Not everyone in Egypt had heard of the Belgian-Egyptian-Lebanese singer with a unique name and a vocal range that fills up a room. But when Tamino, who happens to be the grandson of Egypt’s legendary singer Muharram Fouad, recently performed for the first time in Egypt, he stole everyone’s hearts. eniGma’s Mohamed Hesham had the chance to spend some exclusive time with the young artist a day before his concert to learn all about his fascinating story.
Admittedly, I had only come across Tamino’s music recently, and it took me a bit to get used to, but the moment it clicked, it had fully grown on me. Shortly after, I heard that Tamino was coming to perform in Cairo on the last leg of his world-tour. I checked the event on social media, only to find that half my Facebook friends were going to his concert. It turned out Tamino had quite the die-hard fan-base in Cairo… I needed to know more.
The day before Tamino was poised to perform for the first time ever in Egypt, I went all the way to the other side of town to interview the rising talent. When I had approached his team earlier, they made it clear that Tamino had little time to spare, so I would have to start the interview during his car ride from the hotel to his rehearsal at the Cairo Jazz Club 610, where he would perform the next day, and then finish it there. I was game for that!
As I waited in the hotel lobby, Tamino came down dressed in an all-black outfit, looking taller than he seemed in his pictures and as laid back and chill as can be. We promptly got in the back seat of the car, and it took no time for him to start opening up.
Tamino asserted that he has always been laid back by nature. “I can count the times I was ever nervous on one hand,” he reveals, adding that one of those few times was when he was handpicked by Lana Del Rey as her supporting act for her show in Dublin. “I felt she had given me such a big opportunity; I didn’t want to mess it up. So, I was very nervous,” he explains. Opening for Del Rey was not Tamino’s only important career milestone. He points out that he loved working with Radiohead’s famous bassist, Collin Greenwood, on a part of his debut album, Amir. “It was amazing. I don’t know anybody who has more passion for music than him. He joins my concerts sometimes,” says the young star.
Tamino’s debut album, Amir, which combines his unique western music with a hint of Arabic flavour, also marked the start of an important collaboration with Nagham Zikrayat, a collective of two Belgian musicians, who have an immense interest in Arabic music. “They had previously asked me to sing with them when they were to perform my grandfather’s music at an event. However, since I don’t speak Arabic, and would’ve had to learn the songs phonetically, it didn’t feel right to me. I’m also not properly schooled in this type of music. I didn’t want to mess with my grandfather’s legacy, so I gratefully declined. Later, I approached them myself and asked them if they would work with me on my album, to add some Arabic sounds to some of the melodies. They agreed, and that was the start of a longtime collaboration between us. I love the Oud player, who teaches me the instrument now,” Tamino reveals.
Tamino came to know his late grandfather, Muharram Fouad, nicknamed ‘The Sound of the Nile’ during Egypt’s golden age of music and cinema, through his music and films. “My favourite song of his is Ya Habiby Ouly Akhret Garhy Eih (Darling, Tell me How to Stop this Pain), and my favourite movie is Hassan & Naeema, his first film,” says the musician. While he does not have any solid memory of Fouad, he has some personal mementos of his. “I have a few pictures and videos when I was about two or three years old. Also, the first time I ever sang in a microphone was at the studio in his house in 6th of October city,” Tamino recalls. It is undeniable, however, that his grandfather’s musical genes were passed on to him.
Tamino’s parents lived between Egypt and Belgium until their divorce when Tamino was three years old. “When they divorced, I was raised by my mother in Belgium, without my father. I was reintroduced to him when I was 11, however, and we have a very good bond now,” he reveals. Tamino frequented Egypt after that, but his longest stay would not exceed two weeks.
“I think one of the biggest gifts my mum gave me was raising me and my brother without making us feel like money was important, even when we didn’t have much. She got some help from her parents, but she kind of had to raise us by herself. When we discussed the future, we would talk about what we wanted to be, not the money we would make,” Tamino recalls, adding, “As a result, I’m not interested in being pulled into a more commercial path. I don’t care about profit.”
Tamino’s mother clearly was conscious of his musical legacy early on when she named him after the prince in Mozart’s opera, The Magic Flute. She also made sure to nurture his artistic genes, as well as those of his younger brother, Ramy, who is an aspiring director now, and has directed three of Tamino’s music videos and often tours with him across the world to document his shows. “I remember my mum exposing me to all kinds of music as a kid, but it was sort of abstract to me,” he recalls.
At some point, Tamino became infatuated with John Lennon’s music and wanted to know all about the iconic Beatles singer. “When I learned about his life, I saw some weird similarities between us,” says Tamino, who later on found his start as a punk rocker in bands, in high school. Then, he went on to study classical music in Amsterdam when he was 17. Not long after, he won a musical talent competition at Studio Brussels, a Belgian radio station, and released his debut single, Habibi, which shot him to fame and international recognition, and led to his signing with UK-based indie label, Communion.
Today, while he admits to John Lennon’s influence on him, it is the great Jeff Buckley that he is most often compared to. Tamino has an interesting opinion about that. “I don’t mind it as long as they don’t say ‘He’s the new Jeff Buckley.’ I find it disrespectful to both artists. I wouldn’t like it if in 20 years, I was asked, ‘Have you heard about the new Tamino?’ What would that make me? (laughs) Nevertheless, comparisons are an easy way to introduce new work. Some people get your music instantly, but others may need an introduction,” he explains.
At that point, I thought it was appropriate to admit to the artist that it took a while for me to get his music. “I’m very happy to hear that!” was his surprising response. He goes on to say, “This is one of the best compliments you can give me, actually. My favourite records grew on me with time, as did my favourite dishes. I didn’t like their taste at first, but I kept trying them, and now they’re my favourites.”
By that time, we had reached our destination. We got out of the car, and you could tell the kind of free spirit he is by his walk, skipping and humming Egyptian music. While the place was a far cry from an arena or a stadium, Tamino still showed excitement, looking around. “It’s a very cool venue,” he says.
Tamino hadn’t known how big of a fan-base he had in Egypt until recently. “I saw a lot of lovely messages from people who wanted me to come and play here; it’s amazing,” he reveals, adding, “What I want to accomplish with any concert is to bring people together and share a moment with them,” explains Tamino, who has spent the past months all over the world, from Europe to North America to North Africa. “It’s been a very wild ride. I think what I’ve learned is to keep a sane mind and a good entourage around me; I’ve been very lucky in that regard,” he adds.
While life on the road might be hard, life back home can be just as tricky. “When you come back from tour, it feels weird, because life didn’t stand still for the people back home, and you have to adjust to being home again,” explains Tamino, who is looking forward to taking some time to himself to clear his head. “I think my best work comes from boredom in a way; I have to get bored again. I have to be able to explore and read a lot, and then get to work,” he stresses, adding, “I just hope I have a productive year, creatively. I just want to focus on writing right now,” says the singer and song writer, with a smile.
The next day, I felt an undeniably magical vibe at Tamino’s concert, which was sold out. From the warm crowd to the singer’s otherworldly, haunting vocals, the show was an unforgettable experience. I have a feeling Tamino will be sharing more and more special moments with his fans in Egypt, which he hinted at by the end of the show, saying, “This isn’t goodbye… I’m not going anywhere.”
In fact, Tamino is considering making a temporary move to Egypt in the near future. “I’d like to just live here for a while, to learn the language, get to know people and take more lessons in Oud and Arabic,” he reveals, adding, “I already filmed a music video during the past summer here for my song, Indigo Night. But creatively, it would be great to also write songs here and to experience what it’s like to live in Egypt. It’s such a big part of my ancestry. I’d love to explore it and see how people consume art. I would love to talk to the people in their own language.”