“A pink zebra-shaped ship fuelled by nothing but perverted lyrics, amateur porn and prolonged conversations about literally the weirdest topics that end up pretty informative.” No, these are not the ramblings of a madman; these are the words of Belal Mohamed.
Cairenes will know Belal as a member of Portrait Avenue, but it’s with Finrod (the pink zebra-shaped ship) that he’s most recently been turning heads. I first met Belal last year at Funk N Pop. Finrod were on the line-up early – probably too early for the kind of music fuelled by perverted lyrics, amateur porn and prolonged conversations about weird topics. Still, the band’s rhythmically unpredictable style of experimental electronic music and Belal’s dramatic but controlled vocals demanded attention in the big, open field. I shouted something about Finrod being better than Atoms for Peace, at which point Belal left the stage to embrace me in an appreciative hug.
Now, in the run-up to Finrod’s Cairo Jazz Club gig on Thursday 9th of February, he’s not so sure about the comparison.
“I guess it is both beneficial and damaging; we love Atoms for Peace, and, personally, I am flattered, so it’s an ego kind of thing. But when it comes to the band, it is damaging, like with Portrait Avenue. We were often compared to Radiohead, and that boxed us in and we weren’t comfortable with that.”
It makes sense, then, that when asked to describe Finrod’s music, Belal mentions a pink zebra, rather than mulling over some kind of linguistic interpretation that will almost certainly fall short on truly capturing it. But in Portrait Avenue comrade, Tarek Hussein, and Telepoetic founder, Tarek Desouky, Belal has some of the most sophisticated musical minds in Egypt flanking him.
“Tarek – the keyboardist – and I have been playing music together for the past 8 years, so we were already pretty comfortable with how we both work, and we’d known Desouky for a couple of years before starting Finrod through Samir (Portrait Avenue guitarist),” explained the Alexandria native.
“We were already fans of Telepoetic and we became friends over the years, so there wasn’t a struggle when it came to making music together. It was more that we had no idea of what we wanted to do. It’s fair to say that I might be the least easy-going of the bunch – I’m opinionated and I panic – but the guys always know how to translate that into something.”
After the initial buzz, Belal and co. took a calculated step back from the stage. Having debuted to rapturous response at the third edition of music festival, Cloud 9, at the backend of 2015, things weren’t quite as smooth back in Cairo.
“The audience at Cloud 9 was there specifically for this kind of music. Later we played at The Tap Maadi, ROOM Art Space and Funk N Pop, where we didn’t get similar feedback, due to the lack of an audience – or an interested one at least.”
The realisation sent Belal and his cohorts back to the drawing board, so to speak, and the trio took almost a year away from the public eye.
“We were still getting familiar with our music and what we wanted from Finrod. That’s why we took this break – to just work non-stop on creating a better, more honest version of Finrod. One we’d be comfortable showcasing.”
This ‘better’ version of the band will be in good company on the CJC stage, come Thursday night. With The Meteors Project and NeoByrd also on the line-up, it’s shaping up to be a huge night for the darker side of the musical moon that is Egypt’s evolving music scene; the kind that Belal believes Cairo Jazz Club is serving well.
“It’s about live music, rather than background music at Cairo Jazz Club. The schedule has made it easy for audiences to target their favourite bands and genres, and it’s one of the few venues that we’ve been comfortable performing at when it comes to sound handling, whether with Portrait Avenue, Telepoetic or Finrod.”
And so what of the pink zebra-shaped ship’s future? Belal is coy in answering. His response reads like he’s hiding something diabolical, but also like he has given himself in to the unpredictability that marked Finrod’s music when I first heard it.
“No promises, but there might be an EP on the way, a music video and definitely more gigs, I hope. Still. No promises.”
Finrod are set to perform at Cairo Jazz Club on Thursday 9th of February. Click here for more.
By Haisam Awad