Ahead of their two performances in Cairo this week, we catch up with Massar Egbari to find out how their unique sound came about...
Though we often consider Cairo the artistic and cultural hub of the country, raw talent is everywhere from Aswan to Alexandria. And why wouldn’t it be? Alexandria in particular is bursting with inspiration, from its ancient sites to its unique lifestyle, it’s the clash of cultures that turns out some of the most interesting art and music Egypt has to offer. No musical outfit represents this meeting point of old and new, East and West, local and international quite as much Massar Egbari, the Indie Rock collective that have garnered a huge fan base over the last few years and toured the globe, winning awards and wowing crowds with their unique blend of Jazz, Blues, Alternative and Oriental sounds, underpinned by hard-hitting, sarcastic lyrics, poking fun at society and it’s norms. We catch up with Massar Egbari bassist, Ahmed Hafez, to find out where it all began and, importantly, where it’s all heading....
How did Massar Egbari start?
In 2004, a French friend called up Ayman Massoud (our keyboardist) to help him form a band for the Fete Musique at the French Culture Centre, and, in turn, he called Hani El Dakkak (lead vocalist and guitarist), Tamer Attallah (drums) and me (bass) to help him out. It was a very cosmopolitan band with Spanish and African singers joining us. After our French friend left, we decided to continue on our own, and Massar Egbari was formed in 2005, before our friend Mahmoud Siam (guitar) joined us in 2009. The five of us have been friends for a really long time so it made sense.
What are your other musical influences aside from Rock and Oriental music?
We are also influenced by Jazz and Blues, and all kinds of music. We believe that innovators in any field should open their minds to what other people do over the ages and around the world.
You've performed on international stages, from Malta to Italy to Zanzibar and even toured Macedonia. How were you received abroad?
What we experienced on our tours in many different countries is that people around the world are so passionate and curious about the Egyptian culture, especially music. Being the first civilisation in history is an amazing fact and this might be the reason that our music is so familiar to their ears, plus people there seek contemporary Egyptian music which they cannot find easily. The response (especially from the Egyptians living abroad) helps us appreciate our own national culture, and opens our eyes to what happens in the modern world.
What was the first moment when you realised you'd 'made it' so to speak?
Well there isn't a specific moment, and we think that, hopefully, the band still has a lot to achieve, but yes, there were some special moments: the UNESCO Award (for Young Artist for Intercultural Dialog between the Arab and Western Worlds), the release of our [eponymous] album and our huge concert in Turkey, right at the beginning. We’ve had some great moments, but we are still enjoying this and hope and expect to remain enjoying what we do for long time.
Tell us about your experience working on the award-winning Microphone film and what you've learned from it?
Microphone is a very important documentation of post-revolution months, when Alexandrian artists were dreaming of a revolution that would give us dignity and justice and the freedom to say what they have to say. It was so real, so different, and so original. We made some very good friends during the filming of Microphone, and, of course, it gave our music the chance to be heard by millions of people.
What's the strangest or funniest thing that has happened to you guys while performing?
In a concert at Sakiat El Sawy, Tamer [Attallah] couldn't come in time because of some obligations. We decided to play three simple songs without him then apologise to the audience, but gladly, after the third song, we found him sitting at the drums!
Have you ever thought about running away into the jungle and playing music for the wildlife to get away from our stereotyping society?
This could be an interesting idea, but we think we’d rather do it in the desert.
Which other Egyptian bands do you admire?
Most other well known bands, we don’t want to forget anyone, so it’s better I don’t say any names! On the music scene, we’ve all been friends from the beginning and helped each other, and after these years of friendship, each band pays lot of respect to the others. But what I’d like to mention here is that there are some new ,very promising bands coming up like Wasla, Karakeeb, Storm, and Shaware3na Band who have some stunning ideas and unique sounds.
What advice would you give to young Egyptian bands starting off?
Since we started Massar Egbari in 2005 at our independent studio, Hi Hat (which appeared in Microphone), we have been working with new bands. Although we grew up in an age where alternative music bands were rare, we give them our opinion frankly, and try to provide them space to rehearse. This kind of mentorship is important for new artists.