Egyptian band narrates people’s hardships through poetry, song

The band’s soundscape is a mixture of oriental and Eastern music.
Sunday 01/04/2018
Members of the Egyptian band Gawy perform at a concert in Cairo.(Marwa al-A’sar)
Oriental fusion. Members of the Egyptian band Gawy perform at a concert in Cairo.(Marwa al-A’sar)

CAIRO - Egyptian concert-goers are being treated to a new music genre that blends poetry recitations and singing with lyrics to which they can relate performed by Gawy.

The name “Gawy” is derived from incense that releases a remarkably attractive smell, vividly describing the unique combination of poetry, in colloquial Arabic, music and singing the band performs.

Every poem recited by the band’s poet, Ahmed el-Gamal, is a tale mirroring the reality of Egyptians’ everyday life, their dreams and aspirations. Gamal’s poems sound simple at first but then the audience realises how deep the words are.

“We attempt to perform the life experience of our generation through our band,” Gawy’s singer and music composer, Mohamed Abdel-Latif, said.

The band’s soundscape is a mixture of oriental and Eastern music played on a keyboard, bass guitar, electric guitar, different percussion instruments and qanun, amounting to what Abdel-Latif describes as “oriental fusion.”

It started in March 2015, when Gamal met Abdel-Latif through a common friend and they agreed to release a single track online.

“I felt that the poem can be (appropriated) by Mohamed, especially that I heard him sing before,” Gamal said. “Before meeting Mohamed, I knew many artists with good voices but I felt that my first poem could not be interpreted by anyone but him.”

The track attracted about 30,000 likes in the first two days. Now about 800,000 followers have liked the song.

The pair said they had no plan to form a band but the encouragement they received from the public shaped the idea.

“After the track was released, listeners kept asking us whether we would form a group. They were curious for more songs as they were not quite familiar with the combination between poetry and singing,” Abdel-Latif said.

That combination was not quite new to Egyptians. Legendary poet Ahmed Fouad Negm and celebrated singer and music writer Sheikh Imam presented such a combination in the past.

“We offered listeners a new experience combined with contemporary music,” Abdel-Latif argued. “Our band relies mainly on a single poet and, in most songs, I sing poems rather than lyrics like the case with Negm and Sheikh Imam.”

Gawy, a band of ten people, had its first live performance in September 2015 and has been regularly playing concerts afterward.

“I almost attend every concert Gawy gives. I very much like the fusion they perform and I’m a big fan of Ahmed el-Gamal’s poetry,” said university student Eman Fawzy.

Gawy attracted audiences from different age groups and backgrounds and won the critics’ approval as well.

“The type of art Gawy performs is different… so is their audience,” said music critic Mostafa Farouk. “They mainly depend on the power of the poetic word that is deep and profound.”

In addition to performing their own songs, Gawy band members are reviving heritage by presenting songs in Upper Egyptian accent that mimic old folklore.

“Both Gamal and I have upper Egyptian origins, which made us even more interested in restoring Egyptian heritage but with a new touch of oriental fusion,” Abdel-Latif explained.

Gamal said he draws inspiration for his poems from different sources.

“I read a lot, watch films and look at other poets’ writings, while observing the people around me going by their daily tasks. Many of my poems reflect my own personal life and at the same time reflect the hardships of people living in my country,” he said.

The band released its first album “Albek Yesaa” (“Your Heart is Big Enough”) last year. It included seven tracks recorded at a concert scheduled especially for the album. It was the cheapest way of releasing the album.

As is the case with independent bands in Egypt, Gawy faces production challenges.

“Our first album was self-funded and it took us a long time to produce it due to our limited budget. At the same time, we couldn’t dedicate a proper budget for marketing,” Abdel-Latif said.

“It’s true that concerts cover expenses but we make little profit that doesn’t help us dedicate our time only to our art,” added Abdel-Latif, who has a day job as a software quality controller.

Some of Gamal poems implicitly criticise government policies and human rights in Egypt.

“Poetry is my only weapon for resistance. I can do nothing else than writing. I use the talent God bestowed on me and I write what my conscience tells me… In fact, we seek to achieve victory for the human being through art,” Gamal said.