If you don’t know of singer-songwriter, Hany Mustafa, you’re out of the loop. Not to worry though; you can catch the native indie artist with a voice made of silk perform everywhere from ROOM Art Space and 3elbt Alwan, to Cairo Jazz Club and Cairo Opera House.
As a member of two bands – indie rockers, Egoz, and Beatles tribute band, Glass Onion – a collaborator with musician Omar El-Abd in music project, Majarra, and his own solo project, HanyMust, Mustafa is a busy man.
We sat down with the lyrical genius to talk about everything from his upcoming single, to singing in Arabic vs. English, to his life as a musical Clark Kent.
Tell us about your upcoming track, Morning Coffee. How is it different from your previous work?
It’s more optimistic, more refreshing. Time to Go (which was released earlier, in April) is about letting go; Morning Coffee is upbeat. And this one has drums – I don’t think I’ve ever released anything with drums; it has a full a full-band format, rather than just a few acoustic instruments. This single has been two years in the making – every time I put the last touches, then disappear and not listen to it for, like, three months, then come back and say, “Oh, no. Need to change that”. Now I have the final mix.
What are you expecting in terms of how it will be received?
It’s an expression – it’s my expression, and I’m putting it out. Music is something that came out of you, inside of your room with no one around you. If people like it, great. If people don’t like it, mmm, it’s still me.
How do you deal with haters?
You can’t be an artist and not have haters. I’ve seen how my favorite artists in the world were loved and how they were hated; there’s a time when people get bored and ‘hate’ you because others like you so much, and a time when they see what all the hoopla is about. Phil Collins is a good example; he had all the love in the world in the 80’s, he was on every chart; in the 90’s, and now, he’s one of the most hated artists.
If you’re hated at some point, it means you’re talked about – it means you’re not ignored, and that’s good. You will intimidate a couple of people, and you will not be liked at times, and it’s part of what makes you grow as an artist.
How crazy is it balancing two bands and two projects?
I like to be musical and try different things. Music is too fruitful to stay in one place. Glass Onion is only a tribute band; I like it because I express myself as a performer, but it’s not my music. It’s the fanboy paying homage to the influence. The other bands/projects are where my heart is. In HanyMust, I’m there – it’s me.
Which band do you have the most fun performing in?
Egoz, because I’ve known the drummer since we were five and the guitarist since we were sixteen. Every time we look at each other there are too many memories. It’s like you’re with your brothers; we know each other. They know the music that turns you on – the music that makes you happy. I have fun with all the bands. It’s like going out with your friends – you go out with different friends and it has a different feel.
Tell us about times you turned down opportunities to remain true to yourself and your art.
There was a very famous TV station where I went, and they asked me to turn my songs from English into Arabic, and told me I would be really popular. I just said ‘no’. Once you put a song on that particular channel, you’re something. But I turned that down, I turned The Voice down. I hate these contests and talent shows; some people may get to know you, but at the end of the day you’re labeled as a contestant. Just because you expressed yourself differently from another artist, you’re condemned to fail. I can’t imagine having them sitting there in their fancy suits like ‘Oh, I love you, but I think you could have done better’, when half of them can’t even sing well on stage.
The only upside I see is that there could be a lot of unknown talents and it could be their only chance. But sometimes winning means nothing. Take American Idol – there was Adam Lambert and this other guy; do you remember the other guy?
Uhh, Chris something….
And it was him that won. But you remember Adam Lambert. I bet you wouldn’t even be able to remember five winners.
Ok, let’s do this. Clay Aiken… Kelly Clarkson…. Ruben Studdard. OH, Chris Allen! He’s the one that’s not Adam Lambert! Ahh, I stopped watching, so can’t remember any more.
That’s exactly my point; it’s good that they put some people on the map, but it also killed a lot. I’d rather be remembered by a few people for something I did, than by the world as a contestant who failed.’
Hany Mustafa – certified winner.
Tell us about your day job – how ‘Clark Kent’ are you?
Oh, very ‘Clark Kent’! It’s a desk job. I work at a company that distributes audio, video and lighting to media companies, as an assistant manager. And I bet you’re not going to remember any of that in five minutes. Nobody remembers my job. But it’s good to be sustained, without having to rely 100% on music.
Do you see yourself ever ditching the ‘glasses’ and becoming a full-time artist?
I’m not sure. Music is my dream – it’s what I do; I don’t want to do anything else. It’s my calling. But it makes sense for me to get money, do what I do, and try to enjoy both as best I can – the whole ‘Clark Kent’ thing. I’d say Superman more than Batman because, you know, the glasses.
Any general plans for the future?
I’d like to just sit and watch birds in the day. I literally don’t have a social life anymore; I work in the morning, then afterwards I’m rehearsing, recording or doing a live concert. Last weekend, I decided to lay back and say ‘f*ck it’; I had my snacks, was alone in the house. I live with my mom – we’re like roommates; she’s in her room, I’m in mine.
What would you say to underground artists that are trying to ‘make it’?
Be real to yourself. Don’t put yourself out as somebody else or change who you are just for fame.
HanyMust’s single, Morning Coffee, is out later this October.
Salma Thanatos Rizk