CAIRO - 26 January 2018: Everyone uses different mechanisms to get through life and to express their own experience to others. Some use art; some choose writing; and others go for music and singing. Accordionist, composer, songwriter and singer Youssra El Hawary has turned to music. She started by playing her accordion and it wasn’t long before she was singing about everything she was influenced by. Hawary’s songs are all very real stories, some taken from books she’s read; others are situations she personally encounters.
Filled with the alluring and harmonious tunes of her accordion, Hawary’s hit single “El Soor“ (The Wall) was her first track released in 2012; a biting political commentary about the situation in Egypt. She then began to pursue a professional music career.
The young artist’s constant thirst for progress and renewal helped her quickly rise to fame and establish her own seven-member band. Since then, the band has been performing in Egypt and abroad, after winning a travel grant from regional nonprofit organization Al Mawred Al Thaqafy (Cultural Resource) to help cover their travel expenses and present their work across the Arab world.
The band consists of Shadi El Hosseiny on piano; Sedky Sakhr, harmonica and recorder player; Carl Capelle on the mandola and guitar, Yamen El Gamal on the bass guitar and Mohamed Emad “Mido” playing mandolin.
Accordionist and storyteller Hawary speaks to Egypt Today about her very first album No’oum Nasyeen (We Wake Up Forgetting), released early December, her inspiration and her future projects.
Tell us about your new album This is the band’s first album. For me, it is like a documentation of what I have lived in the past period since I started playing music in 2011 and performed my first concert in 2012. In the beginning, I played alone; then, our band was formed with various instruments. At first, we were uncertain about making a whole album, so we began to record some singles in the studio, some of which were liked by many such as ”Babtesem“ (I Smile) released in 2014. After making music and playing concerts for the past four years, we felt that the time had finally come for us to record our first album. This album is the outcome of the journey we’ve taken so far; and at the same time, it is a new journey on its own.
Did you write all of the album songs? No, I only wrote two songs, “Jessica” and “Akbar Mn El Aoda” (Larger than the Room). The other songs were written by Salah Jahin; Salam Yousry, who wrote four songs; Walid Taher and Amr Mamdouh.
Why did you name it ‘No’oum Nasyeen’ (We Wake up Forgetting)? Choosing the name of the album is the last thing we did, we chose it after we had finished recording and mixing. ‘No’oum Nasyeen’ is taken from my song “Kolna Hanam Belil” (We Will All Fall Asleep At Night). For me, it is the most expressive word of our present time that is full of events, sometimes rough ones. But, when we wake up the next day, we face new events, forgetting the old ones. So, that’s what the album mainly focuses on. At the same time, the name is open for anybody to interpret it based on their perception.
What are the messages you want to send to your audience through your new album? There isn’t a certain message we want to deliver through the album as it is personal; and not just in the sense that it speaks of my personal life, it also expresses my perspective on societal issues. We use art to express what we, me and the band, have passed through in our lives. At the same time, I’d love that the listeners feel that the songs describe what life has become in our present time due to our own experiences.
Which of the songs do you think might greatly affect people? Why? I hope all the songs influence people but I cannot expect what the most inspirational song is, as most of the time what happens is different from what you expect. For example, the song “El Soor” (The Wall), I had never expected that it would receive a lot of attention. Although there are many life experiences that could help you anticipate which song would hit the top and make a difference among people, you can never tell on what basis these songs reach the top.
You’ve launched a campaign to crowdfund your first album, tell us more about that. As a first push for us, we took a music production scholarship from Arab Culture Fund in 2016. We also spent our own money on the album; then, we decided to launch a crowdfunding campaign to complete the fund and make the album to the standards we;ve been dreaming of. This kind of campaign is well known abroad as it is used to raise money in many fields, including music. But it is the first of its kind in Egypt, especially for music. Our fans and those who are interested in music helped and supported us, until we raised the fund we needed for the album.
What inspires your songs in general? Most of the songs reflect my own personal experience, events that happened to me or a subject I read about and that inspired me. As for the album, some songs were made just a few months ago, while I was in France studying accordion. I had travelled for two years, and I used to come back for vacations and to hold some workshops, prepare for the album and do rehearsals. The other songs were made before I travelled. That’s why the album was created at various times.
The album includes two songs that we had produced when we first started playing music in 2012; “Jessica” and “Rehet El-Foraa” (The Smell of Goodbye), as they were not initially produced as we wished. So, we decided to rework them in a better way. For the first time, we only used live instruments, at the highest quality possible when creating songs professionally with music recording studios with the help of our producer Adham Zidan.
In addition, we have wanted to reflect the spirit of friendship among us, in the recording that started in June. We are inspired by a folk music style, as most of our songs depend mainly on telling stories. Through accordion, violin and harmonica we also produce gypsy Jazz.
Do you feel that travelling abroad has promoted you as a singer and musician? When I travelled to France, I was taught different music styles that I had never learned before, such as Jazz and Kango through accordion. I was afraid that travelling would change my way of writing and composing songs. Yet, we were able to keep in the album the spirit that our audiences are used to.
You began your career by joining Altamye theater group, and then The Choir Project, tell us more about this experience I was first introduced to an audience when I joined Altamye theater, a theater troupe that performs a show while playing music and singing. The Choir Project is an artistic and social project, through which we have organized workshops in coordination with Salam Youssry [a painter, writer and theater director] for anyone who wants to learn how to write song lyrics and compose.
Which of your songs do you consider the most special, and why? “El Soor” is very special to me as it was the first song through which I became well-known. Audiences started to know me and whenever my name was mentioned, they would remember the song.
What do you think of the current music scene in Egypt? The music scene in Egypt has become significant, as it survived despite all the events witnessed by Egypt, and it has become more diverse than before with the emergence of different styles. People have also become more interested in music than ever.
What are your future projects? I have not planned yet what I’ll do but I hope to participate in different projects with different bands, as I do not like to be in the same project for long. What I am really concerned about is that audiences like the kind of music I introduce more than my voice.