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INTERVIEW: Egyptian singer Maryam Saleh on her new album Halawella

Ahram Online spoke to Egyptian singer and songwriter Maryam Saleh about her most recent album Halawella

Nourhan Tewfik , Monday 16 Nov 2015
Maryam Saleh
Egyptian singer, songwriter and composer Maryam Saleh. (Photo: Ali Saadi)
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In what could be described as a fresh and ingenious collaboration, Egyptian singer Maryam Saleh and Lebanese composer Zeid Hamdan came together to present Halawella, an album comprising of Arabic satirical lyrics and state-of-the-art electronic music.

Initially meeting in 2010, Saleh and Hamdan swiftly began their collaboration, and experimented with this fusion of Arabic lyrics and electronic beats. Together, they performed an array of concerts inside the Arab world and abroad.

Halawella is thus a continued collaboration between both musicians, albeit one that witnesses further experimentation. The album comprises of 10 songs, six of which are reinterpretations of Sheikh Imam and Ahmed Fouad Negm’s songs: Valerie Giscar D Estaing, Nixon Baba, Ghaba, Youyou, Halawella and Chal El Hawa.

As for the other four songs, Watan El Akk, Eslahat, Emchi Ala Rimchi, Islahat, and Walaa Soda, they were written by Mido Zoheir, Omar Mostafa, Amr Qenawi, and Maryam Saleh. Saleh is also the music composer.

The album is steeped in dark humor and rebelliousness and tugs at politics and life.

Maryam, a theatre artist herself, manifests her performance skills in Halawella, her second album after her debut release Mesh Baghanny (2012). She maintains her rejection of traditional music- her voice intensifies the black comedy characteristic of the album’s songs. Saleh chops the lyrics into little snippets, exhibiting a remarkable ability to play with her voice.

Maryam began her music career with participations in Baraka band, which reinterpreted Sheikh Imam’s songs with rock music, and Gawaz Safar band which she founded herself, before commencing her solo career. Her repertoire also includes acting roles in films Ein Shams, Bel Alwan El Tabeeeya and Farah Layla TV series.

Her theatre experience includes collaborations with El-Warsha and Tamy troupes as well as Choir Project. Furthermore, her repertoire is steeped in experimentation, with collaborations with Palestinian musician Tamer Abu Ghazaleh and Egyptian musician Maurice Louca.

Halawella was produced by Mostakell, a music label for indie Arabic music operating under Eka3 platform. Palestinian musician Tamer Abu Ghazaleh, Eka3’s founder, explains that the platform “has become an incubator and accelerator for business models that helps to fill the gaps in the Arabic music market."

Besides Mostakell, Eka3's portfolio also includes “Almoharek (Live booking agency of indie Arabic music), Awyav (Arabic Music Content Agency), and Ma3azef.com (Music Magazine).

The album was produced jointly with both Saleh and Hamdan. The production took a long time “because -- as usual -- we work with low budgets, and each of the artists lives in a different country, which made us work on the production bit by bit whenever the circumstances allow us,” Abu Ghazaleh asserts.

Upon the album’s release, the production team opted to spread the album’s recorded music, rather than focus on live shows. So far, they have focused on the Arab region release, but they are scheduled to plan Europe's release, as well as an album tour by early 2016.

Halawella was presented at Rich Mix London, UK on 23 October, and at BO18, Beirut, Lebanon on 12 November.

Ahram Online spoke to Saleh about Halawella, her music collaborations, singing style and upcoming plans.
 

Ahram Online (AO): Is Halawella a development of your relationship with Imam’s music?

Maryam Saleh (MS): Certainly. Halawella witnesses a development in my own relationship with Sheikh Imam's repertoire. I also found in Zeid's music the right sound that we could present Sheikh Imam's music through, and thus introduce his music to the young generation that would not have heard this music otherwise.

AO: Tell us more about your specific collaboration with electro-music producer Zeid Hamdan.

MS: I've been a fan of Hamdan's music ever since he was performing with and composing music for Soap Kills, and Kazamada bands. Besides his incredible music, working with Hamdan is in and of itself an enjoyable experience. He is always excited about music, which in turn inspires me to fetch new songs that we can work on together.

AO: Tell us more about Halawella.

MS: The album comprises of six of Sheikh Imam's songs, and the rest are my own musical compositions, which include Watan El Akk, Eslahat, Emchi Ala Rimchi, Walaa Soda and Islahat. I also wrote the lyrics for Emchi Ala Rimchi, and took part in writing Walaa Soda, alongside Amr Mostafa and Amr Qenawi. As for Watan El Akk and Islahat, they were written by poet Mido Zoheir.

What I like the most about Zoheir's lyrics is how he sees things. He reminds me of Samuel Beckett’s plays, a kind of art which I really love. And I’ve been interested in these styles of lyrics and music state since I was in Baraka band (2008) and also in my debut album Mesh Baghanny (2012).

AO: In Halawella, as elsewhere, you perform, rather than just sing. Is this style of singing influenced by your experience in theatre?

MS: I've worked with my father, director, writer and theatre critic Saleh Saad in street theatre since age nine. I specialised in the character of the popular clown. Most of our work together was based on the idea of folk arts in Egyptian society, and which in turn really influenced my musical career. I was also influenced by Sheikh Imam and others. All together, these influences contributed to the way I sing now.

AO: In Halawella, we see you as a performer, singer, songwriter and composer. How challenging was this project for you?

MS: I love each of Halawella's songs, and the making of each song constituted a unique experience of its own. This, I believe, explains why I didn't find the idea of taking on many and diverse responsibilities hectic or challenging, especially that the project took so long to finish. I'd say that the biggest challenge we encountered was that Zeid and I live in different countries, which negatively affected our ability to rehearse together, to think collaboratively, and to also work on new songs. But I’d say that our excitement towards this collaboration always overcame these challenges.

AO: This is your second collaboration with Mostakell, after your debut album Mesh Baghanny. How important is this music label to you?

MS: Mostakell helped me launch my solo career, after I had always performed as part of bands. I had feared the idea of working on my own, but I nonetheless grasped the importance of taking such step through my work with Mostakell.

AO: How do you assess this current moment in your musical career? What has changed? And what are your upcoming steps?

MS: The main change I encountered is that music has become a career, and I now devote all my time to singing and music, a decision which I wasn't so conscious of, and which is a constant source of fear. I fear losing the playful spirit I approach music with, and the ability to enjoy the music process as a result. To deal with that fear, I like to involve myself in many projects, and to constantly experiment with different people.

My future plans include a collaboration with musicians Tamer Abu Ghazaleh and Maurice Louca. The project includes research and experimentation with the new music in our society, from maharaganat, to shaabi music, to experimental music. Each of us will leave their own imprint in this project. All three of us are merged together in an end result, which seems unusual yet exciting nonetheless. The project is scheduled to come out by the summer of 2016.

 


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