It has been only three nights since Mohamed Darwish’s gig on Saturday at Cairo Jazz Club with Syrian outfit Tanjaret Daght, which audiences are still raving about. It’s hard to predict, but Sawy may well be packed Wednesday as Darwish performs yet again.
Photographer Rachel Adams and I meet up with the Egyptian musician. Our conversation begins with him introducing us to the nuances of modern Egyptian slang that has arisen since the revolution. “There are a lot of words for ‘ignoring’ these days,” he says, citing “sa3lo” = freezing someone, so that the topic is refrigerated till later, or “a7laqlo”= cutting someone’s hair, a term that refers to the violent but common practice fashioned by military police to shut protestors up during revolution-time in Egypt.
Darwish sports long hair, and is keen to let them down while we photograph him. They are in keeping with his identity as a ‘metalhead’ – and he has worked with metal projects like ‘Odious’. “Darwasha” – his oriental-metal-rock fusion band – derives its name from the reference to whirling dervishes, rather than his own last name. The title denotes the mood of the music, Darwish says, and is “nothing related to religion” but rather about “doing crazy things to be close to God.”
The sound that Darwish craves is unconventional – fusing melodies of a nostalgic Arab era in an unlikely mix with the metal that has been the secret world of many an adolescent.
Darwasha’s songs express people’s power to overcome their frustrations, such as “Ya Shaab” which is a composition of Ahmed Fouad Negm’s “Doaa el Karawan” (The Bird’s Prayer), and “OmOm” (Genie’s Bottle) which speaks to a youth that feels trapped in his life. Yet Darwish emphasizes the importance of compositions and music, rather than lyrics and what they mean, which he finds overemphasized in Egypt. A song can have minimal lyrics and still have value, says the singer-composer who also provides soundtrack for drama pieces such as those produced by Tamye Theater.
Vocals, too, are not the center of attention in Darwasha – though the talented Karim Abo Reda does full justice to the mood – putting into perspective Darwish’s collaboration with Maryam Saleh on her project ‘Ana Mesh Beghani’ (I Do Not Sing). The emphasis in Maryam’s project is not on a mellifluous voice. Rather her voice is deliberately off-key at times; it aims to be local, accessible, mocking, scoffing. “It is not about the voice, it is also about the thought,” says Darwish. When Maryam or Darwish sing popular Egyptian poet Ahmed Fouad Negm’s lyrics, they are propounding his idea: it is not governments or positions that have power, it is the people. “What people want, they will do. Harking back to a message that was once addressed to another generation, the musician says, “I feel like I want to say that now.”
Darwish has had an artistic background with unusual influences for an average Egyptian – a brother that grew up playing classical and contemporary violin, a mother who worked as a costume designer for a singer, and a father who liked listening to Beatles. While Darwish grew up with music all around him, he also had ambitions in another field. When he took a sabbatical from his seven-year career in advertising, he came to some important decisions. “I understand it’s only a job,” says the musician about advertising, seeing himself as being more ambitious in music now.
“What made me realize that was the effect I had,” says the singer, who started the Darwasha project seven months ago. “There is a more direct effect via music.”
And we’ll be there to feel it this Wednesday!