Hundreds of fans gathered last week to witness Egypt’s first heavy metal band as they rocked the stage of Downtown’s grEEK campus, performing for the first time after they left the country four years ago. While the mass sang along Massive Scar Era’s vocalist, Cherine Amr, jumped with the beat and screamed with the love they hold toward the band that surged in the country’s underground music scene.
Mascara started as a female-only heavy metal band, yet, that currently changed with the Dylan Wijdenes-Charles, the bass guitarist. Throughout their journey, the band reflected their struggles through their lyrics. Sexual discrimination, women’s empowerment, revolutionary dreams, and efforts for fitting in, were some of the main issues the band tacked throughout their 14-year journey.
The Egyptian band is currently based in Canada. Nonetheless, the violinist, Nancy Mounir, still remains in Egypt, and only travels for concerts held outside, or during the production of new songs. Born in Alexandria, the band faced many challenges to get a chance to be identified as the first female heavy metal band.
Mascara’s star shined after performing Aba’ad Makan (The Furthest Place) at the independent film microphone, starring super star Khaled Abu El-Naga, which won several awards at various international festivals.
Daily News Egypt interviewed the band’s main vocalist, Cherine, to further understand the struggles the band faced in Egypt, the difficulties of being a female heavy metal singer, the reasons behind their decision to move, and the milestones they are trying to overcome in their new home, the transcript for which is below, lightly edited for clarity:
You moved out of Egypt as an underground band, how does it feel to perform in your hometown six years later but as an internationally accredited heavy metal band?
Well, when we left Egypt we already had a wide fan base that knew us and constantly attended our concerts. Actually, I was a bit down when I noticed that the attendees are less in number than what we were used to in our concerts. But rationally it makes sense, we have not performed in years and many thought that the band no longer existed.
On a larger scale, we were focusing more on touring internationally, as it became extremely difficult to organise musical concerts in Egypt.
What made you leave Egypt after you achieved success in the heavy metal genre?
This is the next step for any band seeking international accreditation and global spread. It is the natural development for any heavy metal singer to be productive in that field.
In Egypt, we don’t have the technology or the facilities in order to have heavy metal songs meet the international standards.
Plus, just before we left, holding musical concerts was such a difficult thing to do. With the restriction on the permits, and being allowed to perform only in one place, it made it very hard to have such a good musical night.
It is nice, productive. But it has not changed since we left it. Actually, it diminished; there were many good bands that no longer play heavy metal.
I believe this is attributed to our sexist culture. It closes many doors in the faces of young artists just because heavy metal is not widely spread in Egypt, especially if the singer is a female.
Speaking of struggles facing heavy metal female artists, what were the main challenges that you met when you were regularly performing in Egypt?
As artists, we are very demanding, bossy, firm, and perfectionists so we are always being called tough to deal with and hard to convince. However, if you applied such characteristics to a male artist, you would be surprised how they are reshaped into other definitions about how devoted, goal oriented, and hard working they are.
From your point of view, why aren’t there many female heavy metal artists in Egypt?
We are in a sexist society that labelled the genre to be macho, and I believe women conform to that standard as they believe it would not make them sexy enough.
Women in Egypt believe they have to follow the social norms; they even love following these labels. In Egypt, the heavy metal genre is not considered feminine, so women feel they would not feel sexy or attractive enough if they became part of it.
What were the main challenges that met you in Canada as a heavy metal artist?
I faced many obstacles just because I am a Middle Eastern woman. We fight just to fit in the western musical scene.
Because we bring a part of our culture through eastern rhythms in our songs, we are not considered a folk band while we are not, just for the fact that they do not understand or accept the difference in our music. It’s either black or white from their point of view.
However, I have to admit this was not a major struggle in our way; it just prevented several chances to participate in several concerts.
With the violinist Nancy Mounir residing in Egypt, and the rest of you in Canada, how do you practice and play in your concerts?
Nancy is not capable of travelling due to the high expenses unless the concert is financially rewarding, which I admit is hard many times. However, she comes when we are making new songs and preparing our albums.
As for the concerts, we play backing tracks which is quite common practice in many bands.
How does being raised in Egypt affected the music you produce?
At first, I was not quite aware of the extraordinariness being raised in the Middle East adds to your music. It was not until I started playing with other musicians and started hearing about their comments on the Arabic Maqams we have before I realised that what is common in our musical culture is actually unique to the world.
If you heard any of our songs, you can detect which period of time it was written in. If anyone listens to our song ‘My Ground,’ they can easily conclude that who wrote these lyrics is a woman from Egypt.
A few years later, I wrote ‘Colour Blind,’ and I never thought I could write something like it back when I was in Egypt because it tackled racism and struggles of being labelled and unaccepted.
I believe what makes our songs different is the experiences we went through as Arab nations. None of the white western people would understand our journey throughout the revolution and the political dilemma we all lived. When they write about it, it is all from an outsider aspect, which is totally different from living it, and having it affecting all of your life.
What are the main messages you aim to convey with your songs?
Honestly, while I am writing I think of no message. For me, it is more of venting and reflecting my thoughts into words, and I want to share with people the experience I am living.
You are dubbed the Egyptian Amy Lee, how does that make you feel?
It is the first time I this!
I feel like we are not connected together in any way. There are a number of technical differences in our singing. Amy Lee is classically trained and the scopes of our voices are totally different.