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  • Omar Sherif: DJ, Dreamer, Producer, Pragmatist


    I’ve come to notice this – or imagine it – about a lot of DJs I finally see out from behind a set of decks, but Omar Sherif is a lot taller than you’d think. He seems jolly enough, quite chilled and undemanding. It’s not till he sees the combination of a camera and freshly printed set of questions that he starts to wonder what he’s let himself in for, as he sits days away from a huge gig on Friday 3rd of November at Cairo Jazz Club, where he celebratesaten year residency alongside peers and friends such as Mohasseb, Shawky, Tahawy, Ashmawy and Shinnawy.

    “I’m just thinking about the answers,” he says as he scans the piece of paper. “I want to try to get it right the first time.”

    I don’t quite understand until I realise that he thinks this is a video interview. He goes onto explain, in quiet relief, that the last time he did a video interview, he kept fluffing his answers. After the brief interlude of confusion, he seems ten times more relaxed, even kicking back a little in his chair. He might be more comfortable with a set of headphones on and fine-tuning various knobs, but Omar is the kind of man you’d say ‘lives music’. He plays it, makes it, he’s a fan of it and he has no problem talking about it – just as long as he’s not being filmed, of course.

    “In the late nineties, when electronic music was coming to Egypt, it was something completely new,” he remembers, before rifling off a list of the first electronic DJs and producers he first heard, almost with a sense of nostalgia. “Paul Van Dyk, ArminVan Burren,Tiesto, Hernan Cattaneo, Sasha – I was listening to all of those guys”

    But back then, it wasn’t as easy for Egyptians to really get into electronic music.

    “The machinery and all the equipment was really expensive and most of it didn’t exist in Egypt,” he explains. “But I got a few beginner pieces from abroad and tried to teach myself. I just improvised.”

    But the first time Omar really considered this all as a serious career path was when he experienced music as a clubber, after all but giving up on what seemed like an impossible dream.

    “It was very difficult. I thought it wasn’t going to happen. We couldn’t even get records back then and the internet was really slow; you’d start downloading one track, go to sleep then to school and come back home before the download was complete. I would buy records whenever I travelled but I gave up on the idea for a while until I went to Ibiza in 2006. I came back obsessed,” he laughs. “I was like, I’m going to do this – somehow.”

    Omar nonchalantly remembers his first gig, which might have well unfolded disastrously for anyone else.

    “The very first time for me to use the proper, professional equipment was when I was opening for an international DJ. I went a couple of hours before the party started and just tried to figure out all of the buttons.”

    The whole technology side of it is key, Omar states. At times, he seems like a head-in-the-sky kind-of dreamer when he talks about music, but he’s also a pragmatic man – and he had to be. When he remembers his humble musical beginnings, he doesn’t do so in exasperation. He accepts the initial barriers he faced as necessary struggles and appreciates more than most the difference a decade can make.

    “There just wasn’t a lot of access to music. But technology has changed and made it easier. And it’s quite open now, so everyone has much more access to different types of music.”

    One thing that has always been constant, though, is Omar’s drive. I mention that in previous interviews over the years, he’s pointed to passion as his most important driving force and he nods firmly and leans forward like he’s already got an answer locked and loaded. But before he can get anything out, I semi-deliberately try to catch him off-guard – “what else do you have? Passion can get you somewhere, but it’s often not enough to keep you there.”

    He thinks for a second and I wonder if I’m about to uncover an inner-diva – but he crosses his arms, leans back and looks at the ceiling for a couple of seconds before answering.

    “I think it’s because I’ve always been clubbing and I enjoy music,” he explains, once again showing a considered confidence and self-insight. “I’ve travelled the world clubbing and gone to festivals, discovering new DJs and I’m always watching and learning from how they perform. I try to get the best out of everyone I see. I like to see what works for everyone and get to know the different sounds. It’s helped me know what music works and what doesn’t.”

    It’s the measured answer of a measured man who, despite his ten year and seeing people come and people go, very much has his feet on the ground and isn’t taking anything for granted – a man who always has his ear to the ground, even in Egypt.

    “Egypt’s scene has been pretty interesting. In the late 90s and early 2000s we had all sorts of international DJs. It died down for a couple of years and then came back strong again. People in Egypt understand music – they appreciate good music and can differentiate between good music and generic stuff. The difference between here and everywhere else is just the scale of the events and the variety.”

    But he has a particular soft spot for Cairo Jazz Club – a place that played a big part in him finally realising his dream.

    “Even when I moved to London, I still came back four or five times a year just to play at Cairo Jazz Club.It’s like home and they are family.”

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    He then catches me off-guard as I did him. Whenever I’ve asked other DJs and musicians “what to expect in the near future”, they often answer sheepishly – either wanting to keep their plans for world domination a secret, or just now having a clear plan. Omar, though, answers this question more fervently than any other. You could see the gears in his brain grinding.He’s already had a successful 2017, in which he saw his releases receive support from Armin Van Buuren, Aly & Fila and several other big names; releases that are being touted for  A State of Trance Tune of the Year 2017 – The Chronicles with Aly & Fila and Phillipe El Sisi, as well his remix for Voyage (Yahel feat. EyalBarkan) – which you can vote for here. But he’s aiming for more.

    “I’m going to try and give an even bigger push on an international level,”he says assuredly. “I’m working on a lot of releases and looking at certain events& festivals in mind that I want to get on the line-up for.”

    On paper, it reads like a stock answer – a crowd-pleasing finale. But with Omar, you can’t help but buy what he’s selling. He’s just enough of a mix of a dreamer and a pragmatist – and that’s a hard combination to find.

    Omar Sherif is celebrating his ten Year Residency at Cairo Jazz Club with a special event on Friday 3rd of November. For more information, click here.

    By Haisam Awad