Dina El Wedidi: Cairo’s Pioneering Musician on the Egyptian Revolution & Arab Women in Music
There’s been one particular name that just keeps popping up on the Cairo 360 events calendar over and over again; she’s played multiple gigs in Cairo, including at Cairo Jazz Festival in March, and recently, Bassem Yousef even nabbed her for a slot on his prime time TV show – so we thought we had better get ourselves a bit of Dina El Wedidi, too.
It doesn’t take long to realise that this is one young talent that’s headed for stardom, but upon meeting the singer, she greeted us with a beaming smile like we were old friends.
El Wedidi’s music is still at the beginning of its evolution; her unusual approach to music sees her regularly utilising classical piano, the Irish violin and traditional Arabic instruments, which results in an experimental sound that falls somewhere between folk and jazz.
El Wedidi grew up in right here in the capital, and while studying at Cairo University she worked as a tour guide in her beloved city – the Om Kalthoum Museum on Roda Island is her destination tip to tourists. However, the stage was calling to her and in 2008 she entered a career in drama with Al-Warsha Theatre Troupe, before choosing to break off as an independent artist. Since then, together with her band and production team, she’s been a pioneer of the underground music movement that continues to bubble away in the city.
Much of Cairo’s contemporary music scene sprung to life in the wake of the January 25th revolution, but El Wedidi insists that the process has been far longer than that. “It takes a lot of hard work and time to break into Cairo’s music circuit, as the paths into it have not yet been built – we have to do that ourselves” she explained.
For the musician, the struggle is ongoing, as the music business in the city is still largely unregulated and organic. El Wedidi thinks that the revolution will continue to help the city’s musicians; “For a long time, music has been a way of expressing feelings and communicating with an audience about social issues.” In her own songs, El Wedidi addresses issues that she herself is passionate about, such as her homeland, freedom and, of course, love.
When asked how she feels about being a role model to Arab women, El Wedidi blushed –though her manager nodded approvingly, agreeing that El Wedidi is somebody who is making a path for female musicians in Cairo. This is an assertion that’s backed up by the fact that she shows unflinching support to her peers and their ambition, too. Having recently collaborated with Maryam Saleh – another Egyptian songstress making waves in Cairo’s underground music scene – El Wedidi remains confident that opportunities for women in music will continues to increase, and although there has been a huge pool of female talent in Cairo for a long time now, she feels the time has now come for women to take centre stage.
El Wedidi’s music and style is distinct from what we’re used to seeing of the archetypal female Arabic singers regularly seen prancing around on TV, and that’s something she values. “People here don’t need to hear more of that – I want to create something new.”
The singer is currently working on her first album, and after that she’s looking forward to going on tour with her band, as well as working to promote Egypt’s up-and-coming artists. Her motivation comes from her high hopes for the future of this city’s music scene; her mass of curly hair bounces as she nods excitedly telling us, “I am very optimistic! The writers in this city are doing some great things right now and their creativity is what will drive new music.”
El Wedidi is proud to have been part of festivals such as D-CAF and praises them for widening the circle of people exposed to Cairo’s underground music. Her spectacular performance on that final Thursday night is sure to have gained her a few more fans, as her powerful voice filled the venue where a room full of fans swooned along. We can expect to hear her name again and again over the next few years, as this is an artist determined to bring underground music out of the shadows in Cairo.