Alfi Hayati: Egypt’s Godfather
July 13, 2011
It’s a pleasure for me to introduce Alfi Hayati, one of the pioneers of the early Egyptian metal scene in Alexandria. He is most known for being a part of the oriental black metal band known as Odious, who have sent ripples through-out the Middle-Eastern and Western underground since their first full-length release in 2007.
I know that people in Egypt love music a lot, but some more than others. Did you get into traditional Egyptian music when you were younger?
Honestly, no, but I liked how it affected people. It was never about the songs, it was always about the vibe and freshness it leaves in people's spirit.
Yeah, it animates them to a great degree. If not from traditional music, where did your fascination with the music world start for you and how did it land on western music?
Well, it came to me in two steps. First, as a kid I was fond of the Rocky movie series, so the first tape I ever got was its soundtrack for part III. It was the first time I heard guitars, bass, and real live drumming and it moved me a lot. Listening to those guitar solos was just what I felt is missing in our surrounding traditional music, so i stuck to this tape for a long time till a friend of mine got me a "Best Of Metallica” tape when I was 11 years old .. and that was it .. that's what I wanted to listen to for the rest of my life.
So the passion was there, what moved you to finally pick up an instrument and start playing? Which one did you choose and why?
When I watched "Metallica's San Diego Live Shit" ... from that moment I wanted to play an instrument. The way those guys played on stage, it was breathtaking for me; it's as if they rule the whole world while playing on stage. At first I chose to play bass guitar, then over time I couldn't stop myself from learning how to get all that distorted noise from a rhythm guitar!
Bass is my first love too. I have been personally wondering this, how hard is it to get Western instruments and equipment in Egypt?
Well, during the early and mid 90's, for someone my age there were two and only two ways to reach Western instruments: to ask a friend who's coming from abroad to bring you one or to go to cheap stupid music stores that offered very limited choices of instruments without supplying any information about them. You have to remember that the internet wasn't that popular here in Egypt so you had to dig and dig deep yourself.
Yeah, the internet didn't hit big there until the mid to late portion of last decade. So I imagine that it must have been even harder to find people that liked the same music as you not to mention those who had an interest in playing it. What was your journey like while looking for those people?
Yea, it was tougher to meet people to not only play music, but kinda close taste to yours. I first met them in the very first few weeks of college; we knew each other from the black t-shirts with band logos on them. It was nice to meet them and talk about metal and bands; there it started when I first met a guy who was looking for others to jam with .. and then it all started. I was 17 years old when i arranged the first Metal gig in Alexandria, not rock, just metal. We payed for everything. The sound, the stage, everything. We just wanted people to come and bang their heads with us .. and enjoy this music as loud as we all could.
That brings me to how people abroad perceive the music scene in Arab countries. At the very least, people know of a few bands that exist but they don't know of the ones that take it upon themselves to play live. How has the scene in Egypt evolved since the times of doing everything yourself to now?
Well, at first it was amazing. It all began with real metal heads that could get the energy and the vibe of what were were doing. Then two things just fucked everything up: business and internet. People who never knew, and still dunno anything about metal or music, started to arrange those gigs to get money .. and it was easy you know. Get 10 bands and 6 of them are off-tuning and that fucks it all up. Then the internet came and some kids just thought it was cool to wear black like those people and listen to their music, “they look cool huh.” It was all fucked up for awhile, but honestly speaking, during the last 3 or 4 years I recognized some bands that really want to play music. Music for music, not music for business and I think the whole scene is getting a little better than it has been in the last few years.
I know what you mean with that. It's a little like that everywhere you go these days. Aside from playing music that you love with people that had the same passion, what did you wish to accomplish with your music? What did you want to express with it?
Well, for me, playing live is much more fun than recording and promoting albums. I want to take all my feelings and notes .. and throw it all at people, people who are craving for energy. I wanna tour the world and share every note with everyone who can possibly feel and love this music.
Experiencing a band live certainly is an amazing experience. I know in Egypt, metal and other unconventional music genres aren't outlawed like they are in other Arab countries. That aside, do you still experience a sort of backlash from society because of what you like to listen to not to mention enjoy creating?
Many people still have this perspective that metal music and musicians are satanic, violent and weird. It's not as bad as before for sure, but sure thing this ain't a cool atmosphere for playing this music. It's like swimming against the current; you must be strong enough to continue or just get bored of whatever people think of your music and how they relate it to stupid stereotypes that they really want to believe to be true.
How did you end up getting into black metal and consequently joining Odious?
I joined Odious 10 years ago. I was a friend to the band and I played bass guitar with Odious' vocalist, Basem, in another band called Midnight Symphony; so when our ex-bassist left the band because he continued his education outside Egypt, I was the closest family member for this job. We started by playing doom metal songs, our originals and a few covers for the bands who inspired us. After some time we felt that we needed more energy as an output to our music.
What band inspired the doom metal sound?
Early Moonspell albums and Tiamat!
Oh nice! I like how Odious' lyrics are extremely personal in nature and yet impersonal in some ways. Who wrote the lyrics for the band? What inspired them and why the decision to write in English instead of Arabic?
Basem (vocals and keyboardist) wrote the lyrics. We never heard Arabic singers or bands, it was all in the background. Arabic music is the thing that we owe the inspiration, but since we were young we used to listen to English-singing bands so it was/is easier for us.
What Arabic music inspired you guys the most and what made you decide to add those elements to your music?
All the old Arabic music with oriental instruments. Not a specific artist. It was the surrounding music that your friends listen to and that you hear in public places, transportation. It was always in the background and it really inspired us without us even noticing. The idea of playing oriental music came when we once tried an oud and tabla on some of our music. We were really amazed by the purity of the creativity that can come out of the main influence, which is metal, mixed with our musical atmosphere in the background of our lives .. so it was all us and we are proud of it.
Yeah, that was one of the things that amazed me about the band and drew me to it. Not much has been heard from Odious in some time, are you guys still working on new material? How much did the revolution set you guys back in that?
We're recording our 2nd full length album, SKIN AGE. During the first weeks of the revolution it was impossible to gather or to even talk about the music, but it's better now.
Glad to hear that. Also good to hear about the upcoming release for Odious. I know you have a personal side-project called Hate Field, what's the inspiration and drive behind that?
Hate Field is a totally different story. It was the outcome of a huge mess in my life after the break-up of a long relationship. I had lots of negative energy. Loads of feelings and emotions and I had to get it out or explode so I chose to capture it all in music. I wanted to be totally free to get out all that I felt. I recorded all the music, all the vocals and lyrics, and I'm really satisfied with it. I'm expecting good feedback from Hate Field.
Very constructive way to use those emotions. Will you be releasing it on CD or will it just be a digital project?
I'm working hard to release it as a CD distributed by an European record label. That's what I'm working on right now while doing the mastering process.
I wish you luck with that and hopefully it will happen sooner rather than later. What genre would you label Hate Field as personally?
I'd label it as an industrial heavy metal band.
I must ask, aside from music, do you have any other hobbies that you enjoy just as much?
As much? No, but aside from music I like soccer and fishing a lot.
Fishing is wonderful. Wish I had the chance to try that out as much. Thank you so much for taking the time out to answer these questions. I look forward to both Odious' and Hate Field's physical releases. Are there any closing remarks that you would like to make for our readers?
You are more than welcome. I hope everything will go fine with Odious and Hate Field. We're working on a mini-European tour for 2012 hopefully. Thanks for the support.