Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1309, (25 - 31 August 2016)
Tuesday,17 October, 2017
Issue 1309, (25 - 31 August 2016)

Ahram Weekly

Meet the rockers

Salonaz Sami swings to visionary tunes

Meet the rockers
Meet the rockers
Al-Ahram Weekly

To complete the treat she was offering, in addition to coffee and chocolate, my friend provided music. “Who is that band playing in the background?” I asked her eagerly, “It’s Khayal,” she explained: “Vision”. It was my first time ever to hear Arabic lyrics being sung to progressive rock. What a thrill, I thought. The next day, that same friend took me to the Virgin megastore where we bought the band’s CD, which ranked second, right after the one and only Amr Diab, in the store’s bestselling albums list. “So how did you find out about this band?” the cashier, clearly a fan himself, asked eagerly; he seemed delighted that a group of young artists were actually making it from the Cairo underground scene to commercial success. 

Khayal’s Awel w mesh akheir mara (“The first, not the last time”), just may be the best self-produced album in the country. It was released in May at a concert in Al-Sawy Culture Wheel – and it is very genuine rock, sung – incredibly, in Arabic. “Not a single song on the album is bad, but you will definitely find some favourites,” wrote Ahmed Abul Naga, fan and critic, on Facebook. “Some people will love a song for the lyrics, others will fall for the music. I belong to the latter crowd. They chose the songs in their first album well. To Ahmed, Agez or “Incapable” is the highlight of the album. “Aside from from its great music and absolutely amazing guitar sequences, it shows the range of their lead’s voice,” he says.

Ezz Tarek, Khayal’s lead vocalist, guitarist and founder certainly has a great voice and knows how to pick his songs, but what makes him unique is his presence. He’s not just a singer but a performer who has the ability to take each word and transform it into a feeling that immediately lodges itself in the heart.  According to Tarek, when the band was formed they had no name, and it wasn’t until they were preparing for a live concert that they realised they needed one. “My bio on Twitter said, ‘Lead vocalist and guitarist of my imaginary progressive rock band’, so we turned imaginary into khayal,” Tarek told me when I finally met him. I couldn’t agree more: this music truly is imaginary, to say the least of what it is. 

“We believe that being able to imagine is one of the best gifts that God has given us,” the band’s Facebook bio reads, “and we consider it our mission, to enhance this imagination. We first imagine a story or a scene, realistic or not, then use our imagination to come up with the appropriate music and lyrics to go with it so that our listeners will see and feel it the way we do.” In their album, too, a booklet with the lyrics – connected in the shape of a story – is prefaced with the words, “Our album is more of a vision than a true story, through which we wish to convey the taste of our songs. Everything you hear is not the truth but rather a figment of our imagination or maybe it’s the truth, only God knows.” 

The band started jamming three years ago and has been growing steadily since then. Ezz and his brother Ahmed, guitarist, along with Mohab Al-Sherbieny, guitarist and back vocalist, were the founders; then came in 17-year-old Hania Mahmoud, vocalist, and Ramy Hamdy on the bass guitar. The last to join the band was drummer Ziad Nabil. According to Tarek, several elements set Khayal apart from other Egyptian rock bands like Kayan or Malaaz (the names mean, “Entity” and “Haven”, respectively): “We are the only Egyptian rock band with both a male and a female lead vocalist, and I believe that Hania’s mellow voice is a major part of our success. We are also one of a handful of Egyptian rock bands who sing in Arabic, and it is no easy task to make progressive rock music with Arabic lyrics and have them fit...” 

This might be the strangest aspect of the experience, in fact: for such pure rock music to be in Arabic. According to songwriter and critic Yasser Hegazy, who also took the time to speak to me, “Rock music is not for everyone. But whether you love it or hate it, you have to respect this band. They are very promising, to say the least.” 

Nor was it easy to produce their first album, says Tarek, who wrote it all: “At first we had a deal with a private studio, but after we started working the owner suddenly decided to shut the studio down permanently.” It was all El-Sherbiny, along with another friend, could do to open their own recording studio so that the album could see the light of day. The decision paid off. Each song has a story behind: my favourite, for example, Morgeha or “A Swing”, was written while Tarek literally was in a swing. It talks about setting your imagination free, clearing your mind and allowing positive thoughts to take over, even if only for a while. Both lyrics and music ring genuine.

Khayal are already working on their second album, which is due to be released next year. “We are happy that most of the album’s tracks are done, and we have even agreed on a title,” Tarek explained. Which was not easy: “Each of us had their own vision which adds a lot to the overall creative process, but sometimes we’ll argue about which vision is better and when that happens we resort to voting.”

Khayal don’t perform live as often as other bands but you can see and hear them on 1 September at Al-Sawy Culture Wheel.

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