Too shy to sing in front of others, Shereen Abdo didn’t hit the stage until she was 25-years-old. Once you’ve bore witness to the sheer power and beauty of her voice – you’ll struggle to understand why.
Abdo was a writer first, starting her career behind the scenes as a music journalist. A path that eventually opened her eyes to the art world and under belly of the music industry, and ultimately led her to her rightful destination as a full-fledged musician.
Naturally, the road was bumpy. Abdo was yet to discover her personal style. She toured the region with legendary Lebanese composer Ziad Rahbani and joined a handful of bands with varying styles. Four years later, she finally settled into her own rhythm, creating and leading two of her own projects: Hay, and Jazzy Me— a series of music events running through some of Cairo’s liveliest music venues.
“You can think of Hay as my passion project”, she says before adding that she’s been working the project for the better part of the last two years, with over an hour’s worth of original tracks featuring her own compositions, her own lyrics, and a few adaptations of Egyptian folklore melodies.
Her work stays true to the roots of Arab music. With a voice comparable to the likes of Leila Murad and Naget El Saghira, Abdo is well on her way to redefine the newest wave of Arab music, in the same way those voices defined the sound of their generation.
But Abdo sets herself apart from run-of-the-mill musicians by fusing classic Arab sounds with some of her favourite genres—ultimately falling somewhere between folk, jazz and rock.
“I grew up listening to a weird mix of stuff,” she says, “my childhood was spent listening to everything from classic Arabic, like old school Om Kolthoum, and Abdel Waheb, to Farid Darwish and the Backstreet Boys”
“And now I’m a huge metalhead,” she adds, “I’d say my idols range from Sting to Cheb Khaled”. A listen to some of Abdo’s tracks quickly reveals her influences. Her song Bokra is equal parts classical Arabic and rock. Likewise, the track Mawal Meen embodies the spirit of jazz, yet simultaneously maintains a classic Arabic quality.
But most central to her music is the words. Abdo writes exclusively in Arabic, with her lyrics mostly focussed on mental health—a subject we both agreed needs to be more widely discussed in the Arab world.
What is most admirable about Abdo is her dedication and determination to widen the scope of Arabic music. “It seems like everyone uses the same small dictionary when making music” she says before emphasising that she’s devoutly interested in mental health. “We’re all trying to maintain our sanity and humanity in the daily processes of survival. I talk about depression. I try to somehow show all sides of it—its manic aspects, the emotions and sensitivity that come with it, and the love and attachment”.
As of right now, Shereen is continuing to work on her projects Hay, and Jazzy Me, making we well-deserved mark in the Arab music scene, and we can’t wait to see what else she’s got in store.
Photography by Ashraf Hamed, Cairo Zoom