Photography courtesy The 19th Corporation
He’s the guitarist behind many brilliant performances with Amr Diab, Mohamed Mounir, Samira Said and Eftekasat. He’s also a composer and an entrepreneur whose career spans over 25 years. The 39-year-old Mohamed Lotfy, better known as Ousso, co-founded Nagham Masry and has also ventured into events management through the company he founded, The 19th Corporation, and has just launched a brand new initiative to help fellow struggling artists. The self-taught guitarist knows how difficult it is to learn new instruments, especially for those living outside of the capital who don’t speak English and so can’t access online tutorials.
Ousso speaks to us about his latest venture, music and how he came to be one of the top musicians in the country without getting any sort of formal music degrees. Ousso founded Ewsal Bel3araby (www.bel3araby.net), an integrated musical platform in the form of a musical social-networking platform where people can connect and keep us with the music scene. Under the project, Ousso also launched El Sellem; an online platform and YouTube channel where young talents can learn various instruments through online tutorials in Arabic by professional musicians—free of charge. At a recent jamming session, we got to see Ousso at work.
Tell us about yourself.
My career as a professional musician started in 1995 when I used to play rock music. My first concert in the commercial scene came by coincidence as a replacement to the original guitarist for Samira Said in Adwaa El Madina festival. There, I met important musicians who then recommended me for other work and further collaborations such as recording the soundtrack with Yousry Nasrallah’s film El Madina (The City). I later worked with musicians such as Yehia Ghanam, Hassan Khalil, Ahmed Rabie and Eftekasat, co-founded Nagham Masry as well as played and recorded with all the pop artists in the Middle East, such as Mohamed Mounir, Amr Diab, Shereen, Samira Saeed and Angham to name a few.
In 2006, I decided to slow down on commercial concerts, created and organized a major music festival called SOS (Save Our Sound), aiming to introduce indie music to the scene.
Throughout my career, I managed to perform, compose and produce music projects and recordings for several brands like telecommunication networks Etisalat, Vodafone, and Mobinil (now Orange). I have worked on corporate events, such as Nokia Express Festival that consisted of four stages, all carrying out concerts simultaneously.
How did you end up studying at Berklee College of Music in Spain?
I am self-taught, I don’t have a bachelor’s degree in music, but I used to take lessons with pianist Rashed Fahim who was a Berklee graduate and who taught me jazz music theory. Later, in 2009, the American University in Cairo invited me to teach guitar and music technology. Berklee has constructed another campus in Spain specialized in postgraduate studies. The university’s master’s degree required a bachelor’s degree in music, and even though I didn’t have the degree, I managed to send them samples of my work and they offered me a scholarship to join the contemporary music studio program.
What inspired you to create the 19th Corporation and how did it start?
I enjoy organizing and carrying out events and shows related to music, but anything related to event planning is also probably relevant to entertainment; so you have to consider logistics, organization, production, permits, security and venues. I was inspired to launch activities in the entertainment and music industry that would be more creative, original and new—like the SOS music festival and Nokia Express—as well as create a fusion process that is rarely found in the entertainment business.
In 2010, I stopped all of my activities and founded The 19th Corporation to present commercial events in an effort to resume the SOS music festival, but the revolution in 2011 delayed these plans. Later on, I got back to playing music with pop stars Mohamed Mounir and Shereen, and became a full-time musician then went to Berklee. When I came back, I continued performing music and working on organizing major commercials and music, like the album launch tour of Massar Egbari. The company also carried out corporate events like the Marassi Spring Festival with Emaar Misr, the Classic Cars Show, Halloween and El Moled Festivals.
What makes The 19th Corporation company different from any other music production or event management company in Egypt?
First, we don’t organize events for the sake of only generating revenue; we seek to develop projects that are creative and that create a memorable experience. The company was initiated by a professional musician, not just an entrepreneur or businessman.
What is the most special project that the company has produced?
Ewsal Bel3araby is a 360 musical platform to help discover rising musicians across the country. There, one can listen to music, observe, learn or do anything related to music, even networking and getting introduced to music amateurs and professional musicians.
Ewsal Bela3raby teaches music online as a first step and later applicants are encouraged to take part in El Sellem project to learn music and network for further musical collaborations to start their individual processes in composing music, forming their own bands and starting their own musical projects.
What music genres does Ewsal Bel3araby specialize in?
We teach all genres of music in Ewsal Bela3araby, but we don’t teach classical music as we would like to focus more on contemporary music, oriental, jazz, pop, rock and indie genres.
How can Ewsal Bel3araby further develop?
Our next plan involves expanding the project and creating Ewsal Bel3araby music hubs in Arab countries with vast musical networks in countries like Morocco and Dubai.
Tell us more about the tutors who teach music in Ewsal Bela3raby.
There are several talented artists who take the initiative to teach what they know about music through Ewsal Bela3raby, such as Hany El Badry who is very inspirational and plays ney and is known for being a master in oriental music theories. Electronic music is taught by Amir Farag, a band member in MAF, a DJ and music producer who is very knowledgeable when it comes to equipment and software. Azima and Hani Bedeir are two of the percussion teachers who are specialized in teaching Middle Eastern percussion. We also have 10 guitarists, including myself, bass guitarists, drummers, saxophonists, keyboard teachers, oud instructors like Belqais and Mohamed Abo Zekry who fuse traditional oud with contemporary music and Nagwan who teaches Indian rhythms.
What artists and performers do you seek to work with and haven’t worked with yet?
I don’t have any preferences because I have worked with many artists throughout my musical career, including music producers like Tarek Madkour, Tamer Karawan and Hesham Nazih to name a few. I have also worked with many people in the indie music scene.
What do you think of the current music scene in Egypt? What do you think it lacks and how can it develop?
What I see lacking is exactly what I am trying to tackle in Ewsal Bela3raby, which is that the music industry is only present in Cairo and missing in other governorates. Each governorate should feature its own music industry that includes local musicians, venues, concerts and schools. We lack musical knowledge due to the lack of musical exchange between governorates; a problem that Ewsal Bel3araby plans to contribute to solving.
Tell us about a special experience you had as a musician.
The best experience I had was a project called Music Matbakh, organized by the British Council, where they invited two musicians from countries like Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Syria and England. We all stayed in England for one month in a studio, and we composed and produced a lot of soundtracks that could make up three whole albums. We also went on tours and played music and participated in concerts everywhere in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Morocco and the UK.
What’s your advice to young, rising artists?
Practice, study hard, be patient, produce a lot, seek all chances and never lose hope. The music scene is tough and being a professional musician requires a lot of training and commitment, as well as patience and an understanding of the market.
Rising artists should also know that they have chosen one of the hardest careers ever because its chances of success are limited and making a living out of music is even harder worldwide.
Are there any other company projects in the pipeline?
Most of the projects we plan to conduct will be under Ewsal Bel3araby initiative. We want to build a center to teach music and include venues carrying out many live concerts. Other projects will include tours and live concerts. We also plan to implement a five-year plan that will include small venues representing Ewsal Bel3araby in all governorates. These plans will also be in parallel with joint performances with bands and organizing events with other companies.
Earth 19 is another project that The 19th Corporation plans to carry out annually, and it is a music and arts festival organized in collaboration with Earth Gallery in October. The festival will feature a three-day camp including all handmade and eco-friendly materials in an effort to provide awareness and tell people that they can have fun without damaging the environment. It’s a full-on environment-friendly camping experience. The festival will host professional bands and DJs like Massar Egbari, Nagham Masry, Nour Ashour, HOH and MAF. et