It’s hard not to ask who that guy on stage is when you see Shady Ahmed performing. His palpable talent and beautiful voice made Cairo’s movers and shakers give immediate attention to this sensible rocker. We met with the singer/songwriter to talk about his inspirations and the future of the music scene in Egypt.
Shady is a copywriter in the morning and a full blood rocker in the evening. Seven years ago, he stepped into the music scene as the front man of the band Kravin before going solo. He also joined forces with Ahmed Bahaa (on percussions) and Tarek Diaa (on guitar) to form the Shady Ahmed Trio. He joined “Makshoof Music” regional competition put together by triplew.me and won and was flown to Dubai with some of his new band members to record a demo there.
You can’t quite put a finger on where his inspiration comes from, “I get Inspired when I have an opinion about something, maybe a personal experience but mostly about lots of things in life. My music has recently had a positive perspective on life. It’s upbeat and really ear friendly. But there are other moments of desperation, which make for good songs too. Anything I see in life inspires me”, Shady tells us. His song ‘Colorblind’ reflects his inspirations in a nutshell as he says: ‘they may talk but we don’t have to listen, discouragement is a language we don’t speak. They may try to keep you grounded, by trying to convince you that flying is for the weak’. This song is about how it feels to be a discouraged artist in a city as inspiring as Cairo”.
Being exposed to music and listening to a new album everyday is one of the key factors we were told, “It’s something that I feel I have to do to keep my ear fresh. I open myself up to different experiences in life, when I talk about life I have to live it. When I go through a certain experience I analyze it to find out how I feel about it. There were times in which I would force myself to write but I couldn’t, the words that get out by themselves were always so much better. I’m able to work on myself as I play live a lot. I get people to make notes about the songs in some intimate gigs I do” he adds.
Sometimes the language barrier between an artist and the audience could be a problem but only if the artist cannot connect and break that barrier, “We have a very rich musical culture, to sing with the language of your hometown is definitely a plus and that’s what limits my audience, but it’s just very different from the music I grew up listening to and in turn started making”.
Sad but true, for many new talents emerging in the music scene in Egypt, it’s really hard to make a living out of their music. “When original material becomes respected, record labels will become interested in our music and that’s the right way to make a living”, he tells. So isn’t every one of us downloading their music for free? We couldn’t help but wonder, how this would affect young artists in the scene “I’ll be first to tell you that I download music for free. I have an advantage people who want my music can find it online for free and if I want to sell something, I’ll sell it at my concerts. The idea of going to a music store to buy a 120 LE CD is too much money to spend, especially for a guy like me, I like music a lot and for the past couple of years, I listen to a new album every day. I understand why living abroad is different. I could buy a single or I could buy a whole album for less than ten dollars. iTunes makes it easier to buy music legally, I had an album on iTunes but no one was able to buy it as we don’t have iTunes in Egypt”, Shady says.
The music industry has changed very much in the past decade and bands are focusing on getting people to come to their concerts. “Music today isn’t about how many records you sell, it’s about how many people will come to your concert”, Shady says “Well, I want to scale it down to people who appreciate music. There are people who consider Sakkya Cultural Wheel as a place to hang out when there is no other place to go. It has in some ways made going to a concert similar to going to a movie. When I was playing the solo acoustic shows, I would always want to play in places that you wouldn’t expect to see music being played at. That way, I forced the people who really want to listen to my music to follow me and have an intimate live setting for me to play my music for the people who cared enough to come and listen. Bigger venues are always better for a full band. I love both and I don’t imagine having one without the other”.
After Jan 25, the public eye started to give much more attention to local bands. Some musicians wrote songs about the revolution, others performed live dedicating their music to martyrs and some used to the revolution just to promote their music, “I’m against people who use the Egyptian flag to sell their product. They’re selling flag painted bed-sheets now! The flag is a symbol of pride and respect, not an advertising tool. It’s good to have it integrated but I don’t want musicians only way of making music is to talk about Egypt. There are lots of other topics that really need to be expressed. What about social change? What really caught my attention are bands who used to sing about love and now they’re only talking about Egypt because no one wants to listen to romantic songs these days, but in my opinion, they replaced ‘my love’ with ‘my country’, it’s the same thing at the end. Music is a very important factor when it comes to history, you can’t really think of the Vietnam War without recalling the hippies and the whole music movement, but the music that came out of that era wasn’t about how much they loved their country. There were a lot of very strong political statements being made through music, promoting peace and ending the war”, he tells us.
Shady likes to set his standards very high and by doing this, he is expected not only to rise on local but also on global level. “There is nothing naive about aspiration, absolutely nothing! When you put positive energy into the world and work your butt off, people will appreciate it. I was very happy when we played abroad; I felt that people appreciate my music much more than the level of appreciation I get here. It’s a different outlook on music; these people look at music on a different level. I have to be honest with my music and myself and know that there is no way anyone doing what I do in this country will get anywhere. Going abroad to play is what eventually has to happen, but all in due time. The one thing I can do now is music. Play and make music as much as I can for as long as I can for as many people as I can trick into coming to see me perform. You have to want new and better things; satisfaction is death for the artist. There is always a struggle to do something better, I always picture music as someone I talk with. Sometimes I have to fight with her to get my point across but it’s a fight in which everyone wins. But that’s the thing about music; it’s an inner struggle to get your voice out through it. At the end of the day, it’s how you use it and what you use it for. Music means so much to me. When I am going though a difficult time in my life, the first thing that comes to mind is the playlist of songs I’ll make to help me get through this. If you introduce music to your life, the right music, you will notice your senses starting to take clearer form. It’s a very spiritual thing and it can get you through life a lot easier. I guess in a way, it amplifies everything and puts things in a unique perspective, the good and the bad. It’s up to you though, to decide which of them you choose to have lingering around” he closes.
So Shady, what do women want? “That’s tough, and I have a feeling that I can’t get away easily with a generic answer (laughs). Women are very different; I don’t think any two women want the same thing. That’s the thing about women, they are very complex human beings who on some level want a little bit of everything but then again could survive and make it through life with very little. Women were not made to be understood, just loved. I think if I was to say one thing about what women want, it would be a good time.”