LONDON: In January, Palestinian-Jordanian musician Hamza Arnaout (aka El Jehaz) announced on Facebook that his “adventure with 47Soul has come to an end.”
The hugely popular band — inventors of ‘shamstep’ music — had been together around seven years, with Arnaout as electric guitarist. Prior to joining, Arnaout had spent roughly a decade as guitarist and vocalist in another successful Arabic group, indie rockers Autostrad.
But when we met him in February at London’s Jazz Café, where he was opening for Shkoon, Arnaout was quick to stress that he’s not ‘becoming’ a solo artist, since that’s something he’s been for a while.
“I did not leave 47Soul to become a solo artist. It’s not an idea in my head. I was a solo artist, and El Far3i is a solo artist and Z the People is a solo artist and Walaa Sbeit is a solo artist,” he said — referencing his former bandmates. “So that’s the way we did it before 47Soul, during 47Soul, and will continue doing after.”
With around 17 years of touring with two bands under his belt, Arnaout confessed to having faced “a lot of mental pressure.”
“In the past five years, we’ve been doing 90-110 shows a year. So it’s a very stressful thing and it takes a lot of mental toughness,” he said. “Now, I prefer to slow down my pace a little bit and kind of regroup; think about the future and give myself the space to be more creative. When you’re touring all the time you don’t have that energy when you’re in the studio.
“So I thought it would be a good break if I want to keep doing music — not for commercial reasons or money reasons — but if I want to keep doing music coming from my heart and keep my passion for music, then I need to make sure that I’m always excited for it,” he continued.
Arnaout is the son of a director and soundtrack composer, and fell in love with all forms of music as a child, after his father gave him cassettes of music by legendary Italian composer Ennio Morricone.
“I was listening to all kinds of stuff — not necessarily rock music,” Arnaout told Arab News. “It’s a really good thing that I did not limit myself.” Music has been, he said, the center of his life ever since.
“When my friends were doing other stuff — playing football, bodybuilding, or whatever — I was playing music all the time. That was just the way I communicated with the world around me, even when I was a kid. You’d find me in my room all the time enjoying my lonely time.
“If you ask any musician — or most musicians — what their favorite types of music are, it’s like asking a chef what their favorite cuisine is; maybe they prefer Indian food to Italian food, but it’s still all their passion,” he continued. “There is music that I don’t connect to emotionally and there’s music that I do connect to emotionally — that I feel in my body,” he said, tapping the wooden base of the couch he was sitting on.
Arnaout cited Syrian singer George Wassouf as one of the artists who produced music to which he does connect emotionally. He counts himself lucky to have been following Wassouf during his “peak” in the Nineties. He also hailed Soapkills — the Beirut-based duo of Zeid Hamdan and Yasmine Hamdan for “making Arab electronic music what it is today.” But he’s excited about the contemporary Arab music scene too, and praised Syrian producer Hello Psychaleppo and Palestinian electronic-music duo Zenobia.
“It is definitely important for all of us to support each other,” he said. “Any music scene thrives when the people and the community inside it genuinely support each other.”
Even though he’s left the band, his journey with 47Soul isn’t quite over, he explained: “I already worked hard with 47Soul on an album that is coming really soon. I’m really excited for it to come out. I can’t wait for people to hear it.”
As for his own next steps, expect Arnaout to take some time out and slow down for a bit. But he’ll be back.
“I’m not going to be pushing myself to deliver right now,” he said, but added that he’ll be making music “all the time.”
“I’ll be 90 years old and on my deathbed playing music,” he said. “That’s going to be happening.”