Maryam Saleh
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Maryam Saleh

Cairo, Al Qāhirah, Egypt | Established. Jan 01, 2005 | INDIE

Cairo, Al Qāhirah, Egypt | INDIE
Established on Jan, 2005
Band World Rock


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This band has not uploaded any videos


The best kept secret in music


"Maryam Saleh: The Raw Voice of Revolution"

The outspoken Egyptian singer comes back to Beirut to take part in the “Women in Threatened Societies” festival.

During the last few days of the curfew imposed on Egyptians in June 2011, fifteen people spent the evening in a small flat in central Cairo waiting for its 5am end.

High emotions, raised by the enormity of the situation outside, were diffused by listening to Sheikh Imam songs and emptying bottles, one after the other.

The group fell silent and Maryam, reclining, began to sing: “How long can one go on putting out one fire with another? O decorated ship, with thousands drowning inside you, I am bored with you now and I will find me another way. But all along the road, I will breathe in your soil as if it was part me.” (All Along the Road).

A year later, Maryam is releasing her first album, I Am Not Singing (produced by Eka3), at the Babel Theater in Beirut as part of the “Women in Threatened Societies” festival.

With this, the young artist will shed the heritage of Sheikh Imam which has shaped her reputation for the past five years.

She will be singing her own original songs, now fully developed in terms of music, expression, and even politics.

We find ourselves sat before a fully-matured artist, able both to salvage neglected heritage and escape the contemporary to explore the future.

Maryam has been fortunate in her choice of lyrics, written by Mido Zuhayr, Mustafa Ibrahim, and Omar Mustafa.

We find ourselves sat before a fully-matured artist, able both to salvage neglected heritage and escape the contemporary to explore the future. The subjects vary from frustration in its contemporary sense in Why Should You Commit? — a conversation with her fragile and weak country — and dealing with emigration in The Unruly Homeland.
The music of I Am Not Singing is deliberately noisy. The songs have been packaged in the style of Maryam’s primary obsession: psychedelic rock.

Because most of the songs are well known to audiences who have heard Maryam’s concerts in Cairo and Beirut, they had to be rearranged to sound fresh, and some also required some musical fine-tuning.

Tamer Abu Ghazaleh dealt with this challenge well (apart from The Unruly Homeland, which was arranged by Yaqoub Abu Ghosh), and he also produced the album.

Palestinian Abu Ghazaleh seems to have breathed new life into some of the songs, but he was not as successful with others.

Only two instruments (Shadi Al-Husseini on piano and Muhammad Darwish on guitar) accompany the young singer in All Along The Road.

Perhaps the best song on the album is Why Sing?, composed by Abu Ghazaleh. Here, Maryam’s voice is totally raw, delving into true psychedelia. - Al-Akhbar Newspaper

"To Ask or Not to Ask: Who is Maryam?"

It’s not a pleasure interviewing Maryam Saleh. When subject to interrogation (because that is what I end up feeling I’m conducting,) she lights one cigarette after another and I am the type that waves off smoke before it approaches my face. But that has nothing to do with it, actually; the smoke isn’t even blowing my way.

The tables are turned: it is me that bothers her, and she would rather brush away the questions that are slowly intruding on her nonchalant air. She averts my gaze as she does my questions, but I hold them steady like the nib of my pen. It is easy to see her uneasiness: her lips twitch, she sits up, and then leans on the table, hands cradling her head. She even scratches her head.

After eight or so odd questions, I give up playing reporter. Having interviewed people for many years now, it’s strange that I have never actually asked someone this verbatim. “Who are you?” I ask her.

Maryam thinks I ask really difficult questions. She calls them psychological. I now realize they’re existential, and may have nothing to do with music really. She actually turns the question on me, and asks me to answer it. So here I am, answering the question, Who is Maryam?

I tell her what I told a friend: she is unpredictable.

(I have to mention that our conversation is taking place over a great language divide, where my Arabic, which I find functional enough, is barely enough to keep up with her nuanced language.)

I tell her the contradictions that she sings about, and the Evanescence-like loud-soft contradictory manner in which she sings are also indicative of her personality. I tell her that she is shy and outspoken, that she is very open and also very reserved, and that she can be extremely sensitive – “fragile” she offers – but on the other hand, numb. (I suspect she is also slightly impressed by my analysis.)

She says okay, I can write that.

You can see why this can be frustrating, but it was okay and so I wrote it.

This is what I did gather from the questions one gets away with asking as a journalist.

In a way, Maryam had it coming – the artistry came encoded in the family genotype. Her father was the renowned playwright and novelist, Saleh Saad, and her mother, too, is a singer. No wonder herself and her sister, Nagham Saleh, both grew to become singers in their own right. When you hear Nagham sing, in fact, you can tell she’s related to Maryam.

There were other influences, too. Maryam’s aunt, too, is an oud player and teacher. Meanwhile, renowned singer Sheikh Imam was a close family friend and was a significant influence. When he passed away, Maryam continued his legacy. Gawaz Safar band reproduced Sheikh Imam songs, while the BarakA Band reinterpreted them in rock form. When Maryam moved on from those bands and Sheikh Imam renditions, her sister Nagham took over as lead vocalist of Baraka.

One day, Maryam was thinking out loud about experimenting with her music. Tamer Abu Ghazaleh, friend and founder of the independent production house Eka3, encouraged her, and they launched on a “trial and error kind of approach,” Tamer said.

Maryam’s new band that goes by her own name is a slight departure from Baraka in style. While Baraka was more or less pure rock, touches of jazz accentuate the piano provided by Shady el Hosseiny in the new band. She is also accompanied by Mohamed Darwish on guitar and Ayman Mabrouk on percussions. At Maryam’s last concert, Tamer himself provided bass.

In terms of lyrics, however, the new band is paving new ground; unlike Baraka’s repertoire, all of Maryam’s current songs are originals. Ironically, and in keeping with paradoxes that accompany her, Maryam’s new project is called “Ana Mesh Be-ghani” (I Do Not Sing).

The name is a play on Mido Zoheir’s lyrics to “Ana Mesh Be-Salli” (I Do Not Pray) which Maryam tweaked to make the title song of her project. At times, Maryam confessed, “I do not like singing, but I keep coming back to it.” Like a ball, she says, that returns when you throw it against a wall. I could not have illustrated her contradictions any better.

Numbers in her repertoire are perky and sometimes cheeky, carrying that tongue-in-cheek quality that characterized Sheikh Imam songs.

While Mido Zoheir writes many of her songs, Maryam makes them her own with her compositions. The song “Eslahat” (Under Construction) comes in three versions – including one Baladi one spiced with tabla and percussions. Talking about the double standards in society, the song is accompanied by a music video that shows an equally spunky Maryam dressed in an abaya as Fatma Echarb (Fatma with the scarf) and another persona resembling Maryam herself.

Another number that draws audiences is “Wahda” (Alone), a song that personifies isolation and introversion. “I have aloneness all the time.”

“El Ghoda” (The Gland) sounds like an odd name for a song, but Maryam has a logical explanation. It’s about adrenalin, she says, and about the fear that produces it. The song traces the trip and the thoughts of a man as he ventures into the street. Smelling his fear, a dog attacks him. He then takes a blow to the head when hit by an automobile; a head trauma that causes him to become an amnesiac. When he awakes he decides to put his fear and his past behind him, and starts anew. The song has a happy-go-lucky tottering sound to it, and is a pleasure to listen if only for that reason.

In her song “Hasr Masr” (What Makes Egypt), Maryam takes to task the class of people that have given up on the country. After noting the due components of the nation, she ends sarcastically with “ladies and gentlemen, such is the progeny of Egypt’s womb.”

The most powerful song Maryam has up her sleeve is one she often reserves for her finale. “Ya Balady Tool el Tareeq” (O Country, All the Way Long) is a song offered to the loss of her father in the Beni Suef theater fire of 2005. In the film Ain Shams, too, Maryam ably carries a powerful scene where she sings a song of mourning. She confesses she is attracted to the genre, and spent at least a year studying Shii mourning songs.

While this loss may have shaped her, there is more to Maryam. She is secretive (no surprise there!) when I ask if she will ever sing a love song. It would be a wonder, because it would be in complete contradiction to where she is. And because it is a contradiction, you know that she is capable of it.

Maryam is a touch-me-not that withdraws when you linger too close. And what is worse is that I’m afraid to dig deeper. There were questions on my notepad that I dared not ask her (probably because like she said, they were better suited on a psychologist’s notepad.)

It is difficult to write about a person who all but refuses to answer questions, and it is almost impossible to write about someone of whom you dare not ask too many questions in the first place. So besides the rough sketch made from the words above, I don’t have the answer. “Who is Maryam?” Go figure yourself. At least, that’s what Maryam would say. - Discord magazine

"Maryam Saleh is bringing some raw power to the Cairo underground music scene"

Composer and oudist Sheikh Imam was born to a poor family in Giza. He led the life of a dervish, singing muwashshah songs and surrounding himself with Egyptian folk music. After swapping his spiritual lifestyle for the resistance, Sheikh Imam turned to the words of popular poet Ahmed Fouad Negm and began to popularise them through his music. The pair met and formed a duo in 1962 and swiftly became underground folk icons across the Arab world. Their revolutionary songs spoke out against corruption, gave voice to the poor and mocked authority figures of the time, such as American President Richard Nixon. Almost half a century may have passed but for many, the poetry of Negm and the songs of Sheikh Imam still retain their pertinence today.

Sheikh Imam's fame soon stretched beyond Cairo. He toured France, the UK, Lebanon, Tunisia, Algeria and Libya during the 1980s before passing away in 1995. However his legacy has, to some degree, faded away in Egypt. His songs were banned from TV and radio in the 1970s and 1980s, while both him and Negm spent an eventful career in and out of prison. Popular with the people, their lyrics proved too much for the local authority who feared the mobilising effect of their music.

Saleh grew up with Sheikh Imam’s songs. ‘He was my first connection to Arabic music,’ she says. But her relationship with the composer was more personal than most – Sheikh Imam was a family friend who would play music at gatherings for her birthday. Saleh's longstanding affinity for his music inspired her to revive it. 'I felt he didn't have an audience,' Saleh says. 'He was underestimated and didn't get the recognition he deserved because his music was forbidden.' His music remained relatively unknown to the Egyptian masses, maintaining its cult status only among the region's communist parties and leftist families. Unsatisfied with the commercial music her school friends were listening to, Saleh wanted to share her own passion. 'I decided to spread his music and help him reach the biggest crowd possible,' the singer says.

Saleh's childhood was one immersed in culture. Her father was the director and playwright Saleh Saad and she would perform across Egypt in his street theatre group. 'I'd always take the role of the clown,' she laughs. She went on to study theatre, but has since moved her focus to music, admitting that 'the sort of theatre I like is kind of going downhill.' There's certainly something dramatic about Saleh's musical performances today – she stands with a confident stride on stage, emitting an intensity as she enigmatically bellows out her lyrics. She carries the same boldness whether on the stage of the grand Library of Alexandria or in Walimat Warde, a small, faded venue in Beirut.

Sheikh Imam's music left a firm imprint on Saleh's early musical identity. She formed the band Gawaz Safar (passport) at 15, who would play tributes to his songs with a simple oud and tabla accompaniment, and later went on to fuse her differing musical tastes as part of the oriental rock ensemble Baraka Band. 'The songs of Sheikh Imam taught me how to understand the big problems of my country and how to achieve reconciliation within society,' she says. 'His songs, along with the sarcastic political lyrics of Negm, were so simple that they could be accessible to a large number of ordinary people, that's why the regime was so scared.' Saleh's reinterpretation of Imam's songs such as Nixon Baba (about President Nixon's visit to Cairo in 1974), Valéry Giscard d’Estaing (insulting the former French president) and El-Bahr Byidhak Leh (Why Does the Sea Laugh?) have introduced his music to an entirely new audience formerly unfamiliar with his songs.

Released in May 2012, Ana Mesh Baghani (I Don't Sing) is Saleh's debut album, which eloquently fuses together traditional melodies with psychedelic rock, funk and trip-hop, from the soaring piano scales and simple percussion of Hasr Masr, to the dramatic melancholy of W Leh Tenrebet (Why Do You Want to Commit?) and the hip-hop-esque spoken word of the album's title track. Her rich, dominating vocals pull the melting pot of genres together, channeling the voice of the past as she warbles with overpowering emotion. Tamer Abu Ghazaleh, musician and founder of eka3 – a regional organisation dedicated to the growth of modern Arabic music – saw Saleh's potential and contributed his touch to her album. 'He directed my music and generated a different combination of songs,' Saleh says. 'It was a beautiful collaboration, I started to see a different soul in my music.'

Saleh has also begun a recent collaboration with Zeid Hamdan, the Lebanese musician and producer largely credited with laying the groundwork for the alternative music scene in Beirut with the band Soapkills in the 1990s. 'It's like cooking. We come from two different cultures and musical backgrounds, he adds his own musical perspective to my recordings,' Saleh says.

It's the perfect pairing – Hamdan provides Saleh's vocals with an underbelly of electronic trip-hop, creating a contemporary alt-pop version of Sheikh Imam covers and Saleh's own compositions. Their version of Nixon Baba is one of the most memorable – a sunny pop song with gutsy vocals, sarcastic lyrics and almost tropical-sounding instrumentals. Egypt boasts a rich musical heritage. The music of singers and composers such as Oum Kalthoum, Asmahan and Mohammed Abdel Wahab is still played across the Arab world. During the country's golden era, singers from the Arab world flocked to Cairo. However, that musical heritage has, in some sense, been forgotten in recent years – replaced by bubblegum pop and big budget music videos. Saleh is one of the leading voices of Egypt’s alternative music scene, bringing some much-needed nutrition to the musical landscape.

'I was bored with the musical options that were available. People were not choosing anything, not even the kind of art they wanted to listen to,’ says Saleh, explaining how Cairo’s underground music scene is now starting to grow again. ‘Now people are free to choose. It's a big chance for the underground scene to be discovered on a bigger scale and for it to develop a larger fan base.'

With a number of new projects in the making – a monodrama that Saleh is writing and directing, a musical collaboration with Tamer Abu Ghazaleh and experimental electronic musician Maurice Louca and an album with Zeid Hamdan planned for release this May – the singer is helping to push the Egyptian music scene forward, while not forgetting what came before. - Brownbook Magazine

"Maryam, Maryam, quite contrary"

“I often ask myself if I believe what I’m doing. Do I believe that I sing? Am I really doing this?” Maryam Saleh says, explaining her puzzling concert title. “Ana mesh baghani” (I Don’t Sing) was also the opening song at Saleh’s act at Rawabet on Thursday night.
The packed and dim-lit Townhouse venue lends an intimacy better suited to Saleh’s grungy underground sound than Al-Azhar Park’s open air Genaina where the featured act opened in August.
Rawabet also proved to be a more interactive venue as the audience requested Saleh’s vocals to be louder than the supporting music. Later, an audience member jokingly pushed the request for an encore to saying that he had paid LE 25 for the ticket.
“Mesh baghani” is Saleh’s adaptation of Mido Zoheir’s lyrics “Ana mesh ba-salli” (I Don’t Pray). The lyrics “I don’t sing. I don’t speak. / I don’t sleep. I do not wake” express the contradictory nature that characterizes the artist’s thoughts and style.
Many songs in Saleh’s line-up are penned by Zoheir. Themes chosen by Saleh are at once personal and universal. She sings of isolation, of loss, and of political oppression in a voice that is alternately loud and gentle.
“Contradictions produce art,” says the singer, who has also acted in many theater plays (most recently Laila Soliman’s “Lessons in Revolution”), a few short films, and appears in Ibrahim Battout’s highly-acclaimed sophomore effort “Eye of the Sun.”
In one of the scenes of El Battout’s film, Saleh sings a Shia’ religious mourning song. “There are many kinds of mourning [songs],” says Saleh, who researched the topic for a year, and finds she may have a melancholic disposition.
To insert one more contradiction, among one of Saleh’s many occupations has been that of a clown at a street theater company called “Suradaq,” referring to the tent under which marriage celebrations and funereal wakes are held.
The concert at Rawabet began with a minute of silence commemorating the Beni Suef theater fire at the in 2005 that claimed over 30 lives. The casualties included renowned playwright and novelist Saleh Saad, Saleh’s father and mentor.
“Ya baladi tool il tareeq” (O My Country, Along the Way), the heartbreakingly reticent finale in Saleh’s set, refers to Beni Suef, mourning a personal loss while subtly passing comment on the negligence of the state that resulted in a national tragedy.
Saleh was also mentored by Sheikh Imam, known for his forthright and sarcastic songs, and she carried on his legacy when the singer-composer passed away, by establishing and fronting her musical ventures Gawaz Safar and Baraka.
Currently, her sister Nagham Saleh is vocalist at her former band Baraka, which held a concert at Geneina the same night as Saleh’s performance. While Baraka married her musical style of rock with Sheikh Imam’s songs, it is through her independent project with the production house “Eka3” that Saleh ventured into more original compositions.
“Sheikh Imam had his time to which he spoke,” said the artist, “I have my time where I speak [to my generation].”
Writing her own lyrics was a difficult step, says Saleh, since her work is not commercial. Being a true student of both Saleh Saad and Sheikh Imam, Saleh prefers live singing which marries theater with music in a “moment of acting onstage.”
Her vocals are powerfully complemented by the mature rock accompaniment with the piano of Shadi el Hosseiny, Mohamed Darwish on guitars, oriental and western percussion provided by Ayman Mabrouk, and the bass that Tamer Abou Ghazaleh, her producer at Eka3, stepped in to provide.
Saleh’s lyrics address issues to which audiences relate. “Wahda,” (Alone) one of the songs she sang in her encore, speaks of isolation, moving from gentler sounds into distortion and loud vocals.
“Ghoda” too varies in tones, going from a carefree tottering tune, albeit describing a chaotic day out on the street, to a more somber note when the subject hits his head and forgets his name.
Another number, “Eslahat,” (Under Construction) possibly popularized further by its music video, speaks of the hypocrisy in society and mocks politics that create conditions in which people are forced into drug-abuse. In the video, the singer appears in two forms: “Fatma Echarb” (Fatma the Veiled) and Saleh herself.
Saleh has three renditions of the “Eslahat” in her repertoire; the one played on Thursday married oriental drums eloquently with pure rock. The lyrics came spontaneously to Saleh, who finds the song may owe its popularity to the fact that “it reaches people quickly.”
“It was by chance that I discovered I can write lyrics,” said the singer, who admits she was afraid and unsure if audiences would appreciate what she had penned.
Given her boldly critical lyrics, it is surprising to learn of her hesitance. But the contradiction is easily witnessed when after delivering a powerful song with eyes closed, the singer with a shy and nervous smile greets the applause, almost as if she were expecting quite the contrary. - Egypt Daily News




A major creative force and powerful voice for her generation, Egyptian singer and songwriter Maryam Saleh composes and performs music that is personal, political and philosophical: intense, intelligent rock music with Middle Eastern influences and Arabic lyrics.

In the past year, Maryam has played widely across the Middle East. In Egypt she has performed at venues including the Cairo Jazz Club and French Culture Center in Alexandria, where she launched her album Mesh Baghanny (I dont sing) in 2012. Maryam has appeared at the Palestine International Festival in Ramallah, and in Jordan and the Lebanon. She also takes part in projects with musicians from around the Arab World, including Zeid Hamdan (Lebanon), Tamer Abu Ghazaleh (Palestine) and Maurice Louca (Egypt).

Since success collaborating with a number of bands and music projects, including the BarakA band, with whom she blended rock music with Sheikh Imams songs, Maryam has forged a path as a solo artist, recording and performing with her own band. Using her muscular, alluring vocals and charismatic stage presence (which is informed by her acting experience: she has starred in a number of independent film productions), Maryam brings her inventive contemporary compositions to life. 

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