Aly Fathalah is not with Fadi Naguib, one-half of the internationally acclaimed Egyptian trance duo who go by the alias Aly and Fila. He has unfortunately suffered an ear injury because of a faulty sound testing and has stayed home.
Fadi, however, makes up for his absence with double the enthusiasm. He laughs. A lot. We’re in a hotel lounge in Mumbai, India, and he’s drinking tea out of a fine china cup. The country is certainly not new to them. “I come here almost twice a year,” Fadi tells me.
Do Egypt and India share much in common? “A lot actually. Like traffic?” he laughs. “And also how the people are so friendly. The food has a bit of similarity, a bit,” he narrows his left eye just to convince me.
Presently, they are celebrating the 300th episode of their globally transmitted Internet radio show, Future Sound of Egypt (FSOE), and are preparing to release their new artist album “Quiet Storm” in June. The first single “Running out of Time” featuring Chris Jones has just been released this week.
Aly was an engineering student and Fadi was studying political science. They were expecting to slip their feet into regular jobs, but along the course of playing music “for fun”, somewhere it all turned into serious business. This was in the early 2000’s and they’ve been traveling the world since, performing in out-sized concert venues and playing some of the biggest club gigs. They’re the unofficial music ambassadors of trance representing not just Egypt but the entirety of the Arab world on international waters. Most often, they long for home. “I miss my friends, family, my dogs, and my wife for sure,” Fadi says.
“Simple things like going to a café, having a shisha, watching a movie with friends, the culture and the atmosphere of Egypt. Social life is so important in the Arab world. You’re always out, going out with people. It’s not like in Europe, where everyone is living their own life. In the Arab world, it’s about sharing your life with everyone around you.”
However, Egypt has quite quickly if not dramatically changed its social climate post the citizen revolution that rocked the country’s stagnating political reign. This was almost two years ago, yet till this day the country is still in a state of limbo.
“Well… when the revolution started we were very enthusiastic about everything. We were happy to finally have a change in our political system, which we wanted. But actually, right now, we’re not really sure what’s happening. It doesn’t look stable right now, but we are hoping the change will be for the better, for all Egyptian, not only one sector of the population.”
Reflecting upon the sense of disillusionment prevailing among Egyptian people, Fadi says, “I can sense it every time I’m back in Egypt. I always talk to the taxi drivers, with people working at the airport or the people working in shops, and I see the disillusionment. I spend most of my time out of Egypt, so when I go back I like to listen to ordinary citizens, get their feedback and stories; its always great to hear it from the people and not the media. These days what you hear from the people is frustration,” clapping his hands together to convey his frustration as well.
The turbulent situation in Egypt however, has brought about musical inspiration to the duo.
A fiercely expressive underground music scene has shown simmering visibility in Egypt and neighboring countries post the Arab Spring. This independent music industry has matured past its romantically puerile mainstream template, with many acts quietly but vocally serving as an alternate method of citizen journalism.
“The revolution gave underground bands and artists a spotlight to shine and bring forth their artistic talents,” he adds.
Three years ago, they sub-labeled Future Sound of Egypt to the massive Dutch record company Armada Music, and have steadily climbed ranks on the DJ Mag poll, cinching the under-20 spot in 2012.
“The whole idea of FSOE is to actually promote Egypt and its rich history. If you see the visuals at our events, it’s all about ancient Egypt and the beauty of our country. We are like an image for Egypt and we are trying to be good ambassadors. I think we are doing a good job.”
Their progressive trance sound has often expressed an indigenous flavor, with tricklings of the oud strings, and even more often, visual references to their home city of Cairo evident in their music videos.
When asked whether they would like to collaborate with any Middle-Eastern artists, he answers, “Actually there are a lot of great singers in the Arab world. For example Sherin, she has an amazing voice. Amr Diab is also great artist. He’s very professional. Every album of his is really strong with new ideas. He’s not keeping it the same. I’m not a dedicated fan of this music but I like what they’re doing. I don’t mind listening to them at some restaurants back in Egypt, or at wedding parties. It’s fun and it always has a groove to it, so you can dance.” He claps his hands and breaks into a smile.
Elaborating further, he says, “Well actually on our new album we have a male singer performing a ululation (a traditional musical expression native to the Arab region). It conveys the spirit of the Arab world and we have chosen it as the intro of our new album.”
Aly and Fila have collaborated with a somewhat “remotely regional” artist in the past.
“We did great work with Jwaydan Anwar, who is a British EDM singer/songwriter of Middle-Eastern origin on “We Control the Sunlight”; she’s very talented and we enjoyed working with her. It was her first big track and I’m sure she will be a big hit in the music scene.”
The trance culture is still considered a foreign import in the Arab world; and for these two DJ-producers who have broken ground and made a successful foray into an alien sound, albeit with elements of a regional attitude, this is a stride hardly any have paced. “I don’t know why. It’s not about trance. It’s about EDM in general. Like you said, some countries have purely underground scenes. In the Arab world it is not mainstream yet.”
It’s ironic however to notice the lamenting from the other side of the western world on the EDM scene losing its organic ethos and culture to the commercial sound and corporate structure.
“I think the whole new wave of big room house, is just a phase that comes and goes. I don’t think it will survive. Trance has always been there from the beginning of EDM. It has its up and down moments but it has always been there. The new movements like dubstep, it was huge, and then? It just goes big on the radio, but I don’t think it will survive the next three years.”
“We are sticking with trance that’s for sure, but there’s no harm in trying other genres. A good example is Armin Van Buuren. Sometimes he does a track, which works really well for the radio, but he always does a club mix of it. Which is clever I think. It’s a good way to promote the whole genre to get more people to listen to it. This way he brings a lot of exposure to a lot of us. Which is something that we plan to do. It’s like thinking out of the circle.”
And do they have any dream future collaborations they want to see fulfilled? He finally puts his cup of tea and saucer on the table with a cluck.
“We actually love Paul Van Dyk. Since we started, he’s been one of our main inspirations. We’d love to do a track with him. Maybe a track with Armin Van Buuren. We would also like to do a track with someone from another genre, for instance like Coldplay. It’s a dream you know. I love their music. For me they’re like the crème de la crème of the mainstream world. They have a message in their music, with their lyrics and compositions. I don’t want to call it pop because…” he trails off.
I suppose that’s a dirty word? He laughs. “I didn’t say that,” pointing his finger at me, “You said it,” and laughs again.
Where is the Future Sound of Egypt heading? “I’ll tell you something honestly. When Aly and I started, we didn’t know that we could achieve this all. We did it completely for fun, really, and then it all became serious. So to be honest I don’t know what we can expect, but we’re really ambitious and we don’t have a roof. We always want to become better.”
Interview arrangement courtesy of Submerge, India’s leading dance music portal.
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