Overnight, a young Egyptian female underground talent has become one of Egypt's rising musicians. Was she really waiting to shine in the music scene, anxious to be discovered?
“Well… not at all," Yosra El-Hawary, 28-year-old singer, musician, and actress comments. "Composing music for me was always a hobby, and singing was only for myself or at casual gatherings with my friends… part of the fun we normally have," El-Hawary tells Ahram Online.
"I never considered myself a singer and being noticed today was only by pure chance," she believes.
Overnight, El-Hawary found herself on popular television talk shows presented by some of Egypt's most famous television hosts Amr Adeeb and Yusri Foda. "It took me by surprise to be honest and until now I still don't believe it," she says.
El-Hawary was raised in Kuwait as a child, where she had her first music lessons. "I took piano lessons and at school I used to play the accordion. You would often find me at the school choir every morning," she recalls.
During her high-school years, El-Hawary’s family moved back to Egypt, where she finished her high-school degree and attended the Faculty of Fine Arts, majoring in Theatre and Cinema design.
One might think that her passion for music would have taken her to the Music Conservatory, but "at the time I was in love with theatre and cinema… becoming an actress was one of my dreams," she giggles.
"But by my junior year, I resumed my piano lessons, frightened of losing what I had learnt as a child," she tells Ahram Online.
Following graduation, El-Hawary worked at one of Egypt's leading advertising and marketing agencies but pursued acting as well.
"My collage buddy Salam Yousry had founded the El Tamye (Clay) Theatre group and I asked him to join," she recalls.
El-Hawary starred in one of El Tamye's biggest performances ‘Tamye Wahid Wel Shagar Alwan” (One Clay Whereas Trees Are Coloured), which included an artistic evening, dedicated to Egyptian musician Sayed Darwish. "With the music background I have, I was part acting, part singing and playing music among the other group members," El-Hawary explains.
Continuing her work with Yousry, she joined Mashrou'e Coral (The Choir Project), to which she brought her buddy… the accordion.
"In the accordion, I found my complete orchestra," she laughs. "It has a harmonious combination of sounds and thanks to my piano lessons, I could master its keys," she states.
At first the accordion was a struggle, El-Hawary describes, "but after a short time, I could compose my songs on it."
Without any further lessons, and depending on music improvisation by all members of the Choir Project, the entire team found themselves performing across the Arab World, and El-Hawary got a lot of attention.
"Now that's a funny story," she laughs again. "In Beirut, where we had a scheduled performance, I played my accordion and sang one of my own songs at one of the city's night-outs," she remembers. "Suddenly the place went quiet and all heads turned towards me… I didn't notice until everyone cheered and clapped when I was done," she says.
Surprisingly, the owner came to the young star to ask her to perform regularly at her hotspot.
Her friend and colleague Yousry then realised El-Hawary's full potential. "He tried over and over to convince me to take it further with concerts and so on in Cairo but I was frightened of solo performances," she says bashfully.
Yousry convinced her to do a concert with two of her Choir Project mates, Mai Waleed and Aya Mustafa in downtown Cairo.
And then there was her piece “El-Sour” (The Wall), her first video, that quickly garnered over one hundred thousands views.
Under the title “Min Gheir Mokhreg” (Without a Director), "My photographer friend Sara… and I went to the "Great Wall" of Mohamed Mahmoud at 6 am, and started playing music, singing and climbing on and off the wall," she says. "Young children joined us and there we made a music video," she states.
With her minimal video editing, El-Hawary finished “El-Sour” and posted it on YouTube at night. "I woke up the next morning with tons of emails, messages, and comments," she tells Ahram Online.
The song was a great success, El-Hawary was even more known; yet there were some harsh comments on her choice of wordings. "I know, some did not expect me to be that explicit with my wordings but I don't see any harm," she states clearly.
In El Sour, the young singer recalls the incident of the army soldier who peed on protestors standing atop the wall at Mohamed Mahmoud Street. The incident was broadcast on national television.
"I guess it is because of our society… Egyptians are in shock when these words coming from a young female in a song," she believes. Originally, “El-Sour” was written by one of El-Hawary's friends and a well-known poet Waleed Taher, who had published this piece among many others in his book. "There was no criticism there and in addition to him being a man, books are not a particularly effective medium," El-Hawary speculates.
El Sour is one among 11 other songs, El-Hawary had previously recorded and broadcast over the internet. With a growing number of fans, people started searching for more and they found some other of her other songs that today are increasingly popular such as“Jessica” and “Ottobees” (Bus).
There are words here and there that attract criticism with some labelling her as “indecent.” In “Ottobees,” sung while driving after being stuck behind a bus, she describes the black smoke coming out of it as khara (shit).
All over her music pages, fans of El-Hawary showed their appreciation of her style of music. For instance, "The accordion is one instrument we miss today" or "Your songs are simple and come from the heart."
For most, El-Hawary is considered a monologist who sings witty as well as soothing songs. Whether you like her or do not, El-Hawary is making a mark on the music scene today as her songs tell stories and somewhat mock Egyptians socially and politically.
"I am happy to be presenting something different to the public. My songs are entirely based on daily situations, in which I criticise us Egyptians and I believe this is what makes them likable," she says.
The multi-talented Yosra El-Hawary, who still remains a freelance marketing and advertising specialist "to make money" as she puts it, definitely presents a new vibe and style within the music industry with a lot to offer. "But I don't intend on becoming commercial… People knew me on the Internet without any limitations or censorship and I am determined to continue this way no matter what," El-Hawary affirms.
El-Hawary is currently working on a project with the new Like Jelly band. Both will present a song of relationship through dialogue and as always, Yosra El-Hawary fans expect a lot of mocking!