Meet the Egyptian and Lebanese political musicians in album duet

They are recognized as important figures and in the world of Arab underground, alternative music

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Egyptian singer and composer Maryam Saleh, and Lebanese producer Zeid Hamdan, have recently paired up to compose their first album together, Halawella. They are recognized as important figures and in the world of Arab underground, alternative music. Their album samples renowned Egyptian political singer Sheikh Imam, and popular poet Ahmed Fouad Negm, among others.

Zeid, how did you get into music?

I started playing with my cousins in Beirut after the war around 1994. I produced my first single with them, Long Bricks, and since then I’ve produced around 25 albums with multiple Lebanese artists.

When did you first meet Maryam?

I met Maryam in Alexandria in 2010 while I was touring with my band Kazamada. Maryam was in an apartment where we used to hang out with other artists. She started to sing, and I completely fell in love with her voice. The next day I recorded four tracks for her, and three days later I shot the video clip of Esla7at in Alexandria.

What makes the album stand out?

First, because of Maryam’s amazing voice and her interpretation of Sheikh Imam’s songs, and second because of the way we combined them with modern music. It sort of revives his songs. I think if Arab musicians had written such songs in the present day, they’d sound like this. It’s also a great way for the youth today to discover great artists such as Sheikh Imam and Negm.

What is the meaning behind the title?

The meaning of Halawella is clown. There’s a song in the album called Halawella that talks about how politicians change faces and costumes depending on the situation, so it’s kind of a satirical name. Also, half the album is music and lyrics from Mido Zohair and Maryam, so you have a touch of modern Arabic compositions.

The album samples various Arab musicians. Why these specific artists and styles of music?

Sheikh Imam was very close to Maryam’s family. He used to come to her house when she was young and would sing for her and the family, so she’s very familiar with him. Another reason is because he addresses social issues that Egyptians today relate to.

Why does this collaboration have a deeper sound than your other albums?

I didn’t notice that, but it must be due to the age. The more you age, the deeper you become. Maryam was the reason I got into the project, and she was my biggest inspiration for the sounds and styles.

Maryam, how did the 2011 Egyptian revolution impact your music?

The revolution gave us musicians a lot of hope, and came as a result of people’s restlessness over everything around them, including music. It drew our attention closer to music. Our fan base grew at the time because our music was, and still is, very different than other artists out there.

Why did you decide to go into political music?

I was bored with the musical options that were available. People weren’t able to choose freely, not even what they wanted to listen to. After the revolution, they’re now free to choose. It’s a big chance for the underground scene to be discovered on a bigger scale, and for it to develop a larger fan base.

Zeid, what are your upcoming projects?

We should release the album in Egypt very soon. We’re just waiting for the right proposition. We’re also launching in Europe in January, so hopefully there will be a lot of tours coming up. I’m still working on my own albums. I released an EP three months ago, and I’m producing for Egyptian performer and songwriter Mae Walid, as well as scoring for movies here and there.

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