After a few wrong turns and mild panic attacks of feeling lost in the winding streets of Maadi, I reached the studio for the photo shoot with the one and only Sharmoofers. I was greeted by Ahmed Bahaa in a cow onesie, which basically set the tone for the whole meeting. It was full of crazy moments and fun conversations, and it was most definitely not just another interview.
It was quite obvious that the band members Bahaa and Moe were exhausted. Who could blame them? They had been extremely busy since the release of their new album, Paranoia. But I was impressed with how positive they were and the energy they put into the shoot. They really let their fun, goofball personalities shine. They jumped and laughed and kept the atmosphere alive. While we were still in the middle of the photo shoot, Moe brought up what he wanted to discuss during the interview: pizza and Ninja Turtles. “I want pizza. Does anyone like Ninja turtles? My childhood hero is Michelangelo. He inspires me as a person.”
After the shoot, I sat down to have a little chat with Bahaa and Moe. As soon as we sat down, Bahaa said “let me show you guys something” in a very serious tone. He then did a magic trick with a coin, and never lost the serious look on his face. I have done my fair share of interviews, but this was the best way to start one yet.
Sharmoofers crashed into the music scene in Egypt, making a name for themselves in an impressively short amount of time. Just two years after they released their hit single Khamsa Santy, which is approaching 3 million hits online, they received the Best Band in 2014 in the Middle East Music Awards (MEMA). The band is obviously loved by many, since this award is given based on fans’ votes, and it is obvious why. Sharmoofers are famous for their great music, fun and relate-able lyrics and an overall positive attitude through both their music and personalities.
Ahmed Bahaa, lead vocalist, composer and song writer, and Moe El-Arkan, the bassist, started the band and are the main members. With the growth of the band, they had extra members join in their recording and live concerts, including Mohamed Labib (Saxophonist), Islam Ali (Trumpeter), Ahmed Ali (Percussionist), Mostafa Kerdany (Drummer), and Adel Mohamed (Percussionist).
As a listener and a fan of the band, their music sounds like a beautiful mess. How do they come up with this? I tried to get into the guys’ heads and see where the inspiration comes from.
“The song drives us, not the other way around” said Moe. “We might start with a certain melody line, then build on it the whole song. We might want to make some changes, and maybe break a beat. So we go back to making changes, we might even go back to the first step.” Bahaa added, “sometimes I write lyrics, then make the music for it, and sometimes it’s the other way around. We don’t have a certain rule. Also, the fact that we have many genres fused together in one song makes us wait for the lyrics and the story behind it. Let’s say we mention a girl in a song, the part where we’re talking about her, the music will turn a bit romantic. Then the rest of the sound could turn groovy.”
As a band that claims their motto is to spread happiness, they want to be happy and content with everything they work on and who they work with. When asked about picking the other band members, Bahaa couldn’t emphasize enough how important it is to do it right; “Being in a band is like marriage,” he said. “You’re all on the same ship, and we have to go with the flow. If someone doesn’t share the same dream and goals as the rest, the ship might not sink, but it’ll be hard to sail. The chemistry is the most important thing, then the music. Egypt is full of good musicians, so it all depends on the personality to make you unique.”
In Identity’s 2014 interview with the band, we asked them what the band’s biggest challenge was. They said they were lucky enough to have found each other and that they weren’t facing any big challenges. When I asked the same question again this time, they had a different answer. “We passed this challenge, and are now facing more challenges with the outside world. We changed since last year, and we’re now getting bigger, and we’re having a lot of concerts and deals with outsiders. It’s becoming a challenge. We know each other, and how to deal with each other, but not the outsiders. The album’s production was also a challenge. Our last album was recorded in our homes, and it was all independent production. Our new album was recorded in a studio, and it was physically and mentally hard to produce. We just wanted to have a great album with good quality, so we had to push ourselves,” answered Bahaa.
Moe added, “We’re also having a challenge with expanding our audience and reaching out to more people. Not just in Egypt, but worldwide. It’s hard to take our music to the international audience and to translate our energy to them. We’re fairly positive that if our music reached the international audience, they’ll love it. We have a unique sound and it gives good vibes, even if you don’t understand the lyrics. The same as listening to a Spanish song, for example, and not understanding what’s being said, but you’re still enjoying the music.”
Any Sharmoofer fan would know that the band took a while before making any public appearances and they were only known by the Mr. Sharmoofer artwork. As soon as I mentioned Mr. Sharmoofer, they pointed at their photographer Abdallah Sabry, and said he made it! Abdallah said the character wasn’t planned. It happened spontaneously when they were hanging out in Moe’s house when he decided to draw it. The name and character stuck with them.
Moe talked about how they feel about concerts and how much of a change it was for them. “We used to have jamming session in studios or even at home with a small group. It was fun, and we had no rules or restrictions. Now with concerts, you have people coming for you expecting something specifically. You can’t do any changes. They’re special though, because we feed off people’s energy, and sometimes Bahaa improvises on stage with the crowd and it’s always fun.”
Bahaa added, “The best thing is performing in a big concert, with hundreds and thousands of people in front of you all chanting your name before you even come on stage. It gives us a major confidence boost, so we get on stage confident. It turns into a big jamming session, exactly like the ones at home, but only with more people.”
I decided to bluntly ask them how fame and the big concerts changed them. They both said they didn’t understand the question. When I asked them if they ever felt famous, they both said “No, we’re only famous when we win a Grammy!” Bahaa explained, “We’ll never be surprised with anything that might happen in Egypt for us as a band. It’s very unlikely that we have any extra success in Egypt, and this is sad for us as musicians. We don’t have major production companies, no good organizers, no operators, no backup dancers, and no concert art directors. There are some, but they’re extremely weak. We’re not even close to how the international music scene was 20 or even 30 years ago. The gap is huge. We can’t change the scene in Egypt, unless we go outside.”
Moe also agreed with Bahaa, and added his opinion on the current organizers in Egypt. “Look at Michael Jackson’s 1992 world tour, and look at us. Very high productions, and organizers. We’ll never have something close to this anytime soon. We’ve had a few music festivals done in Egypt. Some started well, with good bands and fair organizers, then when they got bigger and the number of attendees got bigger, the organizing failed miserably. Worse, a festival lead to a man’s death because of their lack of organizing. The organizers are a bunch of kids with no knowledge or organizing skills, just some money to spend and good marketing skills.”
Bahaa jumped back in saying, “It’s not the organizers’ fault as much as it’s the performers’ fault for agreeing to perform there. Whether you’re a big artist, still starting, underground, or mainstream, as long as you have any fan follower, you should have respect for them and not let them go to a concert with amateur organizers. You can’t get your fans in a place with no management, where people are pushing each other, and maybe even security dogs are used to control the crowd.”
Just when I started to lose hope in the music scene, Bahaa assured me that with hard enough work from the current bands, things could change in the future. “If all the upcoming bands start working hard enough, we’ll reach something good in the next ten years. We might find a 20-year old singing on stage with a huge crowd, a big band, and about something other than love and romance. It could be the norm. If we work hard enough, the next generation will benefit. It’s just like how Hamid El-Shaery started in the nineties when he brought a new type of music to the Middle East and changed the whole scene. Most of our fans and supporters are from the younger generation, and by the time they’re old, they will have new ideas and a better overall view for the music scene. Hopefully.”
Talking with these guys made me realize that they’re living their dream, and they risked everything to follow it. As an Egyptian girl with a traditional family, I knew how difficult it can be to get parents to support an unconventional career. I became curious about their families’ support. What did their parents say, and what do they have to say to other parents?
Moe started talking about his early life and how he started. “I wanted to play the drums when I was six years old, and my dad supported me. He took me out for concerts, and kept looking for a good teacher for me. Then by the age of 16, right before I could apply to a university, I decided to not enroll in a university and live the dream of being a rockstar! I was still a teenager and not scared of anything. I was very optimistic, up until I got older. I realized that I had to get serious and not take money from my family for forever. But my parents were still very supportive through it all, and still are.”
I had to ask the question everyone wants to ask, is it worth it? Moe jumped at the answer and said “It’s definitely worth it! I technically don’t have a job, because I’m making a living out of something I love.”
Bahaa added, “You have to have passion as well, in any career, not just a music career. Maybe money wise we’re not making money as much as ‘celebrities’ but it’s only because we’re an independent band and we pay for our music. But the feeling of making money out of something you love is great. Before I started I had a regular job for eight years, and did music on the side. Then when I started making enough money from music, I decided to quit my regular job, with no turning back.”
Chatting with the guys was wildly inspiring. The way they talk about their music, their new album, and basically anything, even pizza, had so much passion. They’re living the dream, but still want to do more. “We want to expand!” Bahaa exclaimed. “This will be the first time people can have a physical copy of the album, which is great. We’re also working on the music video, and we’re hoping it reaches more and more audience, in Egypt and internationally.”
More of Sharmoofers is definitely something to look forward to. Not only is their music and energy amazing, they have a genuine appreciation and respect for their fans. Right before I left, they wanted me to add something to the interview. “We apologize to our fans because of the delay on the album and the video. We just wanted to produce something great for our audience.”
The interview is in Identity’s November 2015 issue, to read it online go to https://identity-mag.com/sharmoofers-get-loud/