Egyptian artist Hisham Kharma
Atalented artist who seeks to communicate with the whole world through his music, Hisham Kharma was born in Cairo but lived most of his life in Miami, Dubai and Hamburg where he was heavily influenced by an eclectic mix of music inspired by the different cultures. His music is a combination of electronic, ethnic, lounge and funk sounds.
Kharma’s melodies cross all cultural barriers taking the listener to different worlds. His first official release by Virgin Megastore and Hybrid Records was First Voyage.
Kharma’s second album with Sony Music was the Arabesque series, which brought him together with Grammy Award winner Yanni and Cat Atilla. His third and latest album Al-Yaqeen (Faith) was released in 2016; and gained widespread success. “Sahla we Basita” (Simple and Easy), “Shouf be Albak” (See with your heart) and “Fel Malakout” (In the Kingdom) are among his most famous hits. Kharma has become an icon of electronic music in Egypt; he has recently released his latest joint single “Youmeen” (Two days) with Hany Adel; and is about to release a new album.
Kharma has also recently cooperated for the first time with awards winner Indian singer Tanvi Shah of the movie “Slumdog Millionaire”. This cooperation comes among a number of remarkable projects that gathered Kharma with internationally renowned artists.
Your music is very different… Who influenced you to make this new and creative mix and to start this line of music?
This is the first time I have been asked that question and what I am going to tell you now I have never said before to any media outlet, especially about what inspired me to start my music line. You are getting out of me something I never thought to analyse so I am analysing it with you now (He laughs).
First of all, I follow all types of music from all over the world but I love Asian music in general; from India, China and Malaysia. I love ethnic music of the Asian area in general, in addition to Armenia. I love all kinds of music that depend on ethnic instruments. I consider electronic music a common world language because it is not attributed to a specific country. I studied in Miami for two years, so I was also influenced by Latin music with its unique percussions like bongos and congas. I always try in my music to use acoustic instruments and ethnic, oriental [ones] from Asia, and bongos and congas. I tend every time to use different mix in my music but all of the previous formed my sentiment and inspiration. The deep inspiration started in 2006 when I travelled to US and Germany and performed my post graduate studies in art direction and worked there. I used to deal with people in creative context; so this created a strong bond between us. At that time, I lived in Miami and it is a Cosmopolitan city that houses people from different nationalities and religions; so dealing with them opened my mind. I started to realize and respect the humanity idea; that despite we are from different nationalities and religions there is common bond that brings us together, which is humanity. This principal inspired made me decide that when I will compose my own music, I will make it to serve as a common language to communicate with different people from all over the world, bearing in mind of course that it should contain that oriental taste as this is my roots. I want my music to be my communication language with the whole world. I knew that I succeeded in that after I received feedbacks from people abroad; so I realised that my music reached them because music has no language barrier, it is just one language that unites us together.
What are your most famous musical fusions?
My first album First Voyage and my second Arabesque with the great Yanni and Cat Atilla were stages for me to form my musical mind; that’s why I consider my first kick off to be my third album El Yakeen (Faith) because it included all my musical thinking… The electronic music is now trendy worldwide, people link it with the themes of clubs; on the other hand, we have acoustic instruments, string and orchestra of the classic music which some people view as old school. My target was to make a link between these two different schools: electronic and classic, I want to make a mix using something appealing to youth such as electronic music and other types of music that have special spirit like the classic music because I want the audience in my concerts to be from all generations. Thanks God my concerts are attended by children, youth, adults and elderly…
This blend was included in El Yakeen album, which took five years of preparation… I studied extensively all kinds of music before making this album to come out with something different from what was presented before. I decided to make that mix between classic and electronic music because if it is totally classic, then there is nothing new and if it is purely electronic, it will be somehow spiritless.
To what extent do you believe that music can cross cultural boundaries?
The blends and mixes I make in my music make me always feel that music has no specific country because all these different kinds of music could be mixed with each other. I always want to prove by these mixes that music is a common language that can cross all the cultural barriers. That’s why I named my first album First Voyage because I wanted this album to express my first voyage in the music world as if I travelled around the world gathering cultures and music and mixing them together. That’s why when the album was released we made an animation as if I was travelling around the world. I challenged myself before anyone else with my music. I was a computer science graduate, I worked in the advertising field for 14 years. I worked in Dubai as an executive creative director in the largest Japanese company in Egypt and Dubai and reached the peak of my career but at the end I couldn’t continue in this career because despite all that success I wasn’t happy as I realised that music is my passion.
Unfortunately, we were raised [to believe] that music is just a hobby or something for entertainment but I started to throw all this [away] and start my musical career. People at that time thought I was crazy to take such risk; I have three kids so I have responsibilities; despite this fact, I decided to quit my established career and to return back to Egypt and launch my music career after the 25th of January Revolution. People thought what I was doing was middle age crisis and they told me that ‘only songs succeed not music’. This decision wasn’t taken all of a sudden as people thought; it was the result of years of thinking. People close to me said that ‘it doesn’t make sense to start a musical career in Egypt especially after the revolution’. My convictions were totally opposite [to this]; first, I believed that chaos creates opportunities; second, I took that issue from a humanitarian side; most Egyptians were depressed at that time so if I could entertain them and make them happy, then I would have done something great.
Business wise, there was a big opportunity because the general mood was not good so the most guaranteed investments at that time were food and entertainment. My ultimate conviction was that good music will create its audience whatever the circumstances [are]; the example of this is the veteran Omar Khairat. I expressed this life challenge in “Youmeen” song with Hany Adel to encourage people who are afraid to leave their work and follow their passion to be bold and take the risk.
In general, in order to succeed you should take risks.
You cooperated with great global musicians, such as Tanvi shah, Cat Attila, Omar Khairat and Yanni; what did each of them add to you?
Cooperating with such giant names added a lot to me. First on the musical level, the idea of being a musical composer who has the right to choose each time the musical fusion gives me the space to deal with different people whether Yanni, Tanvi Shah, Omar Khairat, Hany Adel or Hisham el Gakh. Each cooperation represents a new experience for me, aside from the routine of doing the same thing each time because any musician gets bored if he repeats himself. Also, throughout the musical history we saw what happened to the musicians who presented the same music for long time; the audience got bored and they lost their success and glow. Every project with any of these big names was a new challenge that made me renew my blood and trigger my talent.
I worked in each of these projects with enthusiasm as if it is my first project, exerting my maximum effort to do my best. In these projects, I intended to surprise the audience; in other words, to do something that both of us didn’t perform before, to add to him/her a new taste and accept what they will add to me.
On the personal level, these big names added to me a lot. I was raised listening to the music of Khairat and Yanni; in school talents shows, I used to play their music and I was vey much influenced by it, so to have the chance to cooperate with them was a big honour for me. My cooperation with Yanni was important because it happened at the beginning of my career before I had even become a full time professional musician, so it gave me a strong push that I am on the right track and presenting new and different music. This cooperation came at the time I was wondering: Am I correct? Do I have a real talent? Should I continue in this career? the questions that usually jump to the mind of any artist at the beginning of his career.
Tell us more about your cooperation with Slumdog Millionaire’s famed Indian singer Tanvi shah?
The story started when I made some music tracks that were released in Buddha Bar and Café del Mar; from this experience I knew an Austrian music distributor and we became close friends. A year ago, this distributor introduced me to Shah on Facebook and said we can do amazing work together. I love Shah’s songs and voice and I was eager to cooperate with her. Since that time, we were looking for a suitable opportunity to cooperate till we found two suitable projects; the first is a song talking about human trafficking and body organ trade, the second is a song that she will sing in my upcoming album.
My album will be a musical one, with two bonus tracks; one will be performed by Shah and the other song I am not sure if I will release it in the upcoming album. This song will be performed by a group of vocals from around the world; and Shah will also participate in representing India.
To what extent do you see a harmony between the Indian music and the Arab one? Do you think they can be blended together?
The similarity is that they are affiliated with great cultures. I respect and admire any country which has its artistic culture, whether art, music, painting, poetry or cinema; and India has all of the previous. The Indian culture is very rich; that is why here in Egypt from a long period of time most of us follow Indian songs and movies. Egyptians were raised on the Indian films and songs, especially those of the legendary Amitabh Bachchan. Bollywood is now conquering the world and competing with Hollywood. Both Indian and Arab music are rich with talented vocals and musicians.
In general, I love mixing electronic music with ethnic instruments from all over the world. By this mix, I intended to build my own different identity. In my cooperation with Shah, I blended oriental with electronic and Indian music, I hope the audience will love this mix.
Tell us more about your cooperation with Omar Khairat?
My project with the one and only Omar Khairat was a dazzling one. It was something really big for me; cooperating with one of my favourite musicians. This project was designed by the great Egyptian designer Shosha Abou Elkheir. Abou Elkheir invented what we can call a fundraising design; how to fundraise through design to deliver hope instead of pain. Children Cancer Hospital 57357 wanted to make a memorial for the late great Emirati leader Sheikh Zayed because he contributed a lot to establishing this great hospital. So the hospital asked Shosha to design a memorial to be executed using latest technology and that has a philosophy.
She made a dazzling memorial using optical illusion and linked honoring Sheikh Zayed with ancient Egyptians who used to honor people during either sunrise or sunset. She wanted to use sunrise to symbolise the birth of a leader and sunset to reflect that even if he died the hope he gave us would keep him alive. So in order to add spirit to this magnificent memorial, she asked Khairat to make the sunrise music to represent Sheikh Zayed when he was alive with his wisdom and sobriety and asked me to make the sunset music to represent youth; but the two pieces must complete each other. It was one of the most important projects that I have done because it contained both humanitarian and creative sides. I love fusion in general not only in the field of music but in all the artistic fields; so this fusion between design, music and charity for me was the eternal creativity. Also, sharing the same project with the veteran Omar Khairat was great honor for me.
Omar Khairat is actually my third cousin; he used to advise and support me and was so happy with my success. The funny thing is that one of my concerts at Cairo Opera House was at the same time of his concert; my musicians in the break went to watch his concert and his musicians came to watch mine. Also, one of my great supporters is the veteran musician Hany Shenouda; I made a remix of his soundtrack for Shams el Zanaty movie in 1998 while I was in the university. I was influenced by Hany Shenouda because he was the first one to use electronic music in Egypt. He liked the remix; and now, he is one of my great supporters. He invited me to play with him on stage in one of his concerts and I did the same in one of my concerts.
Tell us about your three albums; each is very different from the others and they all achieved great success.
I released my first album First Voyage in 2010; at that time, music for me was just a hobby. This album was an experiment. After its release, First Voyage was number one on Virgin Megastores chart lists for two months, I was happy that the audience liked it. In 2014, Sony Music Middle East heard First Voyage and they contacted me to participate in Arabesque album. They told me we chose you from Egypt along with a musician from Turkey and another one from Greece. I thought that the other two musicians were beginners like me. After one month, they sent me via email the album poster design, I saw on the poster Yanni and Hisham Kharma. I asked them why are we copying a design of one of Yanni’s albums? (He laughs). They told me Yanni is with you in the album. I decided at that time not only to continue in this field but to be fully dedicated to music.
Before Arabesque, I was working in Dubai and was invited to one of Yanni’s concerts. At that time, I decided to resign from my work and to compose different music to communicate with youths from all over the world; Arabesque was like a second sign from God.
I consider El Yakeen my first album because First Voyage, as I said before, was an experiment. I just wanted to get out the music inside me, I wanted to test through First Voyage whether I was truly talented or I was deceiving myself and living in illusions… When I decided to make El Yakeen I had to compose music that could be heard, seen and played in live concerts with musicians and orchestra. The name of this album reflects my story with music. I wanted to present untraditional music. El Yakeen promo had a notable cast of celebrities: Asser Yassin, Omar Samra, Hazem emam, Heba el sweedy and Hana shiha .
I chose celebrities from different sectors, not only artists. At the beginning of the promo, I said faith differs from one person to the other, then each one of them talked about the meaning of faith from their point of view so it was a spiritual promo. At the end of the promo, I said faith for me is a voice that calls you and it is difficult to ignore; this voice is music and I translated it in a musical album named El Yakeen. This untraditional promo achieved a booming success, all these celebrities believed in the album’s message so the audience in return believed in the album and when they heard the it they felt all its details.
The hardest mission for me was choosing the musicians who participated with me in the live concerts; I preferred to choose young talented musicians who need someone to believe in them and give them the chance. These young musicians were compatible with me, they understood our humanity dimension; that we are playing music to entertain the audience and make them happy and be happy with them as well; we are not doing a profession; we believe in our music and we want to expand and deliver to the whole world; and that we should have a message. The audience felt all the previous and believed in us and started to follow us. I wanted to expand my fan base slowly and strongly. Thanks god what we did in a short period of time was delivered to our audience; this is the biggest proof that people believe in true art. The name of the album was a message that if you take any risk, only faith will make you continue your path; if you have strong faith, you will reach your goal even if all the circumstances show it is impossible.
Who is the musician who influenced you?
There are a lot of names; most of the current modern electronic music producers. I was influenced by Omar Khairat, Yanni Chinmaya Dunster, AR Rahman, Ivan Torrent, Kitaro, John Williams, James Horner and Hans Zimmer.
What is your daily routine?
I am keen to play music every day in the morning even if I am not working on a project, I always think of new ideas and document them to work on them later or they inspire me with new project, workout, studying new techniques in music, directing concerts, music distribution and orchestration. I take my children to their sports trainings and spend time with them and my wife, from day one I was keen to make balance between my personal life and musical life. I love to travel to take workshop or course, to know different cultures and get out of my comfort zone, I love food as well (He Laughs).
What is your favourite dish?
I love Asian food in general.
Who is your favourite singer, composer?
There are lots of names, I listen according to the mood. Nowadays, I listen to Nat King Cole.
What are your future plans?
I have three future plans; the first is my upcoming album which will be released in April 2019. This album will contain new flavours and will be very rich in terms of orchestration. The second plan is that I will add more musicians to my team. The third plan is that I want to increase my shows abroad in the coming period, I want to take my next album abroad