NOVO is the Egyptian, London-based musician/producer recently certified by VEVO and taking the music scene by storm. A breath of fresh air in a landscape dominated by DJs and house music - NOVO is Egypt’s answer to Drake, The Weeknd, and other sexy crooners. One of the few non-DJ musicians featured on CG Tunes, we sit down with the ridiculously confident twenty-one year old and talk big plans, his upcoming album, being number 1 on the charts, the internet, and much more…
So, NOVO, tell us a little bit about yourself
I’m an aerospace engineer at Queen Mary University in London. I have two older siblings, my sister is the other one with musical talent, but she isn’t as committed as I am! My mother is my drive, she always pushes me forward. When it comes to family support… it’s not that great. After all, we’re Egyptian – no different from other Middle Easter families – they really want me to get a degree and tie the knot! I’m trying to do something big to elevate me, to make me independent, so I can stop taking money from my parents. At some point, I think I can make money from my music career… don’t get me wrong, they like my music, but they never support me all the way. I respect that, they know life is hard and they don’t want me to suffer.
We know all about that! How did your music career begin?
It started when I was 12, I wasn’t into music as a career at first, I was into civil engineering. One day I was on the bus, and a friend of mine was playing the guitar, so I was curious to try it. After it clicked, I immediately went to my mother and told her that I wanted a guitar. I didn’t take lessons, I taught myself, and I then started getting into bands as a guitarist.
One day, we were scheduled to play in our first talent show, and our band’s lead singer had a sudden case of stage-fright and absolutely refused to sing! Some band members had heard me sing, and asked me to save the day. I was shaking, then I started singing, and next thing I knew, the crowd was going wild. Everyone was amazed by my voice. That was the moment I told myself that I could sing.
Afterwards, I started doing YouTube covers – I was getting about 300 views at the beginning. I decided to expand by buying a mixer and a microphone to sound more professional. I made a cover for Adele’s Rolling in the Deep, and put it online. People started to pay attention. I made cover after cover until people wanted me to make a song. It’s a lot of work to make a song, and I was occupied by school and exams, then I met Zayed and did a cover of Drake’s Hold on We’re Going Home. It was an instant hit; it’s had around 32K views now.
You’ve definitely come a long way! Describe how you feel after releasing your first single, Rain.
It’s about the same. I haven’t achieved anything. It’s on VEVO, Shazam, and Spotify, but my feelings are still the same. I have a motto; I’ll only say that I’ve ‘made it’ when I don’t need to introduce myself. It’s not about money or fame; it’s about my music touching people. I’m in it for the recognition, I want my music to be played everywhere around the world.
That’s a very inspiring motto to live by. What’s your ‘process’ for choosing a song and creating a cover for it?
Obviously, I have to like it first, and listen to it a lot. You have to think about whether you’d like to change it or leave as it is. I love all my cover songs; I don’t do covers that I don’t like. It’s either people nagging me to do a cover for a song I like, or I actually envision myself singing that particular song; and I consider how people would react to it. I want to bring something new to the table.
We really like your cover of Sam Smith’s Stay with Me. There are tons of people around the world with great voices, how did you manage to market your voice and make a name for yourself?
I’m not ashamed to say it, there are millions of people around the world who are better than me, but none of them can offer what I’m offering – you’ll never see an Egyptian making it on an international stage. This not to say Aly & Fila are not international, but they don’t sing. You don’t see them with people like Drake and The Weeknd. I want to be that person; I want to be the person who people, especially Egyptians, will idolize.
I can offer versatility, and that’s something far more than any American or Canadian can offer. I can offer something for the Middle Eastern area, mainly because I have an Egyptian tag. If you have an Egyptian with international artist, people will talk about you in the Middle Eastern area, but I can’t do it alone. That’s why I need as much as I can get from my own country. I need the support to do something that they only dream about.
Do you believe that singers nowadays should follow the old mentality of releasing an album, or are singles the new trends?
Albums require money, engineering, mixing, mastering and many more things. They demand versatility; you need time and effort to make an album – that’s why international artists and big local artists can make albums. Underground and indie artists… we can’t make albums, we don’t have the funds. I mean, all the big names started with mix tapes, nobody starts with an album because it’s not easy. A mix tape can have ten or fifteen songs, but at the end of the day it’s a mix tape, the quality is not as good as an album. Albums require a lot of PR. Upcoming artists tend to release a single to see how it goes.
How would you describe the internet as a platform, since you fully took advantage of it?
Sensational; it has completely changed the game. Back in the 80s and 90s you could never have indie artists, you could only have names like Dr Dre, Ice Cube etc… They made low-quality mix tapes, but you could still tell that there was raw talent. The downside of the internet is that we’re now playing in a bigger pond, so it’s harder to stand out. But we have Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and everything else – we can use them to get wherever we want.
How do you see the music industry in Egypt and internationally?
It needs reinventing. I’ve always dreamt of starting up a record label in Egypt and making it international – I know how much talent we have in this country. Unfortunately, there is a language barrier. There are very few people like me – that don’t sound ‘Arab’ on their songs.
Also, internationally, there is one word – money. Music is not about talent anymore. Let’s say it is about 40% talent and 60% the money behind the talent. They always ask you what can you offer, it’s like a business deal. For me, I know what I can offer. I know that I can make songs that can stay on billboard charts for weeks. But someone has to believe in me. I need each and every fan to press the share button; you might think that one share is nothing, but for me that share is everything.
Who are your favourite r&b singers?
Chris Brown, The Weeknd, Frank Ocean, Drake, Usher etc… In terms of rappers, Kendrick, Tyga, Kanye West, Future, PartyNextDoor and many more, I have a long list. If I ever have the chance to work with any of them, it will be an honour.
What’s your advice for people who wish to become singers?
To believe in yourself, even though a lot of people won’t believe in you. Yes, there are millions of people like you, but, at the same time, nobody is like you. Being an Egyptian is not an excuse; it’s more difficult, I agree, but you just have to push yourself. Go the extra mile.
What does the future hold for NOVO?
I have an album. There are seven songs coming out in the summer, they’re upbeat songs that I hope people will love. In terms of music, I’ll never stop. Even if I can’t sing anymore, I’ll always have production. I have a lot of songs in my pocket that I know can be number 1 on the charts. But I need my fans to support me, I can’t do it alone.