Ousso: The Region’s Leading Musical Icon Talks Amr Diab, Satanism And The Independent Music Scene


Scoop Empire

By Mohamed Rashad

Aug. 10, 2017

We here at Scoop Empire are starting #AScoopOfSuccess, a series of interviews with successful Arabs that are kicking ass and making names on a regional, as well as international level in different fields. And since I’m really passionate about music, I thought it would be best to start with one of the region’s most leading icons in that field.

Thus, the first interview as you might have already guessed is with the pioneering artist; Ousso.

If you’ve been living under a rock and have no idea who I’m talking about, let me enlighten you. He is one of the most talented and hardworking guitarists in the Middle East. His success spans in the independent and mainstream music scenes, as well as entrepreneurial and academic fields.

Ousso has immensely contributed and influenced the music industry in the region and helped so many struggling artists develop a career out of their unheard talents. If you’d like to know more about him — which you should definitely do — before reading the interview, head to his website.

What’s the difference between working with the underground and mainstream artists? Which side do you prefer working with?

The underground music scene is no longer underground, it’s more accurate to label it as the independent music scene. What I enjoy working with more is, of course, the independent scene. But to be honest, you learn way more from the mainstream scene. Artists from the mainstream scene are beasts.

You learn how to manage yourself as an artist from someone like Amr Diab, learn how your charisma can influence a 100,000 audience while performing alongside Mohamed Mounir.

Practicing and improvising in large studios and performing in front of thousands of people was more accessible through the mainstream scene, before the underground scene started booming. Also, back in the days, we’d invest in our indie bands from the money we earned from the mainstream — that happened due to the fact that the profits of indie music were close to zero.

Nowadays, independent artists could be labeled as neo-mainstream (commercials and brands sponsorship, etc), and there’s nothing shameful about that because each artist deserves to earn a living from their talent.

Of all the projects you’ve worked with, which one is the closest to your heart, and which one are you proud of the most? 

Nagham Masry is hands down my favorite project of all time. This Jazz/Rock fusion band with poetic lyrics is the project I’ve developed as an artist and will always be proud of.

There was also a project called Music Matbakh that was created by the British Council; where they chose two musicians from seven countries and created a band of 15 musicians. It was a fun experience as musicians from Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, and UK cooperated to create this one of a kind music fusion. This project did a tour in all of the mentioned countries and performed in SOS while in Egypt.

Last but not least, HOH has a special place in my heart as well, as this project was literally just an outing between me, Hany Adel (West el Balad) and Hani El Dakkak (Massar Egbari) which we turned into a band.

What would you see yourself doing if you weren’t in the music industry?

Definitely something related to airplanes like military aviator, or car racing. I’ve been passionate about those two things ever since I was a young kid. I’ve even tried taking gliding courses once.

Since your very first band was a metal band, how did the demonization of the metal scene affect your development as a musician in the mid-90s?

I was in a total shock when that happened. The scene in the early ’90s was amazing on so many levels, and it all fell apart because an unethical reporter at Rosalyoussef decided to fabricate an article to boost the company’s sales. At that time, there were no social media platforms to explain to people the reality that got fabricated by his article; so people actually believed that the metal scene revolved around Satanism.

It was a total mess, a lot of my friends got arrested and everyone started cutting their hair. I was just totally depressed. However, that incident affected my development as a musician in a very huge way. The owner of the studio that I used to jam in, Nasser Begato, started convincing me to start working and connected me to Samira Saeid’s band, one day before her performance in “Layaly El Television“.

I just participated in one jamming session before the gig, and I was ready. It was because of that concert that I started having a lot of connections that helped me work in the mainstream music field.

How did you contribute to connecting the gap between mainstream and independent music scenes? 

Back in the day, I was the only guitarist who dabbled in the arts of independent and mainstream scenes at the same time. I was the first guitarist to re-introduce the fast solos and distortion in the mainstream music scene after it was banned during the demonization of the metal scene.

It all started with a solo in Amr Diab’s Khaliny Gambak. The solo was released in his album as an instrumental track which was a phenomena that never happened to a Diab album before. With El Hadaba being the role model that he is to most artists in his scene, naturally, the whole scene approached me for similar solos.

In a different manner, I started a company with Amr Diab’s former manager that also helped to bridge that gap. What it did was basically recruit independent artists to perform alongside mainstream artists to help them profit from their talents.

Afterwards, I decided to severe my ties with mainstream music in order to focus all my energy to push the indie scene forward; thus creating the SOS music festival. Me and my team helped organize 19 SOS festivals between September 2006 and December 2009.

What’s the difference between SOS and Ewsal Bel 3araby

In simple terms, SOS is a music festival for independent artists playing original music, and Ewsal Bel 3araby is a platform for independent Arabic music. At a certain time, SOS influenced a lot of people who are passionate about music to start playing, that was because every artist that was capable of playing 30 minutes of original music would perform in SOS. Some attended the first SOS as listeners, and ended up being performers afterwards.

As time passed, the quality sadly started to drop as musicians couldn’t profit much more from indie music. A lot of good bands broke up because their members graduated and needed to start a safercareer. Thus, Ewsal Bel 3araby came to fix the limitations we found in SOS. It basically tries to create a networking platform for musicians, and the project adopted by Ewsal Bel 3araby (El Sellem) tries to adopt musical talents from different governorates of Egypt; it gives them workshops and helps them start a career out of their talents. Something this country and region desperately needs.

Any crazy stories from your time studying and teaching at the Berklee College of Music in Spain?

“Crazy” stories in Spain aren’t media-friendly, but I’ll try to remember the most PG-13 one. I was asked to teach a guitar course on the same day I graduated by Victor Mendoza, the program director of our college. The same program director also asked me to do a solo performance as an opening to Diego El Cigala; one of Spain’s most popular flamenco singers.

Where do you draw the line between being an artist and an entrepreneur? 

I only see myself as an artist. But as you know artists in Egypt need to be entrepreneurs to manage themselves. “Not enough venues; let’s organize a festival” attitude. Everyone in the indie scene should work together to elevate the whole industry, and that’s the initiative I took.

As the leading guitarist in the Middle East, and the success you have already acquired in the mainstream, underground, academic and entrepreneurial fields; are there any goals that you still have in mind? 

Firstly, I wouldn’t like to be labeled as the “leading” guitarist in the Middle East, simple because there are a lot of guitarists that I consider better than me. You also can’t compare guitarists who play different styles and genres with one another. Secondly, I have a lot of goals that I still work and long for, such as releasing solo albums (a step that is going to be taken very soon), going on a world tour with my own music, writing music for an orchestra, and wishing more success for Ewsal Bel 3araby.


Ewsal Bel 3araby: The Ultimate Platform For Independent Music Junkies In The Region


Scoop Empire

By Mohamed Rashad

Aug. 6, 2017

Music junkies all over the Arab World, this one’s for you. In this article, I will tackle everything you need to know about Ewsal Bel 3araby. It is, by all means, the most innovative platform for musicians and music lovers in the Arab region. this week marks one year since the launch of Ewsal Bel 3araby!

The music mafia behind the website is 19th Corporation, one of the leading companies in the Egyptian music industry. 19th Corporation’s founder, Ousso, also happens to be the founder of prominent festival “SOS” that used to rock the Egyptian independent music scene between 2006 and 2009.

Basically, Ewsal Bel 3araby is the more complex and evolved version of SOS because it’s a platform that connects musicians, music lovers, and anyone who wants to learn about music in the Arab World.

Firstly, it gives access to free learning tutorials by the best artists in the region. Secondly, it includes a huge library of solo and jam performances; some of the biggest names in the independent music scene can be found on it.

Thirdly, the website also has a number of playlists that are tailored by the brightest artists. Fourthly, it contains an updated events calendar with all live performances and their venues.

Moreover, the website is a social network for all musicians. They get to create their profiles, update them with their newest content. Music lovers, on the other hand, can go listen, follow updates and more.

Ewsal Bel 3araby‘s best feature (in my opinion) would be El-Sellem (The Ladder). It is a competition adopted by the website that could potentially and immensely help young Egyptians exploring what they love — musically.

Talents from all over Egypt are required to send one-minute videos to the website showcasing their talents. 15 lucky winners will get to go to a special workshop curated just for them, as well as be trained by some of the brightest musicians in the scene.


Guitarist with a Purpose


Egypt Today

By Fatma Khaled

Aug. 6, 2017

He’s the guitarist behind many brilliant performances with Amr Diab, Mohamed Mounir, Samira Said and Eftekasat. He’s also a composer and an entrepreneur whose career spans over 25 years. The 39-year-old Mohamed Lotfy, better known as Ousso, co-founded Nagham Masry and has also ventured into events management through the company he founded, The 19th Corporation, and has just launched a brand new initiative to help fellow struggling artists. The self-taught guitarist knows how difficult it is to learn new instruments, especially for those living outside of the capital who don’t speak English and so can’t access online tutorials.

Ousso speaks to us about his latest venture, music and how he came to be one of the top musicians in the country without getting any sort of formal music degrees. Ousso founded Ewsal Bel3araby (www.bel3araby.net), an integrated musical platform in the form of a musical social-networking platform where people can connect and keep us with the music scene. Under the project, Ousso also launched El Sellem; an online platform and YouTube channel where young talents can learn various instruments through online tutorials in Arabic by professional musicians—free of charge. At a recent jamming session, we got to see Ousso at work.

Tell us about yourself.

My career as a professional musician started in 1995 when I used to play rock music. My first concert in the commercial scene came by coincidence as a replacement to the original guitarist for Samira Said in Adwaa El Madina festival. There, I met important musicians who then recommended me for other work and further collaborations such as recording the soundtrack with Yousry Nasrallah’s film El Madina (The City). I later worked with musicians such as Yehia Ghanam, Hassan Khalil, Ahmed Rabie and Eftekasat, co-founded Nagham Masry as well as played and recorded with all the pop artists in the Middle East, such as Mohamed Mounir, Amr Diab, Shereen, Samira Saeed and Angham to name a few.

In 2006, I decided to slow down on commercial concerts, created and organized a major music festival called SOS (Save Our Sound), aiming to introduce indie music to the scene.

Throughout my career, I managed to perform, compose and produce music projects and recordings for several brands like telecommunication networks Etisalat, Vodafone, and Mobinil (now Orange). I have worked on corporate events, such as Nokia Express Festival that consisted of four stages, all carrying out concerts simultaneously.

How did you end up studying at Berklee College of Music in Spain?

I am self-taught, I don’t have a bachelor’s degree in music, but I used to take lessons with pianist Rashed Fahim who was a Berklee graduate and who taught me jazz music theory. Later, in 2009, the American University in Cairo invited me to teach guitar and music technology. Berklee has constructed another campus in Spain specialized in postgraduate studies. The university’s master’s degree required a bachelor’s degree in music, and even though I didn’t have the degree, I managed to send them samples of my work and they offered me a scholarship to join the contemporary music studio program.

What inspired you to create the 19th Corporation and how did it start?

I enjoy organizing and carrying out events and shows related to music, but anything related to event planning is also probably relevant to entertainment; so you have to consider logistics, organization, production, permits, security and venues. I was inspired to launch activities in the entertainment and music industry that would be more creative, original and new—like the SOS music festival and Nokia Express—as well as create a fusion process that is rarely found in the entertainment business.

In 2010, I stopped all of my activities and founded The 19th Corporation to present commercial events in an effort to resume the SOS music festival, but the revolution in 2011 delayed these plans. Later on, I got back to playing music with pop stars Mohamed Mounir and Shereen, and became a full-time musician then went to Berklee. When I came back, I continued performing music and working on organizing major commercials and music, like the album launch tour of Massar Egbari. The company also carried out corporate events like the Marassi Spring Festival with Emaar Misr, the Classic Cars Show, Halloween and El Moled Festivals.

What makes The 19th Corporation company different from any other music production or event management company in Egypt?

First, we don’t organize events for the sake of only generating revenue; we seek to develop projects that are creative and that create a memorable experience. The company was initiated by a professional musician, not just an entrepreneur or businessman.

What is the most special project that the company has produced?

Ewsal Bel3araby is a 360 musical platform to help discover rising musicians across the country. There, one can listen to music, observe, learn or do anything related to music, even networking and getting introduced to music amateurs and professional musicians.

Ewsal Bela3raby teaches music online as a first step and later applicants are encouraged to take part in El Sellem project to learn music and network for further musical collaborations to start their individual processes in composing music, forming their own bands and starting their own musical projects.

What music genres does Ewsal Bel3araby specialize in?

We teach all genres of music in Ewsal Bela3araby, but we don’t teach classical music as we would like to focus more on contemporary music, oriental, jazz, pop, rock and indie genres.

How can Ewsal Bel3araby further develop?

Our next plan involves expanding the project and creating Ewsal Bel3araby music hubs in Arab countries with vast musical networks in countries like Morocco and Dubai.

Tell us more about the tutors who teach music in Ewsal Bela3raby.

There are several talented artists who take the initiative to teach what they know about music through Ewsal Bela3raby, such as Hany El Badry who is very inspirational and plays ney and is known for being a master in oriental music theories. Electronic music is taught by Amir Farag, a band member in MAF, a DJ and music producer who is very knowledgeable when it comes to equipment and software. Azima and Hani Bedeir are two of the percussion teachers who are specialized in teaching Middle Eastern percussion. We also have 10 guitarists, including myself, bass guitarists, drummers, saxophonists, keyboard teachers, oud instructors like Belqais and Mohamed Abo Zekry who fuse traditional oud with contemporary music and Nagwan who teaches Indian rhythms.

What artists and performers do you seek to work with and haven’t worked with yet?

I don’t have any preferences because I have worked with many artists throughout my musical career, including music producers like Tarek Madkour, Tamer Karawan and Hesham Nazih to name a few. I have also worked with many people in the indie music scene.

What do you think of the current music scene in Egypt? What do you think it lacks and how can it develop?

What I see lacking is exactly what I am trying to tackle in Ewsal Bela3raby, which is that the music industry is only present in Cairo and missing in other governorates. Each governorate should feature its own music industry that includes local musicians, venues, concerts and schools. We lack musical knowledge due to the lack of musical exchange between governorates; a problem that Ewsal Bel3araby plans to contribute to solving.

Tell us about a special experience you had as a musician.

The best experience I had was a project called Music Matbakh, organized by the British Council, where they invited two musicians from countries like Tunisia, Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Syria and England. We all stayed in England for one month in a studio, and we composed and produced a lot of soundtracks that could make up three whole albums. We also went on tours and played music and participated in concerts everywhere in Egypt, Jordan, Syria, Morocco and the UK.

What’s your advice to young, rising artists?

Practice, study hard, be patient, produce a lot, seek all chances and never lose hope. The music scene is tough and being a professional musician requires a lot of training and commitment, as well as patience and an understanding of the market.

Rising artists should also know that they have chosen one of the hardest careers ever because its chances of success are limited and making a living out of music is even harder worldwide.

Are there any other company projects in the pipeline?

Most of the projects we plan to conduct will be under Ewsal Bel3araby initiative. We want to build a center to teach music and include venues carrying out many live concerts. Other projects will include tours and live concerts. We also plan to implement a five-year plan that will include small venues representing Ewsal Bel3araby in all governorates. These plans will also be in parallel with joint performances with bands and organizing events with other companies.

Earth 19 is another project that The 19th Corporation plans to carry out annually, and it is a music and arts festival organized in collaboration with Earth Gallery in October. The festival will feature a three-day camp including all handmade and eco-friendly materials in an effort to provide awareness and tell people that they can have fun without damaging the environment. It’s a full-on environment-friendly camping experience. The festival will host professional bands and DJs like Massar Egbari, Nagham Masry, Nour Ashour, HOH and MAF. et