevens.
H.S.: Oh, Yusuf Islam. Everybody knows his songs, but they don’t know who is that. “Moonshadow, Moonshadow.”
B.E.: But big concerts like that, they are not happening this year in Egypt, right? Like in Alexandria, a lot of the North Coast concerts are not happening.
H.S.: If I hear about a concert, I will call you. It’s so nice. Nice mood. In a tent. Oriental mood. And in the tent, there is a singer, and dancing. So nice. So nice. If I hear, I will tell you. You know Hamaki?
B.E.: Tell me about him.
H.S.: He’s the top guy now. Very famous. He’s the top man now in Egypt. Same style, but he uses new lyrics. New composers, from Alexandria. I will give you a number to call him. I will call Mustafa now, when we finish.
B.E.: Unfortunately are leaving in a few days.
B.E.: I don’t know. I think we have to come back.
H.S.: Amr Diab will play after Ramadan.
B.E.: Let me ask you one more question about the revolution. What was your experience? Did you go to Tahrir?
H.S.: Yes. Every day, I was there. Every day. Because I saw the new people, new young people, talking about change. 33 years old. So much. So much time. I’m not against Mubarak, but change, you know, every day the same thing. You will be poor. I saw that. Our young people. Oh my God. 5 million. We talk about 5 million.
B.E.: What an experience. You were surprised?
H.S.: So young. 25, 23. And old people, 70, 80. What is that? Revolution. Yes, that is revolution. That’s the real revolution. And every day, I go there. Until sundown. From sundown until sunrise.
B.E.: Tell me about music. What music did you here in Tahrir?
H.S.: Many music. Guitarists. And moulid. Like moulid. Every kind of people, every mentality of people, you got it in Tahrir. They were saying, “We need change. You have to go. We need change. That’s the first. Then change. We won’t kill you. We will give you to the court.” Change. In the beginning, it was very, very nice. I don’t like what’s happened now. I don’t like what happened now. Every musician wants something, go to Tahrir, alone. You want something? Go to Tahrir. Salafist want something? Go to Tahrir. Ikwan Muslim, The Muslim Brothers. Go to Tahrir. That’s not the revolution. I don’t like that.
B.E.: Because it separates people?
H.S.: Yes. In the beginning, it was all of them. All of them in the same place, in the same world, in the same mentality, the same sense, the same feeling. Now, I don’t know. That’s the revolution. We need time. We need time.
B.E.: Revolution is not easy.
H.S.: Yes. My third revolution. I know that. I lived on the TV with the Ukrainian Orange Revolution. Ceausescu. All of that. People think it’s easy. They think it changes in two days, five days. It’s difficult, you know.
B.E.: Well it is so interesting to see what happens now, both in the politics and the music.
H.S.: In politics? In music?
B.E.: All of it. In Egyptian music.
H.S.: You live in Egypt now, you live in protest, politics music songs. Now. All the songs are politics. It’s so nice. I will give you a CD of politics songs. Not like before, you know. There is a feeling. There is a sense in the songs. So nice. It is not love songs. Maybe love songs, but for country. You understand? So nice.
B.E.: It’s a great time. A special time. It can never be the same. The audience wants to hear about the country, the future. And the singers have to respond. The writers have to write about that.
H.S.: Yes. They don’t have to do it by themselves. Because they love their country. Not like before. It’s a natural feeling.
B.E.: Sean, anything you want to ask?
S.B.: I like that you called yourself a star maker.
H.S.: Star maker. But not for money. Believe me. I don’t need money. Thanks to God. When I was young, I had this dream, you know? I wanted to be famous, a singer. Have people hear me. There are many people, young people, they haven’t changed. I feel these people. People want to hear what they say. And I give them that chance. I will cancel a song from me for the album, and put one from you. Because I am 30 years in the business. That’s the first time, you know? First time they want to compose, want to arrange, to sing. Why not? It’s not only me.
And you know Fayez Aziz. Music Now. He’s a producer. You can go to him. He’s like me, but he’s a producer. Not a musician. He’s my friend from 30 years now. We do that. That research. “What’s your name? Come. Take this song, arrange.” So nice. It’s very exciting to do something you will be proud of.
B.E.: Well, we wish you good luck, with the music, and the politics. We will have to come back.
H.S.: You’ll have to come back. But I hope you will stay until Ramadan finishes. I hope that. You will feel the change, you know?
B.E.: Well, we were here before Ramadan. I did see Mounir perform on the North Coast.
H.S.: I love Mounir. He has a mentality, you know?
B.E.: Very smart man.
H.S.: And he talks politics, more than me. Because he’s older, you know. And he’s Nubian. He has this problem with the High Dam. He talked about this?
B.E.: Yes. Of course.
H.S.: All the songs like this. Because it’s his land. Their land. The Nubians. And they took it for the High Dam. Maybe it’s good for the country, but not so good for him. For them. You understand?
B.E.: It’s sad for Nubians. Their homeland is under water.
H.S.: The Golden land.
B.E.: By the way, what does Rehab mean?
H.S.: Very big. Very big.