Why Egyptian composer Amir Hedayah wants to include a new category at the Grammys

The 'Dofaat Beirut' music composer talks about his work, and the importance of celebrating artists who release singles

Egyptian composer Amir Hedayah is on a mission to include a new category in the Grammy Awards. Courtesy Ma’ana Music
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The Grammy Awards still has some way to go if it wants to keep up with the times, and Amir Hedayah may help in taking it forward.

The Egyptian composer is on a mission to include a new category in the coveted awards, one that he hopes will bring recognition to international artists who not only release full-length albums but singles as well.

A voting member of the Recording Academy, which presents the Grammys, Hedayah says the awards institution has been putting considerable effort into becoming more inclusive and adaptive.

In November, it changed the name of its Best World Music Album category to Best Global Music Album, stripping it of its colonial connotations, and last week, after The Weeknd's omission from the nominations list, the Recording Academy vowed to take a "hard look" at how to improve its awards process.

But there is a lot more work to be done. There is currently no category within the Grammy Awards that recognises singles by international artists, which Hedayah says leaves many interesting works out of the picture.

“In 2021, you shouldn’t have to have an album to be eligible for an award,” he says. “The digital era we are living in is singles-based.”

Hedayah says in the past, artists have had to release albums because of the large-scale production and distribution costs involved. The music had to be printed on vinyl records, CDs and tapes before making distribution rounds. If profit was to be made from these enormous expenses then artists had little choice but to release full-length albums. But this is no longer the case.

"Today everything is digital," Hedayah says. "Everyone is making singles so you cannot just overlook artists who cannot or don't need to make an album. You can't just remove them from the equation."

But Hedayah says he has hope that the Grammys will continue evolving with the times and factor in all the ways digital platforms have shaped the creation and distribution of music.

Amir Hedayah has composed music for more than two dozen films and TV shows, including the hit show 'Dofaat Beirut'. Courtesy: Ma’ana Music
Amir Hedayah has composed music for more than two dozen films and TV shows, including the hit show 'Dofaat Beirut'. Courtesy: Ma’ana Music

“We have submitted the proposal to the Academy’s committee of trustees. Now all we can do is wait and see what happens,” Hedayah says. “But I really want it to work. My team and I have been working on this for more than a year and a half now.”

Hedayah says his primary goal with the proposal was to bring much-deserved international recognition to talents from different cultures. The Alexandria-born composer knows how difficult it is to make a full-time career out of music. Success, for him, has been a slow, gradual incline. In 2006, he moved to Cairo and after briefly attending Helwan University's Faculty of Music Education, dropped out and began writing music for TV commercials. He moved on to bigger and more complex works one project at a time, writing theme songs to small-time TV shows before working on his first feature film, El Watar, in 2010. Since then, he has created music for more than two dozen film and TV productions, making him one of the most prolific young composers in the region.

On his work on ‘Dofaat Beirut’

Hedayah also recently nabbed an award himself. On January 27, at the Hollywood Music in Media Awards, he won the prize for Outstanding Main Title for a TV Show in a Foreign Language for his work on the hit series Dofaat Beirut.

“The show is about Beirut in the 1960s," Hedayah says. “It was an unusual challenge for me to musically capture the essence of another country in another time period.”

To provide an authentic soundscape to the 2020 MBC Shahid show, Hedayah travelled to Beirut in January last year, spending several weeks with the cast and crew during the early days of the shoot. While in Beirut, he began researching what kind of music was popular in Lebanon during the time period, interviewing his friends' parents, who were attending university back then.

"Researching was the most important process," Hedayah says. "I spent more than a month researching even before I had written a single note. I found that the youth in Lebanon in the 1960s were listening to a lot of music that had French influences."

He says these influences were most apparent by the way the accordion was played in several popular songs, including those of Fairouz. However, while the sound of the accordion itself alluded to a French musicality, Hedayah says the instrument was still distinctly Lebanese in the songs.

"It's like coming from somewhere else and mixing with another culture," he says. "Using this music palette I then began composing the songs for Dofaat Beirut."

Hedayah is currently working on delivering the soundtrack for a series called Qareat Al Finjan. The show is produced by Eagle Films, the production company behind Dofaat Beirut. It's scheduled to be released during Ramadan, which means there isn't much time left before Hedayah has to submit the finished work. The delivery process, the composer says, is intense. But he adds that he's used to working with tight deadlines.

Hedayah's musical output is not limited to his soundtrack work. He also routinely releases music as a singer-songwriter, his most recent piece being the track Kefayah with Egyptian singer Nessma Mahgoub.

“That’s the other side of me,” he says. “I have those two faces, the film [and TV show] composer and the music producer.”