The proverbial hype-machine in Egypt is relentless when it comes to musical imports, but few musicians that have caught the imagination of the discerning Egyptian public like OUM in the run up to gigs at El Genaina Theatre and Cairo Jazz Club. Hailing from Casablanca, Morocco, and currently on the last leg of her Soul of Morocco world tour, Cairo Gossip sits down with one of the most unique artists to grace a stage in Egypt, to talk about her upcoming album, architecture and what’s on her iPod….
Soul of Morocco has been causing quite a stir – did you approach the album any differently to your previous releases?
Soul of Morocco is my third album and the first to be sold outside of Morocco. I decided to include some songs from my first and second albums, and to re-arrange them with an acoustic band. It’s my first international album and I’ve tried to mix many sounds together and to fuse them with various instruments. I’m introducing myself through the Soul of Morocco. This is who I am and this is my culture in all its colours – that’s the story of Soul of Morocco.
You’re currently on a world tour – what is it like for you to play your music across the world?
We’ve been touring for Soul of Morocco for a year now and these are the last concerts of the tour until August. I think it’s a challenge playing to different cultures and crowds and it goes far beyond language to touch people musically.
I believe we are all similar, despite where we come from. It doesn’t matter who we play for, whether it’s a Swiss audience or an Egyptian one; the crowds feel the same way. It’s interesting to feel and feed off the reactions of the crowd.
Agreed – it’s especially interesting with you’re music and the way you fuse genres and sounds. Was this always a deliberate approach or did it evolve more organically?
I think it was just something that was ‘meant to be’ when I reached a certain point in my career. This is my culture, my country and because our history is full of different influences, this fusion came as no surprise – it just happened naturally.
Speaking of your career, how did your journey in music begin?
I've always sang, but never professionally. Music started to grow on me around 2003 and I made the decision to pursue something that really captivated me. Here I am twelve years later and I’ve enjoyed every single minute. I never studied music, nor could I write nor read music. But once I started doing my own songs, I stopped asking myself what I was supposed to do and I just did it.
So, if you weren’t a musician, what do you think you’d be doing?
I studied architecture for six years before leaving it behind for music - so an architect, maybe? Being a musician is fine with me, though!
I think we can all agree that you made the right decision - but if you had to do it all again, what would you change?
Absolutely nothing! I would love to do it all over again - it was full of incredible experiences. I’m working with people who make me comfortable in my own skin, on and off the stage. I’m very lucky to work with my people; I record albums with them and then go on tour with them. It’s very important to me to cultivate such an exchange. I believe in willpower; if you’re doing something with love, it’s more powerful than all the money in the world.
What artists/music are you listening to right now?
Right now I’m listening to Alsarah & the Nubatones and Dinah Washington, and I've been listening to a lot of artists from Ghana recently. I always try to keep myself open to different music and sounds, so I can learn from different cultures.
OUM performing at a packed Cairo Jazz Club on May 10th
How have you been perceived in the west? In the current global political climate, can Arab and African artists make an impact?
I don’t think it’s impossible. I think it’s possible to look at things from different points of view, different perspectives and different angles, and then to play music and be positive. You should always try to be positive around people. The way the media portrays Arabs, Africans and ‘third world countries’ is misleading. We should change that image; we should change how the media portrays us. We should show the world who we really are. I’ve been meeting a lot of musicians my age and they see Africa as the future. I travel with my music and perform to spread that message.
Do you sincerely believe, then, that music can 'change' things?
We shouldn’t just work to change the government; we should work to change ourselves, too. Because tomorrow it will be us; we are the future. It’s in our hands.
What does the rest of 2015 hold for OUM?
Well, I have a new album coming out called Zarabi. We still haven’t officially announced the date but we're aiming to release it sometime in September and I’ll start the promo tour for it. I’m extremely excited - we're hoping to release it in Germany. I hope it’s a success!
by Mahmoud Hussein