Rising star Tamino: Playing Arabic music was ‘like a homecoming’

Rising star Tamino: Playing Arabic music was ‘like a homecoming’
Tamino performs at The Bourges Springs music festival in Bourges, France, in April 2018. (AFP)
Updated 21 October 2019

Rising star Tamino: Playing Arabic music was ‘like a homecoming’

Rising star Tamino: Playing Arabic music was ‘like a homecoming’

CAIRO: “I always felt that music was an inescapable path for me,” says singer-songwriter Tamino-Amir Moharam Fouad (generally just known as Tamino) on the eve of his debut concert in Egypt on October 12 — a performance at the Cairo Jazz Club 610 in front of 700 fans.

“It’s not a choice you gravitate to,” he continues. “In the same way as a prince doesn’t choose to be a prince, music — me liking it and being good at it — wasn’t a choice.” The Belgian-Egyptian-Lebanese musician’s description of his vocation also explains why his debut album, released last year, was called “Amir.”

Lyrically, Tamino says, his eclectic 12-track debut (which has just been re-released in a "deluxe edition") focused on “the trap of nihilism.”




Tamino performed in Egypt on October 12 at the Cairo Jazz Club 610 in front of 700 fans. (Ramy Moharam Fouad)

“When I write a song, I cannot really force it anywhere it doesn’t want to go,” he says. “It leads me.”

His Cairo gig is something of a milestone for Tamino. It took him a long time to feel comfortable enough to perform in Egypt, not just because it’s the homeland of his father and grandfather, but also because that grandfather is the celebrated late Egyptian singer and actor Moharam Fouad, whose distinctive voice saw him dubbed ‘The Sound of the Nile.’ 

“It was a big step,” Tamino says. “Egypt is (my father’s country) but I didn’t grow up here and I don’t speak the language. But I do care about this country and I wanted to be ready for it.”

Named after the protagonist of Mozart’s 1791 opera “The Magic Flute,” the 22-year-old was born and raised in Antwerp, Belgium. He says his mother was an avid music connoisseur, and from an early age he had a good grounding in piano and classical music.

He didn’t get to spend much time with his famous grandfather, who died when Tamino was five, but he remembers visiting Fouad at his house in 6th October city — not far from where we meet.

“The first time I sang through a microphone was in his studio. I was only three at the time,” he says, adding that he still has a guitar gifted to Fouad by his long-time friend and collaborator Omar Khorshid.




Tamino's Cairo gig was a milestone for him as it took him a long time to feel comfortable enough to perform in Egypt. (Ramy Moharam Fouad)

“When I found it, it was all broken, so I got it fixed,” he says. “I don’t take it with me anymore because it’s so fragile. But I still play it at home.”

Growing up in Europe, he points out, meant that — as a musician — he never had to deal with the pressure of being Fouad’s grandson. Instead he was able to follow his own path, initially inspired by Western alternative rock and “the concept of a solo artist with a guitar on stage.” He has been writing his own material since he was 14. “I learned alone, just by playing live in cafes for ten people,” he says. He had no formal training until he was 17, when he went to study at Amsterdam’s Royal Conservatory.

He cites UK band Radiohead as a major early influence (their bass player, Colin Greenwood, plays on Tamino’s track “Indigo Night”) and his jaw-dropping vocal abilities have seen him compared to the band’s frontman, Thom Yorke, as well as the acclaimed late US singer-songwriter Jeff Buckley. That compliment isn’t always welcome (although he describes Buckley’s 1994 debut album, “Grace,” as “a beautiful record.”)

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Giddo’s birthday today what a gift to the world he was and what a gift it would be if he’d still be with us

A post shared by Tamino (@taminoamir) on

“If it’s a (genuine) comparison, then of course I don’t mind it,” says Tamino. “But if they say ‘He’s the new....” or that the music is the same because Buckley was doing some oriental stuff as well, that’s orientalism. They are basically saying that Pakistani music and Arab music are the same thing.”

It was a trip to his paternal grandmother’s hometown in Lebanon that allowed Tamino to discover his love of Arabic music — and his innate ability to incorporate it into his own sound. In 2017, he met a Syrian musician there and they played some Arabic music together.

“It felt like I was revisiting something,” he says. “Like I had regularly been seeing maqams and singing rast, bayati and hijaz. It was like a homecoming in a musical sense.”




Tamino, whose inflluences include UK band Radiohead. (Ramy Moharam Fouad)

There is certainly a clear influence from Arabic music in Tamino’s growing repertoire. He released his debut EP “Habibi” in early 2018 — choosing that particular title, he says, because, “It was a word I was familiar with because people in my family use it a lot. It’s a beautiful word. And it (went with) the melody (of the title track).”

“Amir” released last October, built on the buzz created by “Habibi” and received widespread critical acclaim. Two tracks on the album — “Sun May Shine” and “So It Goes” — feature Nagham Zikrayat, a Brussels-based Arabic music orchestra comprising refugees from Iraq, Syria, Morocco and Tunisia. Tamino responded to the orchestra’s request to have him perform his grandfather’s songs with them by following his “gut feeling” and asking them to play on his album instead.

Despite his melding of influences from the East and West, however, Tamino is no fan of “fusion” music. “Its always cheesy. I never like it,” he says. “You try to merge two worlds but it ends up just being crappy.”

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Thank you for a beautiful evening Tunis Video by @michielvenmans

A post shared by Tamino (@taminoamir) on

Instead, he favors a musical approach that brings Arabic heritage into conversation with other musical traditions, explaining how he and his producers embarked on a period of intensive research before getting started on “Amir.” “You have to understand (the Arabic heritage),” he says.

His decision to introduce Arabic sounds into his music is, he says, directly tied to an ambivalent sense of “in-betweenness” that has accompanied him all his life. Music is where he pieces together the different facets of his identity — but it is also the site of a much-needed renegotiation where Tamino explores the possibility of questioning the Western gaze and the absurdity of essentialist understandings of the ‘Arab’.  

The video for “Tummy” — directed by Tamino’s brother Ramy — for example, features the singer dressed an Ancient Egyptian pharaoh.




Despite his melding of influences from the East and West, Tamino is no fan of “fusion” music. (Ramy Moharam Fouad)

“The song was a joke. If you talk about Egypt in Europe or America, people still imagine pharaohs sitting on their throne, or people building pyramids,” he says. Then adds, “Not many people understood it.”

Tamino has experienced those stereotypes first hand: When he first began to get noticed in Belgium, he was often referred to as “pharaoh.”

“It’s a fantasy they still have,” he says. “Not only about Egypt, but the region as a whole.”

And it’s a myth that Tamino is helping to shatter.


GCC artists explore Ramadan during COVID-19

GCC artists explore Ramadan during COVID-19
Updated 15 April 2021

GCC artists explore Ramadan during COVID-19

GCC artists explore Ramadan during COVID-19
  • Khaleeji Art Museum’s latest installation showcases work from six emerging Gulf artists

BENGALURU: In Omani artist Mahmood Al-Zadjali’s latest artwork “More Precious Than Gold,” he photographs a woman eating a samboosa. Viewers may overlook the mundane act of eating and choose instead to focus on the aesthetic of the woman being photographed.

“During Ramadan, food turns into an obsession. Refraining from it during the day turns it into a desire,” writes Al-Zadjali on his Instagram account. He goes on to explain that, since people rarely make traditional Ramadan fare like luqaimat and samboosa through the rest of the year, come the holy month these delicacies are regarded as “more precious than gold.”

Bahraini artist Essa Hujeiry combines photography and digital work. (Supplied)

Al-Zadjali’s tongue-in-cheek photograph was part of last year’s online art exhibition “Ramadan in Quarantine,” hosted by the Khaleeji Art Museum (KAM), the region’s first digital art museum dedicated to showcasing the work of emerging artists in the region.

Since its launch on International Museum Day last year, KAM has held three online group exhibitions — “Khaleejis In The Time of Corona,” “Ramadan in Quarantine,” and “Art for Change” — and hosted two solo digital shows.

KAM’s founders, Emirati sisters Manar and Sharifah Al-Hinai, are also the team behind Sekka Magazine, an online arts and culture magazine launched in 2017, aimed at regional youth.
“Through Sekka, we get to meet a lot of emerging artists from the region,” Sharifah tells Arab News. “The art world is difficult to tap into — even more so when you are an emerging artist. The artists we worked with told us that the biggest challenge they face is that they cannot find spaces that will exhibit their work. So Manar and I had a conversation about this and we thought, ‘Why not start a digital art initiative?’ During a pandemic, digital is a great way to reach as many people as possible.”

This artwork is by Faisal Alkherji. (Supplied)

After several conversations, the duo settled on the idea of a digital museum dedicated to artists from the Arab Gulf states. “As far as we knew, it was something that didn’t exist,” says Manar. “We are very proud to be the first digital museum that provides this platform.” The sisters are currently in talks with various organizations in the UAE to host physical exhibitions in the future.

Their first exhibition, “Khaleejis In The Time of Corona,” received a positive response. “With lockdowns all over the world and the situation still new, people were interested in seeing how others were coping with COVID-19,” Manar says. The online gallery hit over 10,000 views.

Their latest installation — “Ramadan amid COVID-19,” which began April 12 — sees seven artworks from six emerging regional artists displayed on the façade of the 36-story Intercontinental Hotel in Dubai Festival City (DFC). The show runs until April 26 with four ‘screenings’ every evening.

Ishaq Madan’s photograph features a gloved hand holding prayer beads. (Supplied) 

The works include Bahraini photographer Ishaq Madan’s “Ramadan 1441.” His photograph features a gloved hand holding prayer beads. The idea came to Madan during the height of the pandemic last year. “Ramadan usually witnesses triple the worshippers, but as the world shifted away from normalcy, the connection, for some, (was) difficult to find,” he explains. “As mosques closed their gates to worshippers, a new spiritual battle began — of finding connection with the heavens above. As some may struggle, it is important we strengthen our spiritual connections.”

Madan created a painting-like effect for his image by combining natural light techniques with unusual perspectives — portraying a subtle visual story through characters captured in the frame.

Omani artist Mays Almoosawi’s “Ramadan, the blessed month of peace and goodwill” is a digitally sketched illustration of an Arab woman reclining on a crescent moon. (Supplied)

Omani artist Mays Almoosawi’s “Ramadan, the blessed month of peace and goodwill” is a digitally sketched illustration of an Arab woman reclining on a crescent moon — a longstanding symbol of Ramadan. Almoosawi includes further symbolism such as a coffee cup, and a traditional Arab kaftan.

“The illustration speaks of the COVID-19 situation in Ramadan,” she says. “Most of us (usually) spend the holy month gathering with family and friends. But this year, we are patiently waiting for life to get back to the way it was.”

Almoosawi’s work often features female figures in various shapes and forms. It represents the society that she grew up in, she says. “As an Arab girl, I was always surrounded by women. Hearing their stories and their insecurities had a big impact on me.”

In Omani artist Mahmood Al-Zadjali’s latest artwork “More Precious Than Gold,” he photographs a woman eating a samboosa. (Supplied)

Bahraini artist Essa Hujeiry combines photography and digital work. His artwork features a gloved, glittering hand pouring coffee out of a sparkling pot into a cup held by another’s hand. “(Coffee), in the Arab tradition, unifies people and brings them together,” Hujeiry says. “It is a constant in our lives and also a cultural symbol that embodies the idea of hospitality, unity, and safety in families during the holy month of Ramadan.”

Hujeiry has always been inspired by the cosmos, space, and illusion, he explains. His work is reflective of this, with several elements of glitter and spatial effects interspersed with cultural symbols. The rest of this series, he says, shows how we can be unified as a society even though we are facing a global pandemic that isolates us.

COVID-19 may have changed the way people celebrate Ramadan, but Hujeiry hopes that it won’t change the meaning behind the celebration. “We will still celebrate it with our loved ones, but keeping safety precautions in mind,” he says.


Saudi Arabia’s Princess Lamia pens love letter to creativity for Vogue Arabia on World Art Day 

Saudi Arabia’s Princess Lamia pens love letter to creativity for Vogue Arabia on World Art Day 
Updated 15 April 2021

Saudi Arabia’s Princess Lamia pens love letter to creativity for Vogue Arabia on World Art Day 

Saudi Arabia’s Princess Lamia pens love letter to creativity for Vogue Arabia on World Art Day 

DUBAI: In honor of World Art Day — celebrated on April 15 — Saudi Arabia’s Princess Lamia bint Majed Al-Saud shared her view on how art and creativity have “the power to shape our future; whether social, cultural, or economic” in an article for Vogue Arabia, especially in light of a global pandemic that has brought the world to a griding halt over the past year. 

“While the past year has brought with it an array of challenges, creatives across the world have found inspiration in the most difficult times,” she added. 

Indeed, artists across the world have garnered inspiration from lockdown and social distancing measures — Saudi Arabia’s King Abdulaziz Center for World Culture, also known as Ithra, recently launched a digital showcase titled “COVID-19 Exhibit” that showcases just that. 

In the article penned by Princess Lamia, she declared that “art is central, not peripheral, to social change,” echoing the view that creativity has the power to effect change at all levels of society. 

“Art, in all of its forms, enhances cultural understanding while addressing social issues, increasing economic opportunities, and contributing to a more tolerant, prosperous world,” she said. “Today, on the occasion of World Art Day, we celebrate art as a veritable catalyst for social action, one that continues to facilitate local action and broader social change.”

She shared her views as Saudi Arabia’s art scene continues to grow, with the successful participation of Saudi galleries at March’s Art Dubai 2021 and a slew of local art fairs and initiatives by the Misk Art Foundation and Ithra, including the ongoing Year of Arabic Calligraphy. 

The princess also discussed the goals of Alwaleed Philanthropies — a charitable organization, chaired by Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Al-Saud, which collaborates with a range of philanthropic, governmental and educational institutions to combat poverty, empower women and youth, develop communities, provide disaster relief and create cultural understanding through education.

Princess Lamia said: “We understand the important role that the creative industries play in meeting the sustainable development agenda…We believe that art inspires feeling and emotion while providing a window through which people can explore different perspectives.”

“Art, in all of its forms, enhances cultural understanding while addressing social issues, increasing economic opportunities, and contributing to a more tolerant, prosperous world,” she said. “Today, on the occasion of World Art Day, we celebrate art as a veritable catalyst for social action, one that continues to facilitate local action and broader social change.”

She penned the article as Saudi Arabia’s art scene continues to grow with the successful participation of Saudi galleries at Art Dubai 2021 and a slew of local art fairs and initiatives by the Misk Art Foundation.  


World Art Day: How creativity can add a little color to your child’s life – and help development

World Art Day: How creativity can add a little color to your child’s life – and help development
Updated 15 April 2021

World Art Day: How creativity can add a little color to your child’s life – and help development

World Art Day: How creativity can add a little color to your child’s life – and help development
  • Some experts believe that art can enhance a child’s skill sets and add color to their development
  • Practicing art at home can both keep children busy and help to build more meaningful connections with parents

DUBAI: Children enter this world as blank slates, which is what makes parenting both exciting and daunting – and to mark World Art Day on April 15 we look at the importance of helping your child appreciate the arts.

It can be hard to figure out what to teach your child, and ensuring they explore, appreciate and connect with art – in all its forms – can end up taking a backseat.

However, some experts believe that art — from drawing to dancing to visiting galleries — can enhance a child’s skill sets and add color to their development.

(Shutterstock)

Jessica Rosslee, a clinical psychologist at Dubai’s Thrive, said artistic expression should be part of all children’s upbringing, as it is a universal language.

“Creativity doesn’t have any set requirements, it doesn’t need a specific language, skill or any qualification, it ultimately meets the child where they are at,” she said.

Rosslee said it is vital to incorporate art in children’s learning experience as it has a positive impact on their emotional, social and cognitive development.

“Art serves as a creative outlet for children’s emotions, so in essence art helps children to regulate their emotions.”

(Shutterstock)

When kids practice art, they are also engaging in conversations with their peers and adults, which helps hone their social skills, Rosslee said.

But art also helps kids’ brains develop better.

“Research mentions that neural connections are being made at a rapid rate during the brain’s early years. So activities such as drawing, painting... these wire the brain for successful learning, so ultimately the brain gets the opportunity of developing and getting strengthened,” Rosslee said.

The benefits of incorporating art into your child’s life extends beyond practice, as looking at and examining art can also have a great impact on development.

(Shutterstock)

“It exposes them to a rich and educational environment, it serves as an opportunity to explore the child’s curiosities, children learn a whole new vocabulary when they enter the world of art, they build their cultural awareness, they learn to observe, describe and analyze and interpret the art that’s in front of them, they are utilizing critical thinking skills,” Rosslee said.

As the pandemic continues and we are still confined by social distancing rules, practicing art at home can both keep children busy and help to build more meaningful connections with parents.

For that reason, KidzLoveArt in Dubai will soon launch art boxes for children, which are filled with all the required materials and equipment to work at home.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by Kidz Love Art (@kidzloveart)

We spoke to the founder Denise Schmitz about the inspiration behind creating a children’s chapter of her adult-focused company WeLoveArt.

“I really believe, like Picasso, that we are all born as artists, and it is our responsibility as adults to positively nurture that creative spark,” she said.

Schmitz believes that art can help to instil confidence in children, but it is the parents’ responsibility to make that work.

“When you teach children with positivity and encouragement, they will feel safe, confident and proud of every work they create,” she said.

Schmitz said parents can encourage their children by showing admiration for their work and putting it up on display.

Nausheen Shamsher, an independent PR consultant and the mother of 12-year-old Amatullah, said enrolling her daughter with a private art tutor was “the best decision ever.”

“It helped her to refine her work, as well as focus and channel her energies to think out of the box. It has also helped improve her concentration, her approach to things is more positive and she sees and identifies colors and life in everything around her,” she said.

Encouraging children to engage in artistic expression at home can open up their world and help to build more meaningful connections, while they strive to reach their full potential.


THE ROUNDUP – Pop-culture highlights from the region

THE ROUNDUP – Pop-culture highlights from the region
Updated 15 April 2021

THE ROUNDUP – Pop-culture highlights from the region

THE ROUNDUP – Pop-culture highlights from the region

FREEK

The Dubai-based, UAE-born Somalian MC — one of the leading figures in the Arabic drill scene — released new single, “Kafi,” late last month, ahead of a new album due to drop at the end of May. “Kafi” isn’t typical of Freek’s repertoire, it’s calmer, but with a strong lyrical message. In a press release, he described it as an “emotional” track that “tackles the issue of child abuse … and how children deal with it.”

HUDA LUTFI

The veteran Egyptian artist’s latest solo show, “Our Black Thread,” is currently running in Cairo’s Gypsum Gallery. It consists of hand-sewn, embroidered works that began as improvisations on organza teabags. “She asks what form of intentionality separates craft from art,” a gallery statement read. “She (uses) repetition as a formal statement on endurance and resistance.”

DB GAD

The 28-year-old Egyptian rapper released his new track “Mooga” (Waves) this month. It’s a song inspired by the well-known novel “The Life of Pi,” he explained in a press release. “As lonely and emotional as one can get when leaving your home and the ones you love, sometimes you have to let go and just go with the waves,” Gad said.

MARWAN PABLO

The Egyptian MC and trap pioneer formerly known as Dama made an unexpected comeback from his ‘retirement’ (announced last year) in late February, releasing a hard-hitting new song called “Ghaba” (Jungle), the video for which has now racked up more than 13 million views on YouTube. It was followed up in late March by the release of “CTRL” — a five-track EP.


Editor, co-writer Hind Shoufani discusses Oscar-nominated short ‘The Present’

Editor, co-writer Hind Shoufani discusses Oscar-nominated short ‘The Present’
Updated 15 April 2021

Editor, co-writer Hind Shoufani discusses Oscar-nominated short ‘The Present’

Editor, co-writer Hind Shoufani discusses Oscar-nominated short ‘The Present’
  • ‘We created something that speaks to what an occupation takes away from people,’ Shoufani says

BEIRUT: “It’s immensely surprising, and a step in the right direction for the Academy,” says

Palestinian-American filmmaker, writer and poet, Hind Shoufani, of this year’s list of Oscar-nominated short films. “They’re looking at diversity, women’s voices, underrepresented minorities; they’re paying attention to intense, conflict-driven and truthful stories.”

One such story was crafted by Shoufani and compatriot Farah Nabulsi. “The Present” — directed by Nabulsi — has already won a BAFTA in the British Short Film category and is nominated for Best Live Action Short Film at this month’s Academy Awards.

Shoufani believes that “The Present” owes much of its capacity to resonate with so many people to its authenticity (it was shot in the West Bank) and the simplicity of the story. (Supplied)

Available on Netflix, “The Present” chronicles a day in the life of Yousef, compellingly depicted by renowned Palestinian actor Saleh Bakri, who sets out across the West Bank to buy a birthday gift for his wife. His 10-year-old daughter, played by the talented Mariam Kanj, joins him on a journey peppered with the injustice and humiliation emblematic of the daily plight of people living in the Occupied Territories.

Shoufani — a Fulbright scholar born to Palestinian parents in 1978 in Lebanon who has lived between Damascus, Amman, Beirut, New York and Dubai — explains that the partnership between Nabulsi and herself was “collaborative and fruitful.” The director supplied the film’s overarching themes and inspiring narrative threads and Shoufani fleshed them out in script and dialogue, introducing crucial plot elements, such as the daughter as a character.

“We had long sessions where we would go through different drafts of the script, talk through scenes and negotiate ideas,” says Shoufani, who also edited the film. “We ended up creating something that speaks to the heart of what an occupation takes away from people, in terms of agency and the ordinary ability to have freedom of movement and dignity.”

“The Present” is available on Netflix. (Supplied)

Shoufani believes that “The Present” owes much of its capacity to resonate with so many people to its authenticity (it was shot in the West Bank) and the simplicity of the story.

“Most people nowadays don’t want to sit for two hours and watch a highly nuanced, socioeconomic/class-driven, ethnographically correct, anthropologically dense film,” she says. “We don’t try to explain the past 70 years of Zionism, we don’t moralize or make grandstanding political statements... Instead, you have this ordinary man with a beautiful daughter whom anyone would only want to protect and love. Your natural human instinct is to want to keep this little girl safe and make sure she’s okay.”

And while Bakri’s Yousef is seemingly the protagonist, it is ultimately Kanj’s portrayal of Yasmine that steals the show and infuses the film with a powerful message. “She has a strong hand in how the story resolves. It’s about the power of youth and women. It’s inspiring but also heartbreaking. And it gives us an opportunity to appreciate the strength and determination of this 10-year-old kid.”

“The Present” chronicles a day in the life of Yousef, compellingly depicted by renowned Palestinian actor Saleh Bakri, who sets out across the West Bank to buy a birthday gift for his wife. (Supplied)

Shoufani passionately praises everyone involved, especially Palestinian producer Ossama Bawardi. “I introduced Ossama to Farah, and I couldn’t be happier for him — he put this crew together in the West Bank and did all he could to get this film out into the world. He really believed in it, and I want to give him a shout-out because he’s just awesome.”

Though “bewildered” and “astounded” by the industry’s acclaim for “The Present,” Shoufani is equally thrilled by many of her other endeavors, including two personal projects that are close to her heart.

One is “They Planted Strange Trees,” her upcoming film that documents “the various identities of the Christian minorities in the Galilee,” where Shoufani’s family is from. While being intrigued “to explore indigenous communities that people don’t really talk about much around the world,” the journey is also very personal. “It’s also about reconnecting with my family, and what it means to not belong, and yet very much belong there.”

“They Planted Strange Trees” is her upcoming film that documents “the various identities of the Christian minorities in the Galilee.” (Supplied) 

The other is a four-part series that captures the stories of four female Arab poets and draws its working title — “Poeticians” — from a group that Shoufani founded. “We’ve filmed in five or six Arab countries for eight years, and I’m trying to create a purely video-art-driven essay on taking poetry into a visual language. I can’t imagine anything more beautiful than making films that are based on poems.”

In the short term, however, she is very much looking forward to seeing how “The Present” does at the Oscars.

“I think it is vital that global audiences see this film, and I’m proud to be part of that experience,” she says. “As Palestinians, we have an unending array of stories to bring to life, because of our diaspora, our fight, our complex history and our strength. And, yes, our profound beauty as people.”