Hesham Nazih on creating the Emmy-nominated score for Moon Knight

First Egyptian composer to be up for the award explains his music-making process

Hesham Nazih is the first Egyptian composer to be nominated for an Emmy, for his work on Disney's 'Moon Knight'.
Powered by automated translation

People love superheroes. Not only because they are super human, but because there’s something significant in the story of seemingly ordinary people in extraordinary circumstances.

However, it's more than the premise of a superhero’s journey that has made Moon Knight such a success.

The show has struck a chord with audiences globally, for exploring a new facet of the Marvel cinematic universe through unique, genre-bending storytelling that chronicles the emotional journey of the protagonist, Marc Spector.

Spector’s journey is more truthfully felt in large part because of the talents of award-winning contemporary Egyptian composer Hesham Nazih. The score he created is epic, fusing ancient inspired sounds, classic orchestra instrumentals and something contemporary but timeless.

Nazih’s work in creating the score for Moon Knight landed him an Emmy nomination, one of eight for the show, for Outstanding Music Composition for a Limited or Anthology Series, Movie or Special.

The nomination makes Nazih the first Egyptian composer nominated in this category.

“I don’t know if I fully comprehend or digest the whole thing. But yeah I’m happy,” Nazih tells The National from his hotel room in Los Angeles, where he is travelling for work.

Created by Jeremy Slater for Disney+, Moon Knight is the story of Marc Spector and Steven Grant, two alter egos of a man, played by Oscar Isaac with dissociative identity disorder (DID) who discovers that he has the powers of an Egyptian moon god.

Grant and Spector must learn how to wield these powers while solving the mysteries of ancient Egyptian gods from the same body.

The considered way Moon Knight dealt with portraying DID and the character’s trauma is one of the many elements the show has been praised for. Nazih believes Spector’s story is an important part of the formula that won over audiences.

“His background, the way Marc Spector was brought up, all the agony he feels and suffers and endures, all the trauma from his childhood,” he says. “It’s this character and everything linked to the charm and magic of ancient Egyptian mythology and culture, it’s a dramatic formula that’s very attractive to audiences.”

Moon Knight is a rush of emotions, tension, suspense, action, fight scenes, romance and tragedy, as well as comic relief. The stakes are high from the start, the lines are blurred between reality and dreams, between contemporary and ancient times, between the internal battle of good versus evil.

Nazih’s stunning score navigates these highs and lows. The music elevates our responses to the story, adding suspense, relief and elation, all the while immersing us in this very detailed and highly emotional world.

One of the ways the music lends and feeds into the arc of the story is Nazih’s technique of composing the score’s structure organically, using musical instruments rather than synthetic or electronic sounds.

“It was all trial and error,” he says when asked how he created a unified tone that lends itself to varying paces and different tones.

“Knowing what’s ahead and knowing how to do it was not the key. I needed to try it so many times and do it wrong so many times before doing it the right way.”

One element that he got right was fusing the sounds of ancient Egypt and modern Cairo seamlessly into the story. Nazih, who has lived in Egypt his whole life, noted that making the music sound authentically Egyptian was the least of his worries.

“It came out of me naturally as an Egyptian,” he says with a laugh. “I just needed to let it out, not hide it, not conceal it.”

Each and every moment is unparalleled, unmatched, irreplaceable. The moment that arrives will never occur again
Hesham Nazih, Emmy-nominated Egyptian composer

Combining the elements of ancient Egypt in a contemporary way to global audience sounds tricky. But Nazih struck an effortless balance by using a combination of instinct and research.

“Musically I just delivered my impressions,” he says. “When I looked at the walls of the temple, women were engraved carrying harps or the rufus drum or the nai, I speculated what [their music] would sound like.

“I also based it on the architecture and volume of their buildings that they left us, in conjunction with the principles and ideas they adopted at the time.”

Nazih read a number of texts about ancient Egyptian mythology that helped him contextualise the ideals of people at the time and translated those into the score.

Known for interweaving sounds and melodies from different cultures, Nazih scored more than 40 award-winning films that have been major successes at the Egyptian box-office.

Moon Knight is not only his first foray into the Marvel world, but also his first project in English. The pressure, he says, was managed by working with a positive attitude and a great music and editorial team, all led by Mohamed Diab, the first Arab to direct a Marvel Studios production.

“Each and every moment is unparalleled, unmatched, irreplaceable. The moment that arrives will never occur again,” he says.

“The moment I write a piece of music that lasts for 10 seconds in a scene, those 10 seconds won’t come back again. They won’t. So I must make good use of those 10 seconds for the audience and the story, because each and every one of those seconds is special.”

Scroll through the gallery below for pictures of 'Moon Knight' now available on Disney+

Updated: August 01, 2022, 8:11 AM