Egypt independents have a voice! New radio show expands the musicians' audience
Youssra El Hawary performing at the Oufuqy Music Festival, El Cabina, Alexandria in June 2013 (Image taken by villa photography and posted to Youssra's Facebook page)
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Youssra El-Hawary took the music scene by storm in 2012 with her hit single El-Soor, which discussed the Egyptian army's concrete barricades that had then started to criss-cross downtown Cairo. Since then, the accordionist and her band have given several concerts in Cairo and Alexandria, as well as participating in festivals abroad.
For the past two months, El-Hawary has been hosting a weekly radio show, Aadet Mazzika, on local commercial radio station Nogoum FM. Each show features a different independent artist, who play their tracks live and sometimes jam with El-Hawary. Artists featured on the show, which goes out every Tuesday at 10pm, include Dina El-Wedidi, Maryam Saleh, Like Jelly, Massar Egbari, Cairokee and most recently, members of the Nile Project last week.
Ahram Online talked to El-Hawary to find out more about her show and her aspirations for the independent music scene in Egypt.
Ahram Online (AO): How did you get involved with Nogoum FM to host Aadet Mazzika? What motivated you?
Youssra El-Hawary (YH): It was by coincidence. Nogoum FM contacted me and told me they wanted to create a programme on independent musicians and that they wanted me to present it. My first impulse was that I'm not a radio presenter -- but I went to talk to them anyway. They told me they wanted the programme to have a voice from the scene, so that it's more of a discussion than an interview. This is what made me feel that I wanted to try it out.
At the start I had a fear about being part of Nogoum FM because it's a pop, mainstream radio station. There is always this section of independent musicians who have an issue with the mainstream channels such as radio, television, advertisements. Then I thought how useful it would be if even for just two hours each week, alternative music is on this channel. This is one of the things I hoped would happen in our scene.
AO: What are your concerns regarding the mainstream scene?
YH: I'm not against mainstream music; in the end you have to have that. I'm only against when all music sounds the same. For years in Egypt music has been produced in a certain way, and the musicians are shaped according to the trends of the time. So I felt this programme would show people that there are artists who produce their music in a different way. The other thing is that the audience of independent music is quite closed. It's simply the people who frequent the specific spaces that play this kind of music. So sometimes it stays limited. I understand why many have reservations in regards to appearing in mainstream channels, commercial theatres or state run theatres, however, I think sometimes we need to reach people outside these circles.
AO: What kind of conversations are recurrent during your programme?
YH: Most people I talk to produce their own music independently. They did not go through the commercial nets to make them a star or participate in one of the competition programmes; they worked hard and used alternative ways to spread their music. Some of them were approached by production companies or advertisers afterwards, such as Cairokee, Wust El-Balad or Massar Egbari. So I get everyone I bring in to tell this story in every episode, I find it very important that it is listened to because it is a success story of musicians who didn't depend on a producer or fund.
AO: Who chooses the artists that appear on your show? What's the criteria of choice?
YH: I choose the guests, and actually this was one of my main requests to Nogoum FM. I try to host people who are important to the scene. I spend time researching the artists, and as such the programme is also very useful for me as it is for the listeners. For me as Youssra the musician it's very important to know everyone's stories, how they developed, how they think of music production and the whole process. I get a chance to really listen to the music.
The programme also documents this time, these artists and how and why they make their music.
I also want to make it clear that this is not that this art came out after the revolution; independent music has always existed. There are reasons why it’s gaining momentum now, why a station such as Nogoum FM decided to have this programme due to the social interest in this music, as there is change happening in all fields.
AO: How has independent music evolved in the past years?
YH: Before the Egyptian revolution, there was another revolution which was the internet revolution. This played a huge role in spreading this type of art.
Now you can record a song at home. When you want to make a music video, you can film and edit it with minimal equipment. So you don't need money, help or anything but your own efforts to produce music.
The same for distribution, you can use platforms such as sound cloud, YouTube and Facebook to promote your concerts. The internet was the first spark that allowed this scene to grow so quickly.
The revolution then came in; some artists produced music about the revolution while many people started to pay attention to the artists. At the same time, some people were disappointed in the mainstream artists, people were looking for music that moved them, touched them and spoke about the revolutionary moment the country was living. So they had to look for others who were not afraid to engage with the revolution through their music.
This generation is looking to change the entire system of how things work, because as it turns out it's just not working. So this change is affecting music and art in general as it is in other fields.
AO: What initiatives are happening now that are supporting the spread independent music?
YH: Although there are more independent performance spaces popping up, we still need more spaces, especially in the governorates outside of Cairo and Alexandria. Many people are also paying attention to this art, and wish to support it. The media is already interested in this movement, Nogoum FM being one example, since the public's interest is growing.
Also, musicians are connected, and we support each other. And although there is some jealousy, but it's not so evident as it is in the mainstream.
AO: What should be done to take this independent musical movement further?
YH: Initiatives for simple yet sufficient festivals are very powerful, for example low-budget, artist-run festivals such as Independent Combo and Hal Badeel. We also need to establish more production, practice and performance spaces. In general any small initiative makes a difference, even if just pressing the share button on a song one likes online.
The most important thing is to keep going, and not be discouraged. In terms of governmental support, so much needs to change in the system before we start to ask ourselves how the government can support us. So we should depend on ourselves until these institutions are purged and ready to support artists and production in a real way outside of the commercial context.