Not even Mohamed Hamaki’s easy smile could hide his agitation. It wasn't because he was about to meet regional press just hours before his much publicised concert at the Mawazine Festival in Morocco. No, it was due to the fact that we were meeting him 30 minutes before Egypt would play its final football match as part of the World Cup, and he was raring to race back to the hotel to catch the kick-off.
A self-confessed football lover in addition to a pan-Arab pop star, to say that Hamaki has closely followed his nation’s football exploits at the tournament is an understatement. He arrived in the Moroccan capital of Rabat after spending a week in the World Cup host nation Russia as part of a group of Egyptian artists who entertained family and fans of the national team with both private and public concerts.
“It was of course like a dream come true,” he told us. “The atmosphere is great and you are doing your bit to help the national team. It was a great experience.”
They love you when you are winning
Perhaps he was being too generous. With the Egyptian national team bungled out of the tournament on Monday after it was defeated in all of its three matches, the local press and social media began aiming their ire at the visiting pop-stars, claiming their appearance as part of the Egyptian football team delegation was ultimately a distraction. Understandably, Hamaki, who we spoke to again after the defeat, didn’t take the accusations too kindly.
“You know, everything is amazing and you are praised when the team is winning,” he says. “But with the team performing not well people began looking for things to blame, so they point at the singers. I read online that certain members of the team’s coaching staff apparently skipped training to attend my concert. This is not true; the show was for the family of the players. Then again, if that actually happened and we were winning, I would be celebrated.”
Hamaki shrugs this all off as he is now focusing on his own winning streak: ever since entering the limelight with his moderately received 1997 debut Leqa' El Nogoom, the 42-year-old has diligently worked on building a steady career with consistent album releases and a steady supply of hits, including the romantic ballad Ma Balash and the breezy Ajmal Youm.
More than his music, which let's face it, is mostly standard radio pop, it was Hamaki's debut appearance as judge on the Arabic version of the television talent quest The Voice this year that propelled him to A-list status alongside fellow coaches, the Emirati diva Ahlam and Lebanese singer Assi Helani.
A voice of reason
Viewers and contestants were beguiled by Hamaki’s level-headed coaching style, with useful observations mixed with his ease with the unvarnished truth.
Hamaki adopted the latter when discussing the lives of contestants post-show with us. Hamaki is well aware that, with a few notable exceptions – such as the 2013 Arab Idol winner Mohamed Assaf, talent show performers often fail to capitalise on their fame and exposure after the end of their respective shows.
This led to suggestions from the regional press that such shows are no longer talent incubators but merely another avenue to benefit the star mentors and judges.
“I don’t think that’s the case. We first have to acknowledge the responsibilities of the various parties involved in such shows,” he explains. “The producers do share a genuine goal of looking for the latest talent and exposing them regularly to audiences, but they also have commercial goals.”
“Now, as coaches our role is to advise them and to have them ready to win the competition and for the next stage of their career after the show.”
Where are the producers?
Hamaki adds that the problem doesn’t lie in the programme format, but the lack of talent available to support the contestants post show. “I am talking about the producers. Once the show is done they should be reaching out to these artists because they already know what they can do."
“It’s a weird thing. There was a time when producers would work hard to reach singers and convince them to sing their songs. Now we are in this phase where the singer must also seek out the producers. Unless that shortage is addressed, it will continue to be a challenge for young singers who are trying to break out.”
Knowing their value, Hamaki has worked with the same producers – such as Tamer Ali and Mohamed Yahya – for his last few albums, and he confirms that a new record will be released next month. “The fans should appreciate it, as I worked with the same producers as well as some new names."
“Once all the songs are chosen I will then look for the title that represents it all. That’s the last piece of the equation.”
Check out Arts & Culture for all the latest news and interviews from The Mawazine Festival in Morocco. The festival continues until June 30