There is nothing cosmetic about the rock band Mascara, short for Massive Scar Era. The group got together six years ago as the nation’s first all-girl heavy metal band, putting their own spin on a typically hardcore genre. Instead of penning aggressive, curse-infused songs, the musicians opted for clean lyrics and traditionally un-metal instruments such as the violin, flute and keyboards to give their music melody and meaning.
“There is nothing that you will hear in our songs that doesn’t have a meaning,” says lead singer and guitarist Sherine Amr when asked about the purpose of their songs; “It’s all about expression.”
Founded by vocalist and lead guitarist Sherine Amr, now 26, and violinist Nancy Mounir, now 24, Mascara has performed since 2005 in local venues such as the Bibliotheca Alexandrina and the SOS Music Festival. In 2009, the band traveled to Solvesburg, Sweden, to perform at the annual Sweden Rock Festival, and in 2010 they played at the Cornerstone Festival in Chicago, Illinois in the United States. With the addition of 23-year-old newcomer Maged Faltas on drums, Mascara has become co-ed, but the women are still very much center stage.
The Big Screen
But it wasn’t until Mascara’s appearance and performance in director Ahmed Abdalla’s award-winning film Microphone (2010) that the band gained a wider audience. The movie showcases the underground arts scene in Alexandria and in one part features the story of Mascara and what they had to go through to make it on the scene.
For Amr, her experience of being in the movie was conflicting because of differences with her family. “I told my mom that I had a part in the movie and she said no. She said we had only agreed on music,” Amr recalls, adding that some of the older girls refused to appear on screen. “So I told the director Ahmed Abdalla it wasn’t going to work.” In the end, both Amr and Mounir took part in the movie after the director agreed to shoot their scenes in a way that the girls’ faces would not be recognized.
Surprisingly, Amr’s family, who had never accepted her passion for music, changed their minds after seeing her in the movie and hearing the band’s song “Abaad Makan” (The Furthest Place) on the film’s soundtrack. Her brother, who used to criticize her for her music, ironically landed a role in the movie playing himself. Her sister actually didn’t know anything about the movie and found out only when she saw the trailer and heard the song.
“My sister was against the idea of me singing in the first place. We had a fight and weren’t talking to each other for a while,” says Amr, adding that things got better between the two when her sister finally accepted the idea of Amr as a musician. “She called me and told me that she had heard the song for the movie and was shocked. She really liked it and said she was proud of me and wanted to share the song.”
It’s a Man’s World
Amr’s experience is similar to that of many Egyptian girls on the music scene, which was the reason why Mascara came together as an all-girl band in the first place.
“We are not restricted to being only girls, but my parents had an issue with me being in a mixed band,” Amr explains. “I was too young at the time to decide, but I think they were right. I think it was very healthy to start the band at that age with only girls to better deal with the issues of the music scene. It was also better for us especially because the parents knew each other.”
Being an Egyptian all-girl band has both advantages and disadvantages. On one hand it makes them stand out, but on the other hand people have questioned the band’s talent. Amr thinks that it wasn’t until their performance at the Sweden Rock Festival that people started to take them seriously. “But of course, I heard a lot of comments saying that we were only taken in big festivals because we were girls,” she adds. “I don’t understand why people are upset. It has nothing to do with the band. We are people who worked hard.”
Even now, Amr still thinks there are people who really like them because they are girls, or hate them because they are girls. Fortunately, there are those “who look beyond the concept that we are girls and like our music. They didn’t know we were girls in the first place.”
Amr thinks that these gender sensitivities stem in Egypt, as opposed to Europe or the United States. When the band applied for the Swedish Rock Festival, they didn’t even mention that they were an all-girl band. “When you approach Europe and the States, it is stupid for you to highlight that you are an all-girl band,” she says. “There are thousands of all-girl bands […] When we went to the Sweden Rock Festival we were with five other all-girl bands on stage and they were amazing. There are so many all-girl bands that are popular and really good.”
The Other Side
While Mascara got its start performing metal, the musicians also have a side project called The Other Side of Mascara, where they play acoustic songs such as “Abaad Makan.”
“The focus was always on metal, but sometimes when you play too much metal you start to not want to hear it anymore, not want to hear any more distortion,” Amr explains, “so we take a break and play The Other Side of Mascara.”
For the time being, the band has been focusing on their upcoming tour in the United States, a project they are eagerly looking forward to. “We feel it is going to make a difference in our music because we are really going to be close to the underground music scene in the US,” Amr says, adding that they didn’t realize how popular The Other Side of Mascara was, which is why they will try to release more tracks and upload them on YouTube. Before she runs off into a studio blaring out heavy metal music, she adds, “I feel that if we really focus within the next period we can really go around the world with our music, whether it is for Mascara or The Other Side of Mascara.”