A Story of Shaghaf

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Wed, 23 Sep 2020 - 08:40 GMT

   
    In the midst of the coronavirus anxiety that is draining us all, we thought to bring in some positive light with the inspirational story of three young Egyptian stars and their band Shaghaf—Arabic for passion. With the rise of trap and rap on the Egyptian music scene, Shaghaf is seeking to bring back diversity to the table. The alternative-indie rock band started as a project of passion between three high school friends a few years ago, and today the 21-year-olds have come a long way together and are about to release their first album. Egypt Today speaks to the three band members; guitarist Ahmed Metry, pianist Sara Fakhry, and drummer Youssef Azzam about how their adventure together started and how they’re managing to keep their band alive when they’re each living in a different country.
    An incredibly talented songwriter and workaholic band manager, in the words of his friends, Youssef says that Shaghaf was founded as “a means of communicating their thoughts, feelings, emotions, and identities through what they are most passionate about: music.” Recalling his first encounter with Ahmed when the latter was performing “Makanak” by Cairokee, at their school talent show in 2013, Youssef says, “We connected over our love for the band and started meeting on a weekly basis to jam together over Cairokee’s then newly released album Wana Maa Nafsy A’aed.” A year later, they performed together at their school’s talent show, and were so impressive that they were offered the chance to perform at the graduation ceremony every year onwards. That is when they needed to bring in another member with a new instrument, and approached Sara for her piano magic. “I remember asking Sara to come practice with us at our jamming sessions and she was hesitant at first. After her friends encouraged her, she came to our session; we jammed together perfectly and that’s when we knew we had really good chemistry,” Youssef recalls.

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    In 2015, the three friends founded their own school band and recruited more members, but the bond they had together was different. “We never found chemistry with the school band, so we decided to perform with them but also have our thing alone. We started working on “Helmak,” our first single in my unprofessional small recording setup,” Ahmed says. Soon after, their big breakthrough came around as they applied together for the nationwide competition Battle of the Bands. “Being selected by Sharmoofers from a pool of 650 band applications to take part in Egypt’s Battle of the Bands competition as the youngest participants, just three months after forming our band, was surreal,” says Youssef.

    Only a month later, however, Youssef had to travel to Abu Dhabi to start college. But did the adventure stop there? Not a chance. Sara and Ahmed also got into the same university to study music composition and production. “It was right then and there when we knew this had to mean something,” Youssef says. The trio took part in NYU Abu Dhabi’s Battle of the Bands competition in 2017 and came in first place; and travelled with the university’s music department to record their EP’s outro in Mumbai. Then, each traveled for semesters abroad at NYU’s global sites across the world at different times. “For over a year and a half, we have gotten inspiration, composed, recorded, mixed and produced in cities such as Mumbai, Paris, Abu Dhabi, Florence, New York City and our hometown Cairo,” says Youssef. “Whether it was by being physically together or separated by distances, we all made sure to keep communicating effectively for our project to make it regardless.”

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    Miles apart, the band is till on track. Last year, Youssef was in New York, Sara was in Abu Dhabi and Ahmed was in Paris; but Youssef and Ahmed flew all the way to the UAE  to perform at the Wasla Music Festival, sharing the stage with Cairokee, Massar Egbari, Mashrou Leila, El Morraba’ and 47 soul. “Nothing makes you alive as a musician and as a band like performing on stage and interacting with people. So, we skipped classes, booked our tickets and flew all the way to Dubai because we had to make it no matter what,” says Ahmed. “Just being on stage doing your sound check and having Mashrou’ Leila sit down and listen while they wait for their turn gave us the chills. We got to meet with [the bands] which we had been huge fans of for years. Nothing would top that experience in my opinion,” Youssef says.

    Describing their music, Youssef says, “Our songs cannot be labelled under one single genre. So far, we have an alternative rock song, an indie-folk song, a post rock song and a classic rock song on our upcoming album,” adding, “What’s unfamiliar about what we have to offer is that we are still discovering what we like most, and since we’re passionate about music in general, we don’t want to restrict ourselves to one specific sub-genre, but keep exploring until we find where we lie.” For Sara, “music is a story. Each song has its own story which sends its own message,” she says, adding that all of their songs come from a story one of them has experienced.

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    One of these stories, Ahmed shares, is told through the band’s first song “Helmak” (Your Dream). “I wrote this song when I was 15 years old, a kid passionate about music and I wanted to do anything just to study music and pursue my dream,” he recalls. All the songs on the upcoming album also talk about phases that the three members have been through: love, depression, hope and so on. “I wrote ‘Moftah El Nour’ (The Key to Light) right after moving to Abu Dhabi. I had started my semester late and was catching up on all my classes and studying for midterms right away. Combining that with the fear of an 18-year-old living on their own for the first time outside their comfort zone led to me being stressed, anxious and very homesick,” says Youssef. “I decided to write down how I felt as a method of venting. I then took my guitar and played a melody I thought described both my thoughts and how I felt; empty.” Two other songs talk about an 18-year-old falling for a girl but he keeps blaming himself for her not loving him back. “I took the chance through the song to send a message of the importance of self-love before we seek out love from others,” says Youssef who writes most of the song lyrics.

    Ahmed is currently mixing and mastering the last two songs for the album while Youssef plans the music videos and prepares for their summer reunion when they will finally all be back in Cairo. Until then, the songwriting, production and composition are all ongoing from three major cities around the world. 

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    Summing up a beautiful experience that is yet to come to full bloom, Youssef says, “Our main message is ‘relatability’. In Shaghaf, we’re all 21-year-olds trying to discover who we are, what we’re most passionate about, and what makes us ‘us’. We hope people would listen to our songs and feel like they could relate since they’ve been in a similar experience. Whether it was a heartbreak, questioning yourself and your beliefs or just feeling lost, Shaghaf should have been through something similar.”

You can listen to Shaghaf’s songs on their Facebook page @shaghaf98.

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