Nancy Mounir Brings New Life to Archival Recordings of Egyptian Music
Nancy Mounir is an Egyptian composer who works with the archival recordings of her country's famed singers from the beginning of the 20th century.

Her approach is to stay faithful to the originals while bringing out new musical facets of these half-forgotten gems. Nancy plays an array of instruments including violin, piano, bass, Theremin and the traditional Egyptian bamboo flute kawala. Being familiar with the harmonic principles of the Western canon as well as the microtonal foundations of Arabic maqam helps her marry the two musical worlds creating a truly unique experience.

Nancy plays most of the instruments on her new album Nozhet El Nofous set for a June 3rd release on Simsara Records, the new imprint of Simsara Music, an artist management and creative producing agency based in Cairo and London.

We talked to Nancy about the album's first single Khafif Khafif.
— What is the archival recording used on this track? How famous or obscure is it? What year was it recorded and released? What are the lyrics about? What is the context surrounding it? What scene were the musicians part of?
— The recording is "Khafif Khafif '' by Saleh Abdel Hay, which was recorded in 1927 for Columbia Records and released on a compilation titled Cairo's Taqatiq (sing. taqtuqa, a short & light song form in colloquial Arabic). The lyrics tell of a complex relationship intensely mired in unreciprocated loyalty & yearning, penned by Badie' Khayri and composed by Zakaria Ahmad. There is also complexity in how we hear this century old recording today, with controversy around one particular word, whether it's وعد (a promise) or راح (gone), with each possibility rendering an entirely dierent premise and feeling in the way we interpret the love relationship at the heart of this song. The one that resonated with me personally the most while working on this song was the latter (his love gone).

Saleh Abdelhay was one of the most famous singers in the 1920s. He was one of the few in his generation to take part in radio recordings featuring the wasla (suite) song form. One of the most famous musicians of this era is heard in this recording too, Samy El Shawa, who played the violin in most 1920s recordings.

Despite this, Saleh Abdelhay's name is not widely present today. Whenever there's any talk of Egyptian classical music it's always about Umm Kulthum and Abdelwahab.
— What was the creative process like? What gear did you use? Did "the ghosts" tell you something unexpected?
— Saleh's spirit never stops saying "it's going to be OK."

His voice carries a comforting energy that was accompanying me through tough days... Later on, when I had more access to research material about his personal life and childhood traumas I understood where that energy was coming from.

The creative process, it was kind of natural and it was not as tough as other songs like Wallah Testahel Ya Albi. Saleh's spirit is very light, as Mounira El Mahdeya describes him, "he's good-humoured".

This is one of the songs where I ended up playing all the instruments in my home studio using Pro Tools. I used a Røde NT1A to record double bass and strings. Finalising the arrangement, working on editing, the outro and rough mix
happened while I was on tour using my laptop in bed to fall asleep. I remember for Khafif this was in Berlin (because there was a file called khafif Berlin edits).

It was beautiful working with Saleh's voice and listening to his energy, whenever he sends one of his "It's going to be ok"...
Check out another single by Nancy Mounir featuring Fatma Serry.