Exclusive interview with Hamza Namira: 'I'm not a politician or activist'

Exclusive interview with Hamza Namira: 'I'm not a politician or activist'
The New Arab spoke to renowned Egyptian artist Hamza Namira, an icon in the Arab World whose song, "Issmy masr", My name is Egypt, was a national hit.
5 min read
09 February, 2018
Namira's revolutionary songs bolstered his popularity following the Egyptian revolution [Facebook]
Egyptian artist Hamza Namira, an icon in the Arab world, spiralled to fame with his song issmy masr, My name is Egypt. Directing his words to Israel, Namira highlights his disagreement with the official government stance on the Palestine issue, a sentiment that resonated greatly with the Egyptian public, in particular the youth.

As the January 25 protests broke out across the country, Namira's album Insan (Human) voiced clear support to the revolution, bolstering his popularity.

Here he speaks to The New Arab about his music and career since the revolution.

What ideas do you hope to bring across in your upcoming Remix show?

There are many ideas generally that touch upon alienation and artistic oppression, however I'm interested in dealing with the human aspect of the suffering that occurs in the Arab world. I don't want to simply focus on beautiful folklore, I want it to also reflect the current existing reality. Tackling ya zareef altoul (Oh tall stranger), a classic Palestinian folk song had echoes of the Palestinian identity. The same happened when we did the Iraqi song, shalshil Ali (Rain on me).

Shalshil Ali
, an old song set in the Ottoman era when Iraq was faced with a British threat, has political as well as emotional dimensions, a fact that resonated today with many Iraqis. Many Iraqis commented, talking about the nostalgia of home, of Baghdad. People need to hear songs that tie them to the reality, this is what is expected from art – it doesn't need to be overtly in your face, but it needs to touch something in the listener.  

You said you want to address the idea of artistic persecution, what sort of artistic persecution did you mean by that?

Nearly a hundred years ago in Morocco, there was a singer called Kharboush who criticised an authoritarian tribal leader, and as a result her songs were banned. There is a similar story for Sheikh Imam, whose songs were culturally boycotted for a very long time. Ismail Yasin sings for the artists, because an artist always feels tied in being able to express himself due to the oppression of people, whether that persecution comes socially or politically. But again, that's just one idea I've had.

Have you faced any artistic persecution yourself?

Of course, and that's clear to all. There are many restrictions placed on me in my home country, my songs cannot be played on an Egyptian channel, as though there is some sort of implicit agreement to prevent my songs from being broadcast or me holding concerts.

It could be due to my political views, or other reasons. I have been accused of being opposition, of being part of the Muslim Brotherhood – and I have nothing to do with politics.

I expressed my opinion purely as an Egyptian citizen, a right protected by the constitution, whether I am a supporter or whether I oppose. And even if I am against an idea, that does not mean I should be classified as a 'terrorist'. I believe in an idea, and I will continue in it, and I will continue my art, despite it being hard to know that my art reaches the world with the exception of my country.

Are you forbidden entry to Egypt?

Till now there has been no direct order barring me entry, but the situation is worrying.  The unpredictability of affairs makes you unsure and wary of predicting what could happen. This worries me naturally, because at the end of the day I'm not a politician nor an activist… I'm an artist.

Do you believe the Egyptian revolution made you more visible?

Of course, and not just me, but a large sector of artists. Perhaps had I not been linked to the revolution then I would not be as undesirable by Egyptian authorities as I am.

You want to present a different line from mainstream art by valuing human feelings. Do you not believe most Arabic songs are expressions of human emotions? Or do you believe that certain aspects are overlooked and others focused on?

The scope of Arabic art is very large, but if we are to consider the mainstream, then it is not too dissimilar from that in the UK, or in Europe, mainly tackling the emotional relationship between a woman and a man, and everything that falls in between. It's not an issue that only the Arab world suffers from, but the world at large. Art has come down in binary terms of love, separation and longing.

Of course, Arabic art is not without deep values with a greater dimension, it's simply that production companies find it convenient and safer to stick with mainstream.

Do you expect to release an album soon? Or a concert?

I'm putting the finishing touches on an album I hope will be out in March, "I'll fly again", all in the Egyptian dialect with the exception of one in standard Arabic. I'm also preparing for a concert in London, and another in Jordan late April.

Do you think the Arab public has been fair to Hamza Namira?

It's too early to respond to this question, but at this moment in time, I'm very happy with the interactions with the audience, be they Egyptian or from the Arab world, and there are challenges and ideas that I still want to provide.

What level of stardom do you seek? Do we see Hamza Namira as a global star like Omar Sharif?

It's not a specific goal of mine, I strive to express things inside me, and hope to be able to impart it on others, what happens after that, success or failure, I have no idea. Of course, I dream about my voice reaching the world, but there is the language barrier because I don't sing in foreign languages. It's not my talent, but it can be a starting point, such as Rai music, Tuareg and others that have had far-reaching effects.