ART & CULTURE – Gawy, playing “Oriental Fusion”

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The name Gawy is based on a special incense that has a remarkable and attractive smell but it is also a Cairo based-band that is creating this special smell through their music, and by establishing this with blending many sounds and genres together.

Gawy was established in 2015 by Ahmad el-Gamal and Mohammed Abd el-Latif. It was first initiated by Ahmad el-Gamal, remembers their manger Mahmoud El-Kady. El-Kady had been following the underground scene for a long time before becoming Gawy’s band manager.

El-Kady is explaining how the band came together in the first place: “Ahmad el-Gamal is my neighbour, and we have known each other for a long time. I encouraged him to publish his poems and he came up with the idea of Gawy. People kept telling us, that all of our songs have this special smell, and we create a special mood through fusing music and poems together. That is how the name came to be.

Currently they consist of eight young musicians whose passion it is to create their own soundscape, and playing live. They are from Cairo, and have been playing music for a long time. On their Facebook Page they write that “the band seeks to provide an alternative art that cares about the word in the first place and creates a new state of blending poetry and singing together in addition to performing traditional songs to be revived in all its forms and kinds”. It also aims to blend different cultures through musical synthesis. “They place themselves within alternative, folk, and world music, but they offer more beyond these genres.”

It has been now two years since they first started playing together, and for one and a half year they played live, wrote songs and waited for the right time to release the debut album Qalbk Yasa’ (which means something in this context like “Your Heart is Expanding”). Finally on April 9, 2017 they celebrated their album launch concert at El Sawy Culture Wheel.

El Sawy Cultural Wheel was established in 2003, and has now over a decade hosted various alternative and independent bands. It was founded by Engineer Mohamed El Sawy. Gawy has a huge following on Facebook, over 18,000 people like their page.

They released this album as a live recording. The reason for releasing a live album at the beginning consists of two parts. The first part is that for the band it was the cheapest way of releasing the album. They have played for one and a half year, and at a certain point the band wanted that the audience should know their lyrics. The second part is, they wanted to keep the sound as it is from the live concerts. El-Kady explains that while many bands add many layers to their songs and sounds, they wanted to leave the sound established at the live concerts as it is, this is why the first album is a live recording and not a studio recording. The first song, that they uploaded on Soundcloud was, 3atshan ya Zeina. While listening to this song, and the later productions you can clearly hear a difference in their musical journey, while some similarities remain. It is rather slow-paced, accompanied by different instruments and a second vocalist named Nehal Kamal, but she left the band after a while.

One of the band members, Toqa el-Hagrasy is playing the qanun. The qanun is a type of an instrument like a large zither, and it gives the music a quite special sound. Their songs are mostly written by Ahmed el-Gamal, except for two traditional poems they decided to cover. The first is a traditional Palestinian folk song, Yamah Mawael El-Hawa and the other is Ya Leal Ya Leal from Upper-Egypt. While the first song is quite catchy, funky and creates a melody accompanied by the qanun, guitar and other instruments, it is about politics and liberty. The other traditional song, starts with percussions, drums, and the qanun as the main instruments, keeping the traditional element intact. Ya Leal ya Leal invites you to sing along, and has the same spirit – of an upbeat character.

The concept of the album is clearly marked by the writings of el-Gamal, which evolves around love, family alongside social and political norms. Usually their concerts consist of more or less 15 songs and their concerts are more like a play in terms of story-telling, but it was not possible to put all 15 songs in the first album. The album consists of seven tracks in total, and is merging different genres such as Funk, Jazz and Rock together. El-Kady would describe the music of Gawy “Oriental Fusion”.

He explains: “We are just mixing these genres with oriental elements together, either in a lyrical way or through the music. We don’t just play Funk, Jazz, or traditional music, it is our kind of music.” The band members make sure that all their influences and personal notes become evident in the music of Gawy. Each of the members has his own influence on the music. Even though some of the songs on the album have prominently the subject of love in them, they do this not in a cliché based style which makes them different from the usual pop songs singing about love.

The songs on the album are complex and quite different from each other. While they have established a consistent sound, the songs are not repetitive but are all managing to find their own sound. The songs are powerful and energetic, which is reflected by the different sounds and melodies found on the album. Nevertheless the songs have an intimate feel and leave a very personal mark, found in the poetry of Ahmed el-Gamal. Writing and making music with these factors in mind shows the huge potential of the band. They create an atmosphere which connects both traditional elements with their music.

Most of the band members have learned their instruments on their own, tells me El-Kady. They are not playing only with Gawy, some of the members have many different projects alongside Gawy, because it is often not easy to play only for one band. They have financed the album themselves.

For such a young band, which has only existed since two years, it is quite a success that they have so many followers and a loyal fan base, which is probably based on the mix of the soundscape they established, traditional lyrics and instruments. Mahmoud el-Kady hopes that in the near future Gawy will release their second album, which is planned to be released as both studio and live recording.

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About Author

Tugrul von MENDE

M.A. Study of Middle Eastern Studies (University of Leipzig) - Germany

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