Musical Reset

It’s been twenty months in the gargantuan* bosom of the Mother of the World. I’m far better at dreaming of making music than actually creating it; when I first arrived here I made a naïve post about all I’d achieve in Cairo. Few of those musical ambitions have been realised, but buried beneath the frenetic pace of the city, or work, or simply the insistent dust that weighs down anything or anyone who holds still for a moment. It hasn’t been time wasted, but as the wheel turns towards professional and academic achievements, other matters of import, be they music or love, find themselves on the wrong side of those revolutions.

Luckily, the wheel keeps turning and renewing, and I find myself now at a point of new beginnings; new job, new flat, new routine, a chance to find a better sense of balance. It probably won’t be easy, but I’m hoping to give some things neglected a chance to sing.

Dawn in Zamalek

One of those important things is a renewed sense of purpose in music-making. I want to try and find two hours a day to play, compose and practise. I’ve been thinking a lot about routines lately, and trying to get a better rein of an often treacherous mind. I couldn’t quite say I’m a morning person, but if I can force my eyes awake I love the promise and peace of the dawn, and do good work at this time. Wouldn’t it be nice to wake up early, and get two hours of playing music under one’s belt before all the other noise of day has started?

So, turning over a new leaf – but to what end? It’s likely I’ll be in Cairo for at least another year, and I’d like to direct my free time during this period towards writing and recording two new EPs. One of these I hope to make a semi-professional effort (as far as my budget will extend); using a recording studio and with luck a couple of local musicians to provide a taste of Egypt. The other will be a low-fi experiment; to see what I can come up with recording at home with simple equipment.

But first, allow me to subvert and undermine these plans! Before I throw myself into this new project, I want to do a bit of songwriting just for fun. I’ve got a few seeds and semi-complete ideas I’d like to play around with, one or two of which I hope to transform into songs fairly quickly. Let’s see what transpires . . .


*Hey, Cairo’s a big city!

Musical Reset

Making Music With The Mother Of The World

It’s already been a month living here in Cairo, the Mother of the World. Between flat-hunting, a new job, and reorientating my brain from jungle jungle to urban jungle, there’s been little time for music. But as the clamor of the first few weeks begins to settle into a routine, my thoughts start to turn towards the creative possibilities of being here.

The old and the new; the view from our flat in Cairo.

Plenty of free time and, to be honest, little else to do in Borneo led to something of a renaissance in my attitude to guitar playing. I refound my mojo and began to push myself further into the wonderful world of fingerstyle. A few months ago, the path was clear; continue in that direction, composing new songs that broadened the palette of my skills at arranging and playing, continuing to incorporate more and more of the African styles I admire, and finally wrapping it up into a little album of tracks that might sound like Pink Moon had it been recorded in Guinea Bissau rather than the English countryside. A nice little fantasy, and also a path predicated on staying in Borneo for another two years.

Now in Cairo, the possibilities are far wider.

One plan I definitely want to embark upon is learning to play the oud. I’ve always loved the instrument, and after seeing Moroccan oud master Driss El Maloumi at the Rainforest World Music Festival this year I vowed that if I ever came to the Arab world I’d learn to play one. Less than six months later the opportunity already presents itself. Walking about the streets of Cairo I’ve seen several ouds stuffed into their ugly duckling carry cases, and in the old part of the city there is a beautiful school in which to learn. I’ve no illusions at mastering the great repertoire of Arabic oud music, but hope to get just enough to compose my own songs on the oud and perhaps play a little lead.

Driss El Maloumi

Of course, the other big change from the wilds of Borneo is that suddenly I am somewhere with a wide and exciting music scene. I’ve already seen a couple of great gigs from local and international artists. But there’s more than a chance to hear other artists, there’s also a chance to be heard. It’s been a long while since I graced a stage in any serious way, but here there’s an opportunity to inject a bolt of sheer terror through my nerves and perform in public again. Much more enticing is the prospect of sharing said stage with other musicians, and perhaps even forming a band. From the little I’ve seen there appears to be an openness to fusing different musical traditions, and there are plenty of musicians about. I’ve already made friends with a cellist and we’re planning to try out a few ideas together come January. Let’s hope that’s just the start.

I definitely want to make some more records whilst I’m here. But it could be that my LP has a few more colours than just guitar and voice – perhaps a taste of my own oud playing; perhaps some further flavours added by the musicians I’ll meet whilst living here.

Unfortunately between all of these grand plans I’ll also be forced to make a normal living and all in probability sacrifice six weeks of 2016 on the altar of some serious professional development (and not in a musical direction). It is fun daydreaming about the different possibilities my music might take. In fact, I’m certainly guilty of too much fantasizing and not enough doing. We’ll check back in at the end of 2016 and see if any of these pipe dreams have amounted to anything.

Making Music With The Mother Of The World