On Thursday 19 September, musician Maii Waleed is set to take over El-Geneina's stage to perform a selection from her recently produced album 'Moga' by Lebanese independent music pioneer Zeid Hemdan, presenting heartfelt lyrics and unconventional musical arrangements to the audience.
While the mainstream music scene in Egypt and the Arab world continues to be centred on Arabic pop by highly choreographed artists, shaped by record labels to produce a certain expected image, some artists are breaking free of this mould. Maii Waleed is definitely one of them.
The young 25-year-old artist hails from Egypt's seaside city of Alexandria and has been dabbling with music from a young age; playing a number of instruments in school and being part of several independent bands in Alexandria's underground scene, such as all-girl metal band Mascarra and electro-rock ensemble Telepoetic, along with Samaka, Grin and Nail Polish.
Waleed moved to Cairo a few years back, and decided to focus on her own musical arrangements, producing acoustic tracks on Sound Cloud - a platform for sharing sound files online, along with a music video for 'Moga' with friend and bassist Perry Moataz, which was featured on Ahram Online's best underground music videos for 2012.
Two underlining themes infuse Waleed's music: love and identity. "It's a matter of existence. I think there is always a battle for belonging to something: either to a person or to society. The experiences of these trials in my life are reflected in my songs. Sometimes I feel I don't belong to this society, and other times I feel like I do," Waleed told Ahram Online in May 2013 when her album 'Moga' was released.
"I think my songs are very sad; based on disappointment, on my life. Now I'm going through a different phase, so I'm starting to be more positive," Waleed says.
"I think the best thing in art is when you really become transparent and express whatever you have inside you," she added.
Waleed's love songs stem from her experiences, and do not necessarily convey a certain story or any direct emotion. Rather, they take on a more abstract emotional depth that is touching and powerful in spite of the simplicity and spontaneity of the lyrics.
One of the songs that reflects her place in society is, Ana Mesh Men Hena ('I am not from here'), in which she analyses the kind of expectations society puts on her. Waleed states that she's not from this place, as people refer to it: "They say girls have to be shy, balanced and not keen; dreams of freedom are limited. I just don't understand," the verse reads.
Another song, Hasafer Beid ('I will travel away') starts with a rebellious rock rhythm, and the first line says "I'll travel away, with no authority telling me what to do; I'll go live above, and find people who have taste, and live with people who have taste."
Many have interpreted this song as a reference to political authority in Egypt, probably because of the line, "Old people, old people, locked us in…. They think we're still young, but we are still young." Whilst, according to Waleed, it is a song she wrote when she was younger, living in her parents' house, and wanting to break free and find her independence.
Waleed has never really taken her music career seriously, shying away from playing to an audience.
"I just wanted to compose songs. I wasn't thinking I would make money or reach people," she said.
However, after meeting Hemdan through common friends one night in Alexandria three years ago, that fundamentally changed. Rushing back to her house, she grabbed her guitar and they recorded a demo of ten songs on guitar metronome the night before he flew back to Beirut.
"I spent a year and a half listening to these demos, imagining ways of producing them. In August last year I invited Maii to come and produce the album and finish it," Hemdan told Ahram Online.
While the album is Waleed's own lyrics and compositions, Hemdan focused on production and the instrumentals involved, with three tracks co-produced by Lebanese musician Sherif Magareb.
"The first thing that struck me was the texture of her voice, and then when I recorded her I realised her compositions were very nice, very inspiring. The style she has is very modern," he said.
Hemdan is no stranger to producing music, dubbed "the Father of the Lebanese Underground" since his 90s project Soapkills with Yasmine Hemdan, in which they re-distributed old arabic music with a modern trip-hop beat. Later he went on to start new bands such as 'The New Government' and 'Zeid and the Wings' alongside collaboration with artists such as Egyptian singer Maryam Saleh.
Waleed and Hemdan share a similar taste for music and are excited by keeping the process of making music fun, playful and experimental.
"We have this mental and emotional connection and this friendship, which helped me to let go and experiment. Because I don't know how to be professional. If it's not playful and fun I have a hard time," Waleed explained.
The duo performed two shows in Beirut during May and June, as well as appearing at the Jordanian DumTak festival in Amman. They are scheduled to launch the album in Cairo before the year ends. However, political developments in Egypt have postponed the launch, and Waleed's performance this weekend will not include Hemdan.
The album 'Moga' can be found on sound cloud, bought on iTunes, or directly from Waleed in Cairo and Alexandria or Hemdan in Beirut.
The artists produced the album under Hemdan's production label Lebanese Underground, which he uses to collaborate with interesting artists, promoting them through various online platforms.
"That's what makes a scene: connected artists," Hemdan said "That's what is beautiful in the Middle-East; its like we're one big country amongst musicians. It's not like that with politics," he added.
Thursday 19 September at 7pm
Al-Azhar Park, Salah Salem Road, Cairo