It’s the African table night at Cairo Jazz Club 610 and we wanted to celebrate the AFCON 2019 listening to music that represents Africans, but in a totally different way. We met up with Hageen, a band that plays reggae fusion with a twist of Egyptian folklore. They have come up with their own style of music that represents Egyptian society and the daily struggles in a fun and chill way, with music you can dance to and enjoy anywhere. Hailing from Alexandria, Abdallah Mohsen (vocals), Moo cka (guitar), Fady Farag (keyboards), Abdallah Ibrahim (bass guitar) and Ahmed El Kholy (drums) sat down for a quick chat about the origins of the band and what comes next.
CWM: How did the band get started? Is there a backstory for the name?
Abdallah Mohsen (Dooby): The band got started in 2015, I love reggae music and I was trying to create Arabic reggae songs that everyone can relate to, then the idea of starting a band came about and I started looking for people who like the same genre and are willing to jam with me. At the beginning we were all just friends, we started casually jamming together and we got to know each other through music. Each one of us has a completely different musical background, but bit by bit we started studying and developing our different backgrounds into the songs we play.
Even though our main reference was Bob Marley, each one of us started adding their own influence in the music until it became Hageen, the fusion of our different musical backgrounds plus the different types of reggae that we play; whether it’s reggae roots, reggaeton, dub, dancehall or reggae fusion.
What kind of music did you listen to growing up?
Moo cka: I used to listen to metal, rock then a little bit of blues, later on, I listened to reggae for a long time and now I listen to neo-soul and chillhop.
Abdallah Mohsen (Dooby): I first started listening to rap and hip hop and I was really into the culture and the struggles they went through, then I drifted to reggae and its different types, especially after I joined the band.
Abdallah Alsehly: When I was a kid, I used to listen to 90s songs on my Walkman, bands like Blue, Westlife, and Backstreet boys. Then when I was a teenager I started listening to alternative, new metal, black metal and death metal, later I listened to hard rock and heavy metal and now I listen to some rap and reggae, the most famous people of course.
Fady Farag: I started playing piano at a young age, so I used to play and listen to classical music, then like everyone else, I got into pop and later blues. After that, I really enjoyed jazz and neo soul music, and I started studying and playing it.
Ahmed El Kholy: I used to listen to typical Arabic music like Om Kalthoum and Mostafa Amar, but when I first started playing drums, I played black metal, death metal, trash metal and rock. Then I later started playing and listening to reggae but I’m still obsessed with playing and studying metal when I’m not with the band.
Who writes your songs? What’s your inspiration?
Abdallah Alsehly: We all contribute in creating our songs. Sometimes one of us might have an idea and we would all just starting jamming it, then everyone adds in their own style so all of our songs are a collaborative work. We try to create something that we’ve never heard before, our main inspiration is Bob Marley and other influences from reggae roots but each one of us has a different influence from different genres like jazz, blues and metal.
What are the main themes or topics for most of your songs?
Dooby: Reggae is mainly about peace, love, freedom and unity. No discrimination and positive vibes. We try to take this culture and fit it into our own. We’re a bit bold in choosing our topics since we don’t address things that are very common.
What has been your biggest challenge as a band? Have you been able to overcome that challenge? If so, how?
Abdallah: Studios and venues are very little or almost non-existent in Alexandria, so at the beginning it was hard, especially when there was no funding and some financial issues. It’s also really hard to stay dedicated and passionate while balancing work and your personal life.
Dooby: Generally, becoming an artist in Egypt and having it be your main career is a hard thing to do, because the places you play at won’t give you the freedom to play what you actually want to play in your own way.
There are always rules, systems and limitations of what you can play and topics you can address. Plus, the band usually has to finance itself and no corporate entity supports it, because the main music industry in Egypt focuses on one or two types of music. No one is willing to support young musicians or new genres because it’s risky.
There’s also the challenge of actually pushing through, staying in the market, not giving up and sustaining your passion and delivering your message. You have to stay creative and you always have to stay up to date with what’s going on and to create something new with it.
What do you enjoy the most about being a musician? Anything you dislike?
Ahmed El Kholy: I play music not because I want to make a living out of it, but because I love it and it’s been my hobby ever since I was a kid. What I dislike about being a musician is that 90% of people don’t care about genres like rock, metal and reggae so I wish we could spread it to make the scale an even 50/50 so that people would understand this music and enjoy it.
Fady Farag: I dislike how people might not give enough appreciation to a musician, our society doesn’t acknowledge the fact that being a musician is a career in itself. People would come listen to you play only if they know exactly what you’re playing and what they want to listen to.
If you could change anything about the industry, what would it be?
Dooby: Our generation is trying to push through the mainstream music and develop something new that people haven’t listened to. We need to change how the industry commercializes music and lyrics for mass appeal, because it loses its real essence. Most companies focus the spotlight on one star in the band and work on establishing his/her name while the rest of the band is neglected, although sometimes, for example, the guitarist or the drummer are quite good, but aren’t getting any attention.
Fady Farag: The industry gives people what they’re used to listening to, so it’s always the same beat and similar lyrics instead appreciating different music and giving some focus to all the individual efforts and solos in a song.
What would you do differently if you were just entering the industry today?
Abdallah: We’d start the same way, deliver the same music and write the same topics. We’re all very satisfied and happy with what we’re doing.
Any advice to people who want to start a band?
Dooby: Don’t change how you think or the music you love to play just to move along with the current or just to sell. Believe in what you do and try to sell it to the audience.
Abdallah: Pick the right people and know exactly what you want and just start.
Kholy: Don’t rush it, some bands start pushing for a gig before they’re ready. You have to take your time to practice your music before presenting it to people.
Fady: Pass the preparation period. It’s long, it’s boring and you’re too excited to just play, but keep developing your sound first and don’t give up early.
What’s the ultimate direction or goal for you guys as band?
Abdallah: To do a tour outside Egypt with bigger bands in reggae festivals.
Best concert you’ve ever put on?
Dooby: All our concerts were great!
Moo cka: This one right here at CJC 610 is awesome! I felt really comfortable playing our music and free to play whatever I like, however I like.
Abdallah: Our best concerts are when the crowd is really interacting and dancing along to the music. We had a concert a year ago in Jesuit, where the crowd was young and very energetic.
Name your favorite musicians?
Moo cka: Melanie Faye, Steve Vai and Orphaned Land, and last but not least FKJ who we all agree is a legend! He does everything from playing guitar, keyboard, drums, saxophone, does his own music production and creates incredible.
Dooby: The Notorious B.I.G., Peter Tosh, Bob Marley and Bob Marley’s sons: Damian Marley and Stephen Marley. Also, Beth Hart.
Abdallah: Black Sabbath, Dio and Bob Marley.
Fady: Jacob Collier who won two Grammys in the same concert by the age of 23 and keyboard player Cory Henry.
Kholy: Animals as Leaders who play mass progressive metal, a very complicated music genre. There’s another band called Fleshgod Apocalypse that plays symphonic metal and technical death metal and the Russian one-man-show Sleep Dealer.