Spot-on and a flamboyant sense of humor is Safi in a nutshell, and yes he does speak Arabic and can manage to talk with a calm tone while he sips his coffee. We’ve been listening to him for about 7 years now, over 4 hours of coiled entertainment, as we tuned in ‘The Big Drive Home’ when we were wondering what to wear to tonight’s date or when we just got out of a long clueless meeting and needed to chill. If you think radio is what he does, you’ll be mistaken; explanation fails on how this guy is a life junkie! He masters everything related to getting himself and others entertained with life, whether it is music, art, deserted spots, mysterious ruins or even the pleasure of sipping strawberry milk in the break of dawn.
But it has not been strawberry fields forever like some people might think, Safi had a hard time at the beginning of his career “I studied medicine at Ain Shams University and when I graduated, I trained at Al Matareya Teaching Hospital and there I saw hell. The Egyptian medical system wasn’t how I wanted to treat humans, it’s a business oriented career, the terrible way they treat patients wasn’t what I wanted to do”, he tells us, “I established Campus Creative with Shady Sherif owner of Core Publications, and via our advertising work I met with people from the radio station. One day I presented a demo for a rock show then I hit it off right away. I also thought that if radio didn’t work out, I might do something like ‘The Egyptian Dr. Phil’ or something” , he adds.
With its modern techniques and cool presenters, Nile FM is thought to be quite similar to American radio, but Safi has some other opinion to say, “Well, I wouldn’t say so. The beauty of Nile FM is that it has all the makings of international radio, but in addition to the local touch. Having a local soul is how we excel. You see a lot of stations in Dubai and Kuwait with British entertainment or American entertainment, but it works in a place like Dubai, as it is a very multicultural environment. At Nile FM, we’ve figured out that what Egyptians like the most is international entertainment with a local touch”, he tells, “We do surveys on regular basis and we get to know what our audience really wants to listen to”.
Eight years ago, before Nile Productions entered the Egyptian radio sphere; mainstream radio was awash in old school techniques and programs, but when Nile FM rocketed into popular consciousness with a presenter aware and awake like Safi, the rules have changed. “Look at it this way, before 2003 there was no such thing as a radio production house. Look today at the amount of advertising agencies, there are specific departments made just for radio and we’ve made that massive change in the industry. The advertising budget that goes into radio is unbelievable, we made a massive change in the industry”, he says. New projects and competitions like ‘So You Think You Can Nile’ aimed at pumping fresh blood to the station, and searching for new talents whether presenters, DJs or bands, is something Nile FM has always marked, “We’re always looking for fresh blood, in the sales and marketing departments or providing opportunities for bands and DJs. We will launch a new competition targeting female talents, we’re ready to give them exposure, and we’re ready to make them stars”, he explains. Safi’s audience extends beyond Egyptian borders, there are listeners from all over the globe and that what creates the real challenge, “I have people texting me from Afghanistan and that makes us messengers from Egypt”, Safi adds. Safi has bolstered his fan base over the past 7 years and became a real time buddy for his audience, “I have people who tell me I’m now at work and I used to listen to you when I was at school, it makes me feel old (laughs), for me somebody had a life transition through my show is really something. Other people text me and say ‘Safi the bridge is blocked’, just like that, so I tell them ‘darling what bridge and which lane?’ people just feel that as long as they know you, you know them”.
Safi is aware of the complex threats a radio presenter might face. An entertainer like any citizen else could have a terrible day fighting with a moron down the street or had just had a break up 5 minutes before his show, but what’s really important is to weather the storm and stay an entertainer in every bit of the word, “You just nailed the hammer on the head there because that is, at least for me, is the hardest part of the job. What makes you a true radio professional is to disassociate yourself from your own personal emotions as it’s not the listener’s fault that you had a bad day, or you want to go home because you’re hungry. You don’t have to worry about how I feel, my job is that I make you feel better, it’s not easy”, he says, “If I make one person smile a day I can go home happy. The Big Drive Home aims to ease people’s pain, or people who are stuck in traffic and in need of entertainment”.
So one question kept chasing us, did he ever think on moving to international radio to double the audience and double the fame? “No! because we all want to see Egypt differently, regardless we have to plant seeds, I totally believe in helping my country, at the end of the day, no one is 100% happy, I think one of the best scenarios in the world to be able to live in Egypt and have the flexibility of travelling abroad whenever you want. We’re a beautiful country; we have two seas and warm people. I once had a topic on my show that talked about car pooling and people started texting, some said “you know what, I’d rather be in my own car listening to my own music without any strangers riding with me”, well that’s fine, but if that’s your mentality, then don’t complain about traffic, because you’re not willing to make a change, your part of the problem instead being part of the solution”, Safi adds.
Refreshing and ‘getting inspired’ is something Safi finds essential for his sanity. For someone who has the job to entertain, to getaway is a must “I refresh by getting inspired, inspired by going out to the desert, the beach, or even meeting a lovely lady. You have to get inspired in order to inspire others; you can’t inspire people if you have a dull life. Watch a documentary or a movie, you have to plug in to the inspiration around you, I’ll encourage everybody to keep an open mind to the things that inspires them. We’re in a period of history that needs enlightened minds and not blind sheep, if you’re surrendering to be a blind sheep, and then you know what happens to sheep in Eid”, he laughs.
Safi says he never gets blocked on air, and if a radio presenter ever gets a blocked mind, there are ‘certain exercises’ to help him get back on track. Due to journalistic nosiness, we asked him about these exercises and unfortunately it was a waste of time “I won’t tell you, these are industry secrets”, he claims! We will have to google that one!
To be on the radio, you have to be more than a music freak. “These days I’ve been listening to classic music, I’m tired of vocals, tired of people singing, I also like electronic music. I’ve always been in bands too. I was in high school when the grunge era erupted with music like that of Nirvana and Pearl Jam. I’m lucky that I caught the last era of the music that was still controlled by its artists. From mid to late 90’s, music became a corporate product. Music producers ask ‘what is the biggest fear of teen?’ – When the answer is losing their boyfriend; Avril Lavigne makes ‘Losing You’. The same thing with guys, look at all the dominating charts you’ll find most of it R’n’B with songs that say ‘I got money, I got girls, I got cars’. It’s very scary! This generation is growing up to be very materialistic.The things you own end up owning you”, he concludes.
The Man in the Mirror:
The Spotlight and creepy fans: “I’m not a fan of the spotlight. How many fans you have on Facebook makes you lose touch and have ego issues. I’m really thankful and I appreciate it every day and I do what I do because of the people. Radio is more personal than any other media and some people think that they already know you, but guys I’m just a dude on the radio. I appreciate people like Robert De Niro and Al Pacino, have you ever seen them in interviews? Very little. They value privacy.”
The place where the grass is always greener: “Probably where there is nature, or somewhere really green like Kilimanjaro, it’s a different feeling. In my opinion, one of the reasons you live is to travel, being exposed to as much as you can is very important, that’s what forms your opinion. I do lots of sand boarding also.
A Phrase he uses often: “It’s called a Crutch phrase, I think I got a few, I always say things like “it ain’t easy’.
He knows what women want: “They just want to be appreciated, loved, given and admired. A woman wants to be treated right; people must make effort to treat each other right. Men really don’t know what they want; people should try to know what they want personally. Insecurity is big time in Egypt and is a reason for most of our problems, men and women should ‘Relax’ ”.