Youssra El Hawary

Youssra El Hawary 2 photo by Ahmad S. El Abi
Youssra El Hawary photo by Khaled Marzouk
Youssra El Hawary photo by Luis Fermo
Youssra El Hawary photo by Leo Sutic

Youssra El Hawary

A Musical bellwether of everyday life, capturing the stories of Cairo and the charged alchemy of the Mediterranean basin.

Youssra El Hawary’s socially-aware, personal, and original music innovates as much in content as it does in style. In the half-decade since she became a slyly defiant sensation in the aftermath of the Egyptian revolution, El Hawary continues to be a bellwether of everyday life. With charismatic charm, her lithe compositions capture the stories of Cairo, and the charged alchemy of the Mediterranean basin that fuels her distinctive and soulful sound.

Perfect, easy magic. I'm totally hooked on music by this folkie-ish, indie-ish, chanson-ish singer/songwriter from Egypt armed not with a guitar, but ... an accordion.” (NPR’s All Songs Considered)

US DEBUT with center stage

ON TOUR  September 10 - October 13 2018

program notes 

Youssra El Hawary
Cairo, Egypt

U.S. debut tour as part of Center Stage

Youssra El Hawary   Vocals & Accordion
Shadi El Hosseiny    Piano, keys & backing vocals
Yamen Elgamal         Bass Guitar & backing vocals
Sedky Sakhr              Harmonica, Recorder & backing vocals
Tarek Abdelkawi       Buzuki
Loai (Luka) Gamal    Percussion
Adham Zidan             Music producer and engineer

Center Stage is a public diplomacy initiative of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, administered by the New England Foundation for the Arts in cooperation with the U.S. Regional Arts Organizations, with support from the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, and the Trust for Mutual Understanding. General management is provided by Lisa Booth Management, Inc.

In 2012, Egyptian singer-songwriter, accordionist, actress and bandleader Youssra El Hawary took a satirical poem penned by a cartoonist friend about Cairo’s walls, literal and figurative. She put it to a melody and with her accordion, surreptitiously made a video at the barrier erected at the entrance to Tahrir Square. “El Soor (The Wall)” went viral.

Now fixtures of Cairo’s indie scene, El Hawary and her five-piece band meld the sounds of Cairo’s underground with French chanson, indie rock, and jazz to underscore an idiosyncratic artistic world. Her compositions are bellwethers of everyday life in Egypt, and of the charged alchemy of the Mediterranean basin.

In December 2017, Youssra – and her band managed to record and release their first album -- No’oum Nasyeen (we wake up and forget) -- the first crowdfunded album in Egypt. As a soloist and with her group, she is in increasing demand at home and abroad.

El Hawary is part of a community of independent performers and writers who are socially motivated activists; a community with a distinguished lineage in Egypt. She got her start as a performer in Salam Yousry’s theater group El-Tamye. They made and produced music to back up Egypt’s outspoken musical legend Sheikh Imam, known for his songs chronicling the lives of the working class and poor.

When she began writing her own music, these experiences shaping theatrical narratives in song became a core approach to her own art making. “I think everywhere and anytime of life, there is this movement of art that maybe isn’t as famous as the mainstream. This indie or underground stream has always been there, the people who make music the way they want, saying what they want. With true feelings and honesty about events they want to describe.”

El Hawary began to experiment on her own. Schooled in general music studies and piano as a child, she searched for an instrument suited to playing on the streets. Things came together when she stumbled across her old accordion one day, the one she had played during morning assemblies at school. She found her (musical) partner and muse, and went on to formally study the instrument in France at the National and International Centre of Music and Accordion founded by prominent musician Jacques Mornet.

The accordion’s natural brashness fits the times and the ideas El Hawary shares. “It’s loud and can be rich without any other instruments. It’s the instrument of the streets, of traveling.”

Kollena hannam belleil (we all go to sleep at night)
Lyrics by Mahmoud Ezzat; English translation by Wiam El-Tamami

we got to sleep at night,
we go to sleep at night,
we go to sleep at night,
we go to sleep at night, wake up and forget

Hooked on movies and on crowds
On yearning before bed
Hooked on gazing at shop windows
On brands and human beings

walking through the streets,
all the way back home
growing scared of our houses, and of all the windows

scared of going home
of the closing credits

and then we sleep, wake up and forget
we got to sleep at night, wake up and forget

And in the streets, they’ve left a neon lamp on
It stays up all night, for those who couldn’t sleep

and those who couldn’t sleep
lie on however many beds
counting up to a million
counting their cellphones and televisions

counting missed calls from strangers
counting the names in their contact lists
counting how many friends are left
counting the locks on the doors

we go to sleep at night, wake up and forget
wake up and forget
wake up and forget

and suddenly we glimpse the morning through the window
and exhausted, we wake up and forget.

Youssra El Hawary and her band make their U.S debut tour September 10-October 13, 2018 as part of Center Stage. Stops include Richmond VA, Washington DC, Lyons NE, Albuquerque NM, Lexington KY, Raleigh NC, New York City, Kittery ME, and West Claremont and Lebanon NH. For more information and the complete schedule, visit centerstageUS.org/events.

music lyrics

Album: Youssra El Hawary - No’oum Nasyeen (we wake up and forget)
Translation: Wiam El-Tamami


1.we all go to sleep at night (Kollena hannam belleil)
written by: Mahmoud Ezzat

we go to sleep at night,
we go to sleep at night,
we go to sleep at night,
we go to sleep at night, wake up and forget

Hooked on movies and on crowds
On yearning before bed
Hooked on gazing at shop windows
On brands and human beings

walking through the streets,
all the way back home
growing scared of our houses, and of all the windows

scared of going home
of the closing credits

and then we sleep, wake up and forget
we go to sleep at night, wake up and forget

And in the streets, they’ve left a neon lamp on
It stays up all night, for those who couldn't sleep

and those who couldn’t sleep
lie on however many beds
counting up to a million
counting their cellphones and televisions

counting missed calls from strangers
counting the names in their contact list
counting how many friends are left
counting the locks on the doors

we go to sleep at night, wake up and forget
wake up and forget
wake up and forget

and suddenly we glimpse the morning through the window
and exhausted, we wake up and forget.


2. I can live with that (bas kola yehoun)
written by: Walid Taher

hustle, bustle,
struggle and drudgery,
pounds of fat,
and tight narrow footsteps

dust and wreckage,
wreckage and dust,
and sulky grumpy people

but I can live with that
as long as there are still
girls dolled up on the metro

boredom and lethargy
a couch, a sweaty sticky couch
an aging fan, a creaky aging fan

but I can live with that
as long as there’s still
a little balcony in the house

alone at work
papers here, there and everywhere
tons of phone calls, e-mails and questions
a messy depressing desk
without a single clear spot
and lots of “who sent”, “who lost”, and “who found”?
(and people asking “who sent”, “who lost”, “who found”?)

but I can live with that
if only a lover appears
from deep inside the closet
and asks me: “won’t we get out of here?”


3. Jessica
written by: Youssra El Hawary

the time has come to tell you all
the story of Jessica

Jessica is a beautiful, incredible girl
I mean, who wouldn’t fall for Jessica?

one month before our wedding was
the day we met Jessica
And how can I blame you, my love
I mean, who wouldn’t fall for Jessica?

God bless your Jessica!

my love kept swearing to me
that he doesn’t love Jessica
he just needs some time to think, poor thing,
and be away from Jessica

because day and night, night and day
he’s out and about with Jessica
and even when he talks to me
he tells me about Jessica

And how can I blame you, my love
I mean, even I have fallen for Jessica

God bless our Jessica!
God bless our Jessica!


4. as I leave (wana mashi)
written by: Salam Yousry

I’ll take a few things with me
as I leave

I’ll take a drag of a cigarette,
a coffee cup and music

a cigarette, an ashtray
inhale, exhale

the cloud of a thought
that’s inside and out

neither holding on to this idea
nor going with another
neither wondering about tomorrow
nor leaving the past behind

I’ll take a few things with me
as I leave

a paper and pen
dreams and pain
blank lines, lines drawn

I’ll take a friend with me
I’ll take my loved one
I’ll take that street
where my city first came to know me

I’ll take fire
I’ll take water
I’ll take mud
I’ll take nostalgia

I’ll take air
for us to breathe
together


5. don’t listen to me (la tesmaa’ kalami)
written by: Salam Yousry

my heart, don’t be sad
don’t follow the stifled noise
my heart, don’t worry
about loneliness
how many times has an eye appeared,
only to vanish again?
my heart, don’t grow tough

my heart, you always rush ahead,
never patient
which makes me struggle, and feel confused
yet, in moments, it can also bring me joy
so my heart, don’t hold back
don’t listen to what i say

my heart, don’t be sad
all this hurt will help

my heart, don’t grow quiet
stay with me till the end
(I’m still going)


my heart, don’t get bored
between one moment and another:
(don’t even wonder)

which moment of the two was more tender,
and which moment will remain with you?

my heart, don’t cry over what’s gone
don’t chase after what’s to come
so my heart, don’t listen
don’t listen to what I say


my heart, don’t be sad
all this hurt will help


6. tea with milk (shai belaban)
written by: Salah Jaheen

four hands, four hands
four lips drinking tea with milk
four hands, four hands
four lips at breakfast
and tea with milk

four hands and four lips at breakfast
kiss one another and embrace the light of day

between his chest and hers and between their smiles
they embrace the love that brings them together
at breakfast-time

embracing the sun that stirs the curtains
weaving in through the threads, with the wind

sketching itself on the floor of the room
on the rug they bought with the furniture
on the love they bought for free
and on the window-pane

drinking tea with milk in two cups
at breakfast four hands and two rings

they wake my heart up every night as I sleep
and write in a radiant green light

across the dark air, across my sleeping eyes
they write in a radiant green light
a word of peace


7. My notebook (kashkouly)
written by: Salam Yousry

I’ve just lost my notebook an hour ago:
its lines were full of words
that are important to me
but its turn had come

But then I remembered
that life is full of lost things (about losing things)
& without my notebook,
I am lost

if my beloved notebook
took another road
along the way,
then was it my choice that it deserts me
or was I forced to abandon it?

why
before I traveled
was I scared to lose it?
why
when I left this morning
didn’t I hold it tight?,

didn’t press it to my heart,
and give it some tenderness?

maybe it left me
because it felt neglected
for two days, I’d been tearing out its pages
belittling it

though I didn’t mean to be cruel,
it seems that I tormented it

even if it was necessary
It was I who left it.


9. A sense of separation (rehet el foraa’)
written by: Omar Mostafa

yes, I agree that something brings us together
but between us
there is also something
with a sense of separation

is it how we perceive,
or conflicting emotions,
a time we weren’t made for,
or just stupidity?

but there’s still something . . .
yes, there is something
with a sense of separation


10. no moon (mafeesh amar)
there’s no moon
too high
for me to reach

I’ve persisted
left nothing that I haven’t tried

there’s no dream I’ve had
that I haven’t made real

I trusted my voice
accepted my mistakes
found out my flaws
and did not hide them

I vowed to myself
I wouldn’t be afraid
of making choices
others wouldn’t accept

I let the universe ask me
where I’m going
I don’t ask

there’s no moon too high
for me to reach

I’ve persisted
left nothing that I haven’t tried


11. bigger than the room ( akbar men el ouda)
written by: Youssra El Hawary

Life is larger than the room
that I can’t find my way out of
maybe he’ll feel like letting me out tonight
or he’s vowed I won’t cross this threshold

Life is braver than that boy,
I want to see sometimes
but even that would almost be impossible
and needs an elaborate plan
and I know:

Life is bigger
Life is more beautiful
uglier
more glorious
Life is bigger
more beautiful
funkier
more vast

Life has all this and more
Life has enough to deal with
but I’m determined to live it my own way
and to walk my talk

life is simpler
than all the hours wasted wondering
how my clothes will hide me

life is more sane
than this man who can harass me
and that one who can’t look me in the eye

life is not just about
who I meet and where we met
and what others think of me

but I’m not afraid

life is longer than the time
I’m expected to be back home
life is more important
than proving my point to you
life is too short
to explain myself to you
life has all this and more
life has enough to deal with

Youssra El Hawary Singles

El Soor - The Wall
Written by: Walid Taher

In front of the wall
in front of those who built it

In front of the wall
in front of those who made it higher

and in front of those who protect it as well
a poor man stopped to make “pee-pee”

on the wall
and on those who built it
and those who made it higher
and those who protect it

on the wall
and on those who built it
the man stopped and made “pee-pee”


Fil Sharea’ - On the street
Written by: Amina Jahin

Some people play football on the street
And some people walk, sing,
and take pictures on the street
Some people curse at each other
Some people beat each other, kill each other on the street
Some people sleep on the street and others sell their honor on the street
But what a scandal it would be,
if one day we forgot
and kissed each other on the street


Autobees - Hey, Bus!
Written by: Youssra El Hawary

Hey bus, driving in front of me
bringing shit on my face
Hey bus, driving in front of me
bring smoke that smells like shit
is it enough for you that my life this year
keeps going backwards
and it’s full of shit
Hey bus, driving in front of me
Hey big bus
blocking the road
blocking the light
blocking sight
Hey bus stop this shit
Hey bus, I want to make it to work early
maybe then I could leave early
I swear Tomorrow I’ll get out of the house earlier
and then I’d be ahead and you’d be behind
and have a shit-less day at last


Hato Keteer - Kust bring some more
Written by: Youssra El Hawary

keep bringing boxes, boxes, boxes
packed with stuff and stuff and stuff
put them in bags, keep them in closets
until you’re drowning in all your belongings
tough days are coming soon
and if not,
at least we’re ready
just bring some more and more and more
buy apartments, villas and buildings
but no one would dwell nor sleep there
never miss that new advertisement
about the latest offer in the (trees compound)
tough days are coming soon
and if not,
at least we’re ready
just bring some more and more and more
buy new suits, shirts and dresses
buy pajamas for years ahead
until your closet explodes
buy for your son’s wedding
buy for the girl’s groom
he is coming very soon
and if not,
at least we’re ready
just bring some more and more and more

background

Imagine the Sound: Youssra El Hawary’s Inventive, Cosmopolitan Songs of Cairo Life

In 2012, Egyptian singer-songwriter and bandleader Youssra El Hawary took a satirical poem penned by a cartoonist friend about Cairo’s walls, literal and figurative. She put it to a melody and with her accordion, surreptitiously made a video at the barrier erected at the entrance to Tahrir Square. “El Soor (The Wall)” went viral, and became an anthem of the Egyptian Revolution.

El Hawary’s voice resonated. People around the world watching events unfold and looking for ways to understand them, discovered El Hawary, too.  “Perfect, easy magic,” said NPR’s All Songs Considered. “I'm totally hooked on music by this folkie-ish, indie-ish, chanson-ish singer/songwriter from Egypt armed not with a guitar, but ... an accordion.”

Now a fixture of Egypt’s independent music scene, El Hawary and her five-piece band meld the sounds of Cairo’s underground with quirky acoustic charm, led by the sway and swagger of El Hawary’s accordion. Her songs entwine French chanson, indie rock, and jazz to underscore an idiosyncratic artistic world. Performed with playful charisma, her compositions are bellwethers of everyday life in Cairo, and the charged alchemy of the Mediterranean basin that fuels her distinctive and soulful sound.

U.S. Debut in 2018

Youssra El Hawary joins four other ensembles from Egypt and Ukraine that will make independent tours of the U.S. from July-December in 2018 as part of Center Stage, a cultural exchange program that invites performing artists from abroad to the United States to perform, meet, and share their experiences with communities around the country. Her summer 2018 tour, now in formation, will mark her U.S. debut.

El Hawary is part of a community of independent performers and writers who are socially motivated, community activists; a community with a distinguished lineage in Egypt. She got her start as a performer in Salam Yousry’s theater group El-Tamye. They made and produced music to back up Egypt’s outspoken musical legend Sheikh Imam, known for his songs chronicling the lives of the working class and poor.

“My first connections to an audience started with these songs, which are very rebellious,” explains El Hawary. “They talk about political and social things that are similar to what’s happening now. Even before the revolution, I didn’t feel I was singing about something in the past. It fits our daily life, and it was very inspiring to know this.”

When she began writing her own music, these experiences shaping theatrical narratives in song became a core approach to her own art making. El Hawary and a group of friends began holding regular collaboration sessions they dubbed the Choir Project, where people of all walks of life could gather and write songs together about everyday topics of concern. “I think everywhere and anytime of life, there is this movement of art that maybe isn’t as famous as the mainstream. This indie or underground stream has always been there, the people who make music the way they want, saying what they want. With the true feelings and events they want to describe.”

El Hawary began to experiment on her own. Schooled in general music studies and piano as a child, she searched for an instrument suited to playing on the streets. Things came together when she stumbled across her old accordion one day, the one she had played during morning assemblies at school. “It was a little model. I played around with it,” she recalls. “I loved it.”

The instrument’s natural brashness fit the times and the ideas El Hawary wanted to share.“It’s loud and can be rich without any other instruments. It’s the instrument of the streets, of traveling. It has this character,” she continues. She moved to France to study at the National and International Centre of Music and Accordion founded by prominent musician Jacques Mornet.

El Hawary’s leap into creating music came at a crucial moment for Egypt, as Tahrir Square filled with demonstrators during the Arab Spring in 2011. In this context, “El Soor” went from a sly, earthy critique of social stratification and defiance, to a call to tear down the walls erected by the government to stymie protesters.

Following her initial success, El Hawary began to imagine new directions. After a few solo shows, she invited a good pianist friend, the classically trained Shadi El Hosseiny, to play a song for one concert, then brought in a few additional players. When “El Soor” won a youth voices contest sponsored by the anti-corruption organization Fair Play, the organizers invited her to play several concerts in Brazil and asked El Hawary how big her band was. “I didn’t have a band,” she laughs. “I began to think what kind of band I might want.”

The answer led El Hawary to instruments like the mandolin, which, like the accordion, is a rare addition to Egyptian bands. “We kept trying until we reached a sound we really liked,” she says. The band’s lineup now also includes melodica and keyboards, a bass guitar, mandola, and a harmonica. “There’s no name for the kind of ensemble we have.” It may not have a name, but with El Hawary’s  first album due to be released later this year, the group’s distinctive, welcoming sound will soon be open to audiences of all kinds.

About Center Stage

Center Stage is a public diplomacy initiative of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, administered by the New England Foundation for the Arts. From June - December 2018, Center Stage will tour five ensembles from Egypt and Ukraine in the U.S. These are Dina El Wedidi (Giza, Egypt), Kurbasy (Lviv, Ukraine), Mohamed Abozekry & Karkadé (Cairo, Egypt), Teatr-Pralnia with CCA Dakh (Kyiv, Ukraine), and Youssra El Hawary (Cairo, Egypt).

Now in its fourth season, by the end of 2018, 29 performing arts ensembles from nine nations -- Algeria, Egypt, Haiti, Indonesia, Morocco, Pakistan, Tanzania, Ukraine, and Vietnam -- will have toured from coast to coast, hosted by colleges and universities, festivals, music clubs, and cultural centers. Each tour includes residencies in large cities and small towns, and a range of activities from performances, workshops, and discussions, to artist-to-artist exchanges, masterclasses, and community gatherings. Center Stage artists engage with audiences onstage and online sharing their work with audiences in the U.S. and friends and fans at home to build mutual understanding through shared cultures and values.

Center Stage is made possible in cooperation with the U.S. Regional Arts Organizations, and with support from the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, and the Trust for Mutual Understanding. General management is provided by Lisa Booth Management, Inc.

press

Audio Clips 

Youssra's new album, "No'oum Nasyeen"

 

Other clips

downloadable photos, billing & crediting information

Credit Info

The following credit is required on the title page in all printed performance programs. We appreciate its use wherever else it's practical: brochures, posters, ensemble-only promotional materials, press releases, advertisements, etc:

The presentation of Youssra El Hawary is part of Center Stage, a public diplomacy initiative of the U.S. Department of State's Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs, administered by the New England Foundation for the Arts in cooperation with the U.S. Regional Arts Organizations, with support from the Doris Duke Foundation for Islamic Art, and the Trust for Mutual Understanding. General management is provided by Lisa Booth Management, Inc.

Center Stage logo placement is greatly appreciated. On web-based materials, please link from the Center Stage logo or written name to www.centerstageUS.org.

Download a zipped folder with high resolution promotional photos and color and black and white versions of the Center Stage logo at the link below.