The melodic melancholy sound of the accordion – once famous and much loved in Egypt – is in the midst of a revival. Youssra El-Hawary, a young talented musician from this country in transition is now seen as a preserver of this long lost tradition. Her music isn’t just for fun but also sends out an impactful social message.
The Arab Spring was at its peak whilst El-Hawary was shooting the video for her song “El Soor,” which quickly became a hit on Internet.
“The lyrics of the song were written by a renowned Egyptian caricaturist, Walid Taher, one of my close friends, in 2005. When I got a chance to read them again in 2012 in his book, I connected it to the walls that are being built by the military in Downtown Cairo to prevent people from going to Tahrir Square,” said El-Hawary. “I was completely touched by its note. Then, I decided to compose music to these lyrics and that lead me to shoot the clip in just one week. The song says that no matter how high the wall you build, people will pass by and pee on it because it doesn’t mean a thing for them.”
As Egyptians were out on the streets protesting Hosni Mubarak’s tyranny, the release of the song couldn’t have been better timed. “The song struck a chord with the people of Egypt because it reflected their growing anguish with the failing system. It tells how they feel, not only Egyptians, but anyone who was impressed by the Egyptian revolution. What made it more enthralling is that it’s a very cheerful and simple song but deep and strong at the same time. I love the idea of talking about problems in a cheerful way. It just shows you are strong.”
El-Hawary’s relationship with music started quite at an early age. “I studied piano since I was eight years old. I used to take personal classes at home. After that, I went on to study classical music, music theory and composing. I learned how to play the accordion only three years ago. I wanted to play an instrument that I can take with me anywhere.”
Asked why she chose only accordion to voice her feelings, she said, “I used to play accordion in school, but not in a professional way. It’s a common school instrument in Egypt. Three years ago, I found my old accordion and played with it. Then I thought, why not start playing accordion? This is when I bought a new one and started teaching myself. I was so much in love with French music that I loved the sound of it. Though it was a bit hard in the beginning, it was quite worth it. I play it in more French and Italian style.”
Winning the global music award for her very first song came as a big shock to her. “It was a great surprise. I really didn’t expect it. I feel very lucky of course having this when I’ve only just started my career. I starting singing professionally in the beginning of 2012,” said El-Hawary.
She wears many hats though. She is a mime artist too. “I have been doing theater for seven years now, so that was actually my first passion before singing came into in my life. Lately, I have worked with the Cairo Acting School and had a workshop with two Dutch directors that helped us to make a mime play which we showed in both Egypt and the Netherlands,” she said.
The public has reacted very well to her. “Though I’m not a mainstream singer and hardly known to all, I am very well known in the underground and independent artist scene.”
As any Egyptian, El-Hawary certainly has mixed feelings about Egypt’s future. She is worried but feels also proud of the revolution and said, ‘I’m always optimistic. It’s a very satisfying change for me and I know we have to go through hard times to reach the light at the end.”
“Music and theater are my musketeers that are inseparable to me. They are my life. It’s how I deal and express and move on. And I really can’t imagine a place without arts.”
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