If you’ve heard El Dor El Awal play, you’ll know that their unique, smooth, oriental sound comes about through the different influences, styles and improvisations of its seven members. You’ve got Ahmed Omar on electric bass, Mohammad Samy on violin, Bob and Mizo on percussion, Fady Badr on the qanun and keyboards, Nour Ashour on the saxophone, and Hisham Issam on oud.
Together, the band perform their instrumental tracks in such a laid-back way, you feel like you’re in a private jam session, watching friends play – and that’s exactly what El Dor El Awal is.
Founded in 1999, the seven-piece band claims to be one of the first bands in Egypt with its own unique take on oriental fusion. Having released two albums, Qarar Izala (2006) and Aa’tareeq (2009), the band is currently recording its third album, with a new video airing soon.
Cairo Gossip sat down with the band’s charismatic percussionist, Mizo, to talk about their inspirations, challenges and their hopes for international fame ahead of the bands gig at Cairo Jazz Club on Saturday 18 March.
So How did all seven of you get together? And are you all full-time musicians?
We’re professional, fulltime musicians who play in other bands or projects. We’re originally friends and met each other through the local music scene and through the band Wust El Balad, where three of us played: Mizo, Bob and Ahmed Omar. We all have other projects on the side; Mohamed Samy plays with Black Theama and has a solo project, Ahmed Omar also has a solo project, Nour Ashour plays sax with Mohamed Mounir and has the Nour Project, Fady also works on solo projects and is a producer.
You describe your music as mixing oriental with jazz, would you call it oriental jazz? Or oriental fusion? Who are your musical inspirations?
Some call it oriental jazz, some call it Mediterranean jazz, others call it fusion: but for us, it’s difficult to put a specific genre name to our music, because it’s really just a fusion of all our different musical styles and influences that we pool together to make El Dor El Awal. Think about it; we’re seven members and each musician has his own influences and input into the sound. I personally like Yanni, Fathy Salma and Omar Khairat, and the others have their favourite musicians, so together all our different likes and styles make this fusion sound.
Your songs sound like they’ve been produced out of jam sessions – is that how you make them?
When we started El Dor El Awal, we’d jam at home and each person would have his solo, or someone would come up with a melody and we jam to it until we’d come up with the end product. We’re all composers, but I think Ahmed Omar has the most input, followed by Ahmed Samy, Fady and Nour Ashour. We’re friends and we all know how to get good music out of each other.
What are the biggest obstacles to musicians in Egypt? How can things change to make your careers easier?
There isn’t a real music industry; we need more venues to play our music at, we need to be able to market and promote our music at different spaces, because right now Facebook is the most important platform for marketing and promoting our band, but there’s still no real industry. I think the industry will develop with time, so right now, we’re doing the best we can with the resources we have.
How do you interact with your audiences? Do you prefer large concerts or intimate spaces?
I think each venue has its flavour, but we definitely love small venues like the small stages at El Sawy Culturewheel or Cairo Opera House, Cairo Jazz Club or Makan: they’re more intimate spaces and bring us closer to the audience, plus we also hear each other better so we play better. Our music isn’t really for big crowds; it’s very chilled music and suits smaller venues better.
El Dor El Awal performing at Makan in Downtown Cairo (Photo: El Dor El Awal/Facebook)
Why did you choose to stay away from vocals?
It was a decision we took from the start – we’re an instrumental band and we like it that way. Of course, it was a big challenge for us to make and perform our music without vocals or lyrics, but we’re glad we’ve succeeded.
Your band structure is heavy on percussion and a lot of the tracks are dominated by the violin. Is that intentional?
It’s not just line percussion that dominates our music; we have the bass guitar, the keyboard, the saxophone and the violin. Sometimes we have our friends perform as guest musicians, so we’ll also have an oud player or an accordionist perform occasionally. It depends on the type of music; we agree together on the type of sound we want to produce and then it all comes about organically. We arrange the music in different ways, jam all the different options and then decide on the best sound.
What’s your history with the Jazz Club? How long have you been playing there and what do you think of it?
Cairo Jazz Club is like a second home to me. I’ve been playing there as a musician for fifteen years, maybe even before Ammar and Alex took over. It’s a very dear place to my heart. Most of the project’s musicians have played there. The Jazz Club has really maintained its standards all these years; you always find good people and good music inside – that’s what we love about it.
Oriental fusion is a very niche market but then you have names like Fathy Salama breaking into the international scene and winning Grammys. Is this something you want to do with your music?
Definitely. We don’t want to be limited to the local music scene; we’ve played abroad in several different countries and hope to break onto the international scene. We’re not as famous as Fathy Salama just yet, but that’s what we’re aiming for. It’s not easy, but we’re trying. And you never know; maybe one day we’ll win awards as well.
El Dor El Awal are set to perform at Cairo Jazz Club on Saturday 18th March, where Sorour will also perform.
By Kalam El Qahaira