On His New Music, World Tour & Being Back in Egypt

If you listen to indie music and alternative artists, it’s more likely than not that you know Tamino. Although not an underground singer with a big fanbase following him around the world from one sold-out show after another, Tamino is still more than your average mainstream star. The talented young musician also has the edge of an impressive pedigree, with none other than the great Egyptian icon Moharam Fouad as his grandfather. Having covered Tamino’s rise to fame in eniGma a few years back, our very own alumnus Mohamed Hesham came briefly out of retirement to do one more interview, more evolved and personal, with the enigmatic Tamino.

The last time I interviewed Tamino was four years ago, when he was in Cairo for his debut album’s 2019 tour. Four years later, I heard the Belgian-Egyptian singer was coming back here for the last two shows on his tour, this time for his second album, Sahar. Although I’m at a completely different place in my life – having left eniGma and made a career shift into film and television production – my first interview with Tamino was one of my all-time favourites, so when the opportunity presented itself for me to interview him once again, I had to seize it.

Photography: Ramy Moharam Fouad

This time, I got to spend some time with Tamino the day after his first show in Cairo (and the overall penultimate outing on the tour), and hours before his final concert, which I got to attend later that night. I had forgotten how tall he was in person, but I never forgot how laid back and pleasant he was. I couldn’t help but notice how much bigger the venue was this time as opposed to the stage he performed on four years ago. Last time was a modest show at Cairo Jazz Club, while this time was a huge (sold-out) gathering at the open garden of AUC Tahrir Square. “It was insane. It was very special,” Tamino tells me about his concert the night before. “Last time, it was way smaller, and it was only one show. Now it’s huge and it’s two nights in a row; it’s wild,” he adds with excitement.

Tamino is in a different place in his life. He tells me that perhaps the biggest change he went through, over the past few years, was his mental state. “I think I’m way more in control of my mind because I meditate now. It helps with all the chaos in my life. So, even though my life is still very busy with all the traveling, I think I’m more relaxed. I ease more into things,” he explains, adding, “I just accept all the changes and the progress of life.”

Judging by the crowd of young fans around me later that evening, I know for a fact that Tamino has a very passionate following – way bigger than four years ago. As for how he’s coping with this new level of fame, Tamino feels that he’s in a great place in his life, where he is often recognised in public, but not to the point where it’s disruptive, intrusive or inconvenient.

“I was thinking about that last night when someone came up to me and was like, ‘I know you will go really big, man.’ It was weird because I don’t even know what it means,” he says, almost to himself. “What does ‘big’ mean? Does it mean selling out 20,000 person-arenas in every city around the world? Or does it mean not being able to walk in the street anymore? Because if that’s what it means, then I don’t know if I want that. Actually, right now, where I am at in my life, is perfect. I can do shows pretty much anywhere I want, but I can also just go to the store and nobody bothers me. In Belgium, especially, which is where I live, people are very reserved, so they don’t bother you.”

Photography: Herman Selleslags

Tamino had given me a hint four years ago that he wanted to disappear for a bit to get back to songwriting and to work on his second album. During the pandemic, which cut his U.S. tour short in March of 2020, this happened. It was like Tamino disappeared from the face of the earth for over a year, to the point where his fans started to get worried. “My management got fan letters asking if I was still alive. It was funny because people tend to assume if somebody is not active on social media that they’re really in a bad spot. I honestly think we are on social media way too much. That was a time in my life that proved exactly that, because I deleted it from my phone and it was just perfect to write and to be in the moment,” he reveals. “Being bothered with social media can be a sign of not getting something somewhere else, like love or appreciation or acceptance. And then you think, ‘oh, maybe I’ll look for that from a bunch of strangers.’ But I do value it as a tool for my job and I appreciate it because we do have direct contact with our fans that way. However, for any creative time in my life, I put my phone away as much as possible.”

You can tell how Tamino has grown in his music from both the correlation and the difference between his debut album, Amir, and his second one, Sahar. Sahar is a more evolved and mature vibe that still carries Tamino’s signature poetic distinction and his mix of oriental sounds with western music. But perhaps the best way to describe it is that, if Amir were a test drive in traffic, Sahar is a road trip on an empty highway. According to Tamino, what sets them apart is the very different process that went into each one. “I think what was a natural influence on Amir was playing a lot of big shows, which was new for me because before that, I was just playing pubs. Then when we released the song Habibi, suddenly we were able to play big festivals and big shows, while still working on Amir. It was like the experiences we had on stage influenced the album. With Sahar, during Covid, there was none of that. There were no shows, no big crowds. There was just a lot of solitude and reflection. I was also able to have a lot of time with dear friends, which is important to me; but none of the big stuff, which is probably why it sounds the way it does,” he explains.

Photography: Ramy Moharam Fouad

While touring the world is a great way to connect with fans and to get international recognition, it can also take its toll on a performer. When I asked Tamino what keeps him sane while traveling the world on tour, he immediately diately responds, “Not touring,” with a laugh. “I really don’t have the personality for touring, but I just accept it as an important part of my job, and I accept and acknowledge what it can mean to my fans. I feel a very big responsibility to give people the best possible experience. There’s also another aspect to touring, which is just… it’s my income,” he admits. “I remember, during the Amir tour, I was like a monk. I was just dedicated to the shows in an unhealthy way. I would never allow myself to celebrate, which probably meant my voice was very well rested, but my brain wasn’t. Now I allow some fun into my professional life. Like last night, we went to the club after the show, even though we have a show today. Is my voice maybe a couple of percentages less than it would have been had I gone to bed early? Yes. But my head is better. I’m so happy that we had that experience. Since we’re here for only a couple of days, we want to make the most of it. It’s also important that when I get back into the studio or the writing room, I have a full backpack of experiences. Last time, it was just, ‘backstage, bus, plane.’ This time around, I got to experience the countries we visited,” he says. “But I think in the future, I would probably like to perform less. I also feel like the more I’m away from creative environments, the longer it takes me to come up with good music.”

I decide to remind the singer about something he had said in his first interview a few years back, which he still hasn’t made good on. He had told me that he was planning on making a temporary move to Egypt for a few months soon. Tamino assures me it’s still on his mind. “I didn’t think the pandemic was the right time to come here. Actually, I’m moving to New York in a couple of weeks. I still want to be here in Cairo for a bit, at some point, but it would have to be the right timing. I think I can see myself living here, maybe in a couple of years,” he asserts.

“My immediate plan is just to go to New York and write songs and experience the city,” he reveals, adding that what he’s chasing is more of a feeling and a state of mind than a tangible dream or goal to achieve. “If I just look at my whole life and its trajectory so far, it has always been a dance to freedom. It’s like I’m always trying to get closer to an ultimate state of freedom. It’s not always a contextual thing; sometimes it’s freedom from yourself. I think my end goal is just to become freer and freer. While it’s really a blessing to have reached some of my goals so early in life, I also know it doesn’t necessarily fulfill you. There has to be a more spiritual thing. It’s good, I think, to set goals, as you’re growing, because it moves you forward; but they just can’t be the overarching endgame for your happiness,” Tamino concludes.