2019-05-21 09:18:24date was

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  • Bahiyya: The Past, the Future and the Future of the Past


    On Saturday 22 July, local band, Bahiyya, take to the stage at Cairo Jazz Club once more, having become a popular fixtures in CJC’s extensive monthly schedule. It can be argued that the local music scene is at its most eclectic, with new bands and sounds emerging monthly; but in the case of this particular group, the story of Bahiyya is a unique one.

    In covering the ‘revolutionary songs’ of the likes of El Sheikh Imam and Sayed Darwish, they have reignited interest in some of the influential musicians in Egypt’s history and struck a chord with a whole generation.

    We sat down with vocalist, oud player and founding member, Omar El Ayyat, ahead of the CJC gig to talk about the past, the future and the future of the past. 

    -Most bands are made up of friends and acquaintances, but Bahiyya’s ‘origin story’ is a little different. Tell us how you guys met.

    The Bahiyya members met in November 2011 by coincidence at one of the most important sit-ins during the revolution (the ‘occupy cabinet’ sit-in). When we got our first concert, we decided to introduce ourselves as Bahiyya, which is inspired by El Shiekh Imam's song, Masr Yama Ya Bahiyya.

    The band started with two oud players, two vocalists and one percussionist, and we were playing the songs of El Sheikh Imam and Sayed Darwish as they are. But as the band became bigger, so did our formation, which is now two vocalists, oud, guitar, bass, drums and violin. After we reached this formation, we started to work on new arrangements of the same songs. In the future, we are aiming to do even more original arrangements and to hopefully participate in regional and worldwide festivals.

    -How have the songs of Sayed Darwish, El Sheikh Imam, etc been received by audiences?

    Audiences have received us very well. Music is entertainment, but also a source of knowledge, which is where the difficult equation comes in; entertaining audiences, but at the same time letting them learn something about politics and societal problems in an easy way.

    -In paying tribute to these legendary figures, some might assume that it limits the musical creativity of the band – is this true?

    These figures actually have loads of songs that have never been introduced to the public, so that's mainly what we are focusing on; in my opinion, it is not limiting the musical creativity as we are introducing the songs in new arrangements and I think that's what people like about Bahiyya. We are working hard to release our own original work, but the difficult thing we are facing is the lyrics; after singing the work of Ahmed Fouad Negm and Badi’ Khaiery, writing something of the same quality is difficult. That’s the main obstacle we face in creating our original songs, but it will come at the right time. 

    -How did you personally come to know the music of Sayed Dawrish, El Sheikh Imam, etc?

    This is a very important question, and also one of the questions that I love to answer most, because the songs of those two changed my life – they took me from being a corporate worker to being a musician and working in the music business in general. From 2006, I started to find good quality recordings for them, and they inspired me to play oud just so I can cover their songs. This was the beginning; it was at this time that I started to feel how is important these songs are and how important it is to redeliver the message.  

    -Bahiyya has also performed outside of Egypt, in places like Lebanon – how have non-Egyptian crowds reacted to your music?

    We did a tour in Lebanon and three gigs in Jordan, and we were surprised how the Lebanese and Jordanian people embraced our music. All the concerts were fully booked one week before, and the crowd was amazing; they really appreciated what we were doing and the spirit was fantastic, because El Sheikh Imam and Sayed Darwish are much more famous in these countries than Egypt – all the people know their songs by heart!

    -Many of the bands that became famous during the revolution have become much less ‘revolutionary’ for the lack of a better term – has it been tempting to use Bahiyya’s popularity as a platform to become famous in your own right?

    I don't think that our music is commercially suitable and I don't think we need to go in this direction unless we develop a sound that can fit. Right now, our key goal is to deliver a particular message and if we lose this, we will be losing our identity.

    Bahiyya perform at Cairo Jazz Club on Saturday 22 July on a line-up. For more information, click here.