Ahmed Selim and partner Fahd El-Gammal can’t do anything right. The founders of the new, local Kawalis-Misr (Backstage Productions) will be launching the first-ever compilation CD of independent Egyptian musicians across Cairo on Jan. 15, making many mistakes along the way.
First, they let the artists have free reign over which songs to record and how to record them, specifically instructing them not to worry about what listeners want to hear. And the CD contains neither a single love ballad (except to God), nor heartbreaking ode, and only one hip-shakable tune. The graphic designers who created the CD cover and booklet, also left to their own devices, neither featured a single short skirt nor band shot.
And to top it off, they’re offering the CD for free.
The result: A revolutionary idea and unquestionable boost to Egypt’s diverse music scene.
The album features two instrumentals, one religious ode, one political statement, and one upbeat song from five different bands. While the artists are relatively well known among youth culture, Selim says the future plan is to give priority to less known or new artists alongside the established ones.
This first compilation features pop favorites Wust El-Balad alongside relatively unknown arabesque instrumentalist Ahmed El Sawy.
Wust El-Balad’s choice may surprise its fans. It’s no Antiqua. Instead, it is a religious song they have played live only once before. But lead vocalist Hany Adel told The Daily Star Egypt that true fans would not be surprised, and expects that most listeners will enjoy their choice.
Adel said all the band members had agreed on the song “Mawlay (My Lord). “If one person didn’t agree with it, we wouldn’t have chosen it. For him, what is special about the song is that they all contributed to its creation in an improvisation session.
“Ahmed told us to play what we love. not necessarily what people want, Adel said, and that is just what they did. Selim told The Daily Star Egypt that it was important to him that Kawalis-Misr give complete freedom and faith to the bands they choose.
Another familiar band, Eskenderella, featured “Darabo el Amar (They Shot the Moon), which is original but sounds uncannily like their signature Sayyed Darwish or Sheikh Imam covers. A typically political song, it boasts the most powerful lyrics on the album with lines like “They shot the moon with a machine gun; Down came the rain on the red flowers, soaked, speaking of the distressing state of the Arab region.
In contrast, one of the most enjoyable selections is Step by Step’s light “Oghneya Masreya (Egyptian Song) which has the only catchy melody and will prove to be a favorite.
Flamenca’s track was a well played, but mediocre song, not particularly as entrancing, enjoyable, or powerful as the other selections.
The Kawalis-Misr project began just over one year ago with a vision to bring some of Egypt’s underground music scene to the masses. From that core vision, Selim says the project just kept expanding until finally it involved almost 80 people working in different capacities.
Because there was no precedent for such a project, Selim admits they often did not know what was right or wrong and spent a lot of time simply “building [their] own experience.
Other thanWust El-Balad, it was the first time for all the other musicians to be in a recording studio and Selim says the biggest challenge was managing over 40 different artists all unused to the process and careful coordination involved.
Funding of course was another hurdle, which makes it all the more surprising that the package will be free. Springfield was their sole advertiser, a risk Selim says “was hard for people to take because they haven’t seen it [an example] before.
But Selim says they insisted on its being free so that all types of people would be able to pick it up and discover bands they would otherwise not come across. He just hopes that by bundling up the product in quality packaging that people will take it seriously, not discard it as just a freebie.
For Selim, the project represents a “dream of a generation of Egypt, and a culmination of the “vision and philosophies of five bands expressing themselves.
Kawalis-Misr plans to release a CD and accompanying magazine each month, with five different bands and designers each time, at coffee shops, cultural centers and other public outlets.