CAIRO – 18 October 2017: In love with the violin since he was 14, Mohamed Sami has managed to evolve his talent from a good musician to become a composer who uses modern technology to re-introduce classical music with a twist. Born into a musical family, the left-handed violinist was mentored by Maestro Abdo Dagher and has developed his own tune, fusing Arabic and classical music and using modern music techniques with various instruments.
Throughout his career, Sami has helped establish some of today’s leading Egyptian bands, including Al Dor Al Awal, and participated the Sharkiat project led by musician Fathy Salama. Now working on his second solo violin album, Sami speaks to us about his musical journey, future projects and his view of the current music scene in Egypt.
How did you start your musical journey?
I come from a musical family, but I decided to become a musician when I was 14 years old. I attempted to learn different instruments, such as the flute, but I had more passion for the violin and I later enrolled in the Higher Institute of Arabic Music.
I used to compose musical pieces even before I started learning violin. Generally speaking, the violin is an instrument that features a lot of technicalities and can be used to create something new and relevant to our oriental, classical music that portrays Egyptian identity. I try to develop the concept of the typical classical oriental music and introduce more technological aspects and new techniques.
Why did you choose to pursue classical music in particular?
Classical music is the basic foundation of music production and is the only genre that is well documented throughout history that features more technicalities than oriental music. Throughout history, oriental music has focused on the value of lyrics and melody instead of the quality of music itself, making it less instrumental.
I don’t focus on producing Western or Middle Eastern classical [music], but on leading a music scene because people nowadays rarely listen to any music.
Music production is a message in the end, so it is either you do it right or you don’t do it at all. I don’t seek to be a commercial musician, but I seek to leave something behind that is authentic music.
There are examples of those people who lead a pure music scene, such as the prominent Egyptian musician Fathy Salama.
What inspires you to compose music? And what type of music compositions do you usually produce?
I don’t have any reservations on any music genre presented in the current scene and this is the result of being raised in an environment with mixed tastes in music. The idea of diversity is part of professionalism in music and the duty of a composer. I am required to be aware of all the genres of music in the scene. This is how musicians [find] new ideas and inspiration to then later re-introduce it in another frame and benefit the audience and other musicians. I believe in improvisation.
What you think is the best way to fuse Arabic and classical music?
We have evolved in melodies but we didn’t evolve in harmony. However, some musicians, such as the famous Lebanese Ziad Rahbani and Fayrouz, were able to implement this harmony by blending with well-recognized international melodies. [Through this mix, they] succeed in giving a unique effect creating their own contribution to the music scene.
This [mix] requires musicians to study music all their lives and to continue developing it. The harmony should always develop carefully, adding a tone of guitar and so on. I believe that all instruments can be blended, but creating a good music production and harmony depends on the cultural musical education.
Who are your role models? Why?
Violinist Abdo Dagher, Indian violinist Lakshminarayana Subramaniam, Scandinavian artists, flamenco artist Paco De Lucia, and Jazz musician Bill Evans. The special thing about them is that they make the performance look easy and smooth, but when you try to replicate it, it’s extremely hard.
What do you like most about playing the violin, and what message you seek to present to the audience?
The violin symbolizes a lot of things to me; it’s the only instrument that presents things that I don’t know how to express no matter what is my energy and my emotion. It is one of the best methods of self-expression to me.
Which of your projects do you consider special?
El Dor El Awal is one of the most special projects because we all compose music. The composition is the most enjoyable part of it because we learned from each other.
What are your upcoming projects?
There is a plan to form a trio of musicians; Fady Badr, Mahmoud Abdel Aziz, and myself, in addition to a drummer and a keyboardist. I am also working on a solo project, producing my second solo album within a year. The solo project will have a different theme; it won’t only include a violin, it will also include harmony from a guitar and a keyboard.
Name three composers or recordings you think everyone should listen to.
Pieces by classical composer Bach and Abdo Dagher, Camel Dance and Rasiny by Fathy Salama and Gamal Sheeha. Sufi, religious and folklore recitals by Mohamed Omran and Taha Al Fashni.
Are there underrated Egyptian music composers?
Musician and artist Shreen Abdo, who I believe could perform better and whose voice I admire.
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