There were few debut releases that impressed us in 2017 quite as much as Mariam Sawires' Ahnuma EP. We had the pleasure of catching up with her to discuss her Egyptian roots, the creative process behind her EP and her plans for 2018.
SS: Hey Mariam, thanks so much for agreeing to have a chat with us. Firstly, congratulations on your ‘Ahnuma’ EP! ‘Wow’ was easily one of our favourite tracks of 2017. Where did the title for the EP come from?
MS: Thank you for your support! "Ahnuma" is essentially a character I've connected with in my inner creative world for years. She acts as a motive in much of my art and music on stage. She comes out to express the stories I tell in my songs. I painted Ahnuma on the EP cover and would say that when I sing on stage I feel her singing and performing too.
SS: That's so fascinating. What was the creative process like behind the EP?
MS: The songs developed slowly over time through my experience travelling the world doing music. For example "Together" was written for my sister Helana whilst I lived in Japan as a musician for a year. Meanwhile, "Afrika" recalls the memories from when I lived in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda when I went in 2013 with my mum and siblings. I often start songs on the piano playing around with chords and then I'll channel a melody and then the words come alive. I've also been blessed to have had the support of some of the most talented musicians I know who performed the songs with me on stage and were happy to become part of the project when recording the EP. I started writing in Japan, practiced and recorded in Australia, wrote string parts in Berlin, recorded vocals in Ireland, recorded in Berlin, mixed in Hamburg. Life for me is spontaneous and free and I guess it was the same for this EP.
SS: You say you were born into a family of musicians. What sort of music did you grow up hearing around the house and how has that shaped your sound?
MS: I grew up listening to Lauryn Hill, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Sting, Classical music, Kate Bush, Bob Marley, and of course arabic / Egyptian music, Cuban music and more like jazz compilations etc. The first CD I got was the soundtrack score of the film "Tarzan" and shortly after that, my birthday gift at age 11 was the jazz album "Affirmation" by George Benson. I have to say Michael Jackson was a favourite of mine. While the arabic music that my mother played and my father's tabla playing inspired the arabic scales in my melodies, it was the expressive honesty that I heard in Michael Jackson's music that helped to shape the way I sing. Oh and of course the jazz and soul I listened to constantly exposed me to the type of harmony I wanted to play on the piano.
SS: And what sort of role did being Egyptian and growing up in Australia have in the development of your sound and musical tastes?
MS: I always felt blessed having a large Egyptian family of musicians as we all celebrate and connect through music. I didn't always feel I belonged in Australia growing up or in any box for that matter but I'm blessed that my home has always provided a space for me to peacefully explore my musical ideas and exchange them with my family such as my father whose musical roots stem from classical Egyptian music. I always have that musical language to connect with at home. I think this is a special flavour in Australia and with the colours and ideas expressed in the music I grew up with, I've loved being in a position to create with the different styles of jazz, soul, arabic and more.
SS: You describe your sound as Egyption Neo-soul, can you think of any other artists that you would place yourself in a similar bracket to?
MS:I'm not sure, I think I somewhat relate to Yasmine Hamdan. I love the artists Emel Mathlouthi and Dina El Wedidi. Such powerful women bring wonderful new visions of music and mainly arabic. I've also heard Fatima has a similar sound and style.
SS: Have you got any other projects in the pipeline?
MS: It's a real pleasure after 2 years away from Australia to finally come back and connect with the family band and some really talented Australian artists. I will be giving updates via social media soon of a few potential projects happening next year. Currently, I'm in the works of new music.
SS: Finally we have to ask, have you any plans to come to London in the near future?
MS: I would love to come to London in the near future! I'm currently in Australia working on new material but I should be in the Northern Hemisphere next summer 2018! I will keep you updated as there are collaboration opportunities coming up with soul artists from London in Berlin so if there's the chance to come to London I would love make my first trip over!
SS:Thanks so much for speaking with us! We hope our readers enjoy this as much as we did!