Ahead of the much anticipated mammoth Muzix expo, we sit down with one of its participants, prodigal British-Egyptian producer Funky Pharaoh, who by the age of 17 has already made his mark on the international music scene with a unique sound and an impressive repertoire.
A lifetime can be spent trying to musically make a number one chart topping hit. To achieve this accomplishment decades can be spent perfecting the craft. However, for British-Egyptian Funky Pharaoh this impressive feat was accomplished by the age of 17. From conquering the UK Charts with a hit by Shola Ama, to making Arab Pop stars like Hamaki sound infinitely fresher, the Funky Pharaoh is not a DJ or a one hit wonder, but rather is set to be one of the highlights you won’t want to miss at the much anticipated Muzix expo. Preparing not only an educational workshop but a collaborative live performance with Young Pharoz at Muzix this weekend’s, Funky Pharaoh took time out of his busy schedule to explain his musical journey, his endless pursuit for new sounds, and most importantly what fans can expect from him this weekend at Muzix.
With Egyptian blood, a British mind, and a heart of made of chambers ranging in genres from Arab, House, Funk, Dubstep, and 80’s Electronic, this musical mind was shaped at a very young age. “I started playing music when I was four years old. It started with me playing on a keyboard that was gifted to my sister on her birthday. I really don’t understand it, but somehow I was able to pull melodies out of my head and figure out the notes very quickly.” Almost like a child possessed, the Funky Pharaoh aimlessly developed his ear and his melody-plucking ability until one day he heard Quincy Jones' work on Michael Jackson Bad, an album that would have a long lasting impact inspiring him to explore the world of producing.
As a child who hasn’t even reached his employable teens, building a studio can be tough, but sometimes the key tools can be found in the bottom of a cereal box. “I bought my first drum machine, a Yamaha RY9, at the age of twelve. At the start I was just making beats, but at the time in Britain there was this Kellogg cereal that would include a CD with different kind of software every month. One day I got lucky and found a copy of the Sony Acid software, and that was the beginning of my production,” he tells.
Some artists waste a lifetime in pursuit of finding musical success and creating a track that cracks the billboard charts, but for Funky Pharaoh, that rewarding accomplishment was achieved in his teens with his buddies Ryan and SamiSam who was then known as Pirates. “When I was 14, I finished up my first remix for a Craig David song, and it got dropped out on a White Label. It didn’t give me enough money to keep me out of University, but it made noise around the scene. By the time I was seventeen I had my first number one hit in the official UK charts, a track called You Should Really Know, released by Bad Boy records and Virgin featuring Shola Ama. It was a really proud moment for me, as my track was side by side on the charts with the likes of Duran Duran and Maroon 5,” a proud Funky Pharaoh reminisces.
With a hot track at the top of the UK charts, Funky Pharaoh quickly garnered interest from high profile artist including MTM, Enya, Tinie Tempah, Shola Ama, Sadie Ama, Sisqo, Pitbull, So Solid Crew as well as various Ministry of Sound releases. Despite building an impressive portfolio, Funky Pharaoh became obsessed with forging a new signature sound merging his Egyptian roots with his British style. According to Funky Pharaoh, “I started doing live work, but then I wanted to introduce Arabic music in my life. I have a sound and maybe it was different, or not, but it was readily available in UK. I started wondering what would happen if I took that sound and added Arabic elements. When I told my mates about it, they kept telling me it would never work, but I strongly believed that I could do it in a very cool way. I did a test and gathered a bunch of people and did a 35-minute live House set, chopping Arab elements into it, and people went nuts.”
Carefully constructing a refreshing sound that interlaces Arab sounds with the immediacy of House, Funky Pharaoh's unique mashups and compositions spread beyond UK borders, eventually reaching the ears at Nogoum Records. Interested in enlisting his services, Funky Pharaoh was sent a Hamaki track as a test to see how well he could remix and master a track. “This lead to me landing the first Hamaki remix in 2012 called Nefsy Abaa Gambou. This track was so successful that the head of Nogoum Records contacted me and asked me to come to Egypt and bring my sound as it is, undiluted, unadulterated, and to start producing here,” explains Funky Pharaoh of his decision to work in Egypt.
With a successful remix of one of the biggest names in Egyptian pop scene, Funky Pharaoh arrived to Egypt to find a wide array of talents, ranging from the underground artists to the mainstream superstars looking to enlist his work. Although there is plenty of interest, there is a difference between producing sounds in the West vs the East. “I work the same way no matter where I am, but the major difference in general is that there are more people involved in the Arab world than in the West. When we make a song in the West, the producer makes a beat then gathers up the artists and maybe another song writer and everyone collaborates until the job is done. In the Middle East more people are involved. I as the producer provide the beat, and then a top line composer hums a melody that works with the beat, then a poet is brought to write the lyrics and then a singer comes in to sing it."
Just like DJs are often mistakenly called producers, and producers often mistakenly called sound engineers, Funky Pharaoh explains that the difference is “a mixing or sound engineer is a person who is involved in technical aspects, making what the producer made audible and into a releasable format. A producer is essentially the heart of the project, and is responsible of making the vibe of everything else, from the sounds of the instrument, the styles, where to make the changes and create the signature sound.”
While mastering Hamaki’s new album in London, Funky Pharaoh was approached by Muzix and asked if he would be interested in participating in the very first expo of its kind in Egypt. “I was working on mastering Hamaki’s album in London when Anis from Electrum Records called me about getting involved with Muzix. I agreed to meet with him and totally believed in the idea, because I had attended similar events in UK that were really good and informative.” There is plethora of international music expos/festivals that exponentially grow with every passing year, and yet somehow managed to elude the MENA region. Funky Pharaoh continues saying, “I saw just how beneficial it was for those who hadn’t made it yet, or want to learn how to get into the industry. I thought it was a really good cause, and agreed to do a live, on-stage workshop at Muzix on how to take an idea from your head and make it into a complete song.”
Looking to do more than just provide an educational workshop at Muzix, Funky Pharaoh is eager to demonstrate the difference between DJs and live Electronic performers, planning to do a live collaborative performance with up and coming rap troupe Young Pharoz. According to Funky Pharaoh, “There is an Egyptian Hip Hop band called Young Pharoz, who were Arab X Factor finalists - we did a song together and at Muzix we will do a quick showcase performance showing how bands can perform with live Electronic performers, while highlighting why Electronic performers are different than DJs.”
Any producer in the world will tell you that the most insulting label you can call them is to refer to them as a DJ. Clarifying the difference Funky Pharaoh highlights that “DJs are basically someone who plays one track to the next. If they are a turntablist then they may incorporate scratching or cutting. As a live electronic performer, what I do is bring in original live session that I have created of drums, vocals, synths, and mix them all together live. I can start playing piano solos or make new beats on the spot,” explain Funky Pharaoh adding, “Whenever you see me perform live you will only hear it once, because I won’t remember how to do it again because it is completely spontaneous between me and reading the crowd.”
Although he mixes in his own compositions, the key to making a crowd lose their minds often happens in the art of mashups. “My thought process is different than others as I look at all these parts like they were Lego pieces and try to find the best way to make them fit. Sometimes I will take Deep House track, mix in a James Brown bass line, add Michael Jackson vocals on top, and have Abdel Halim’s strings running through all of it. Mashup are all about the element of surprise, and when you can surprise the crowd by mashing in a song they love but didn’t see coming, that is when you get the reaction you live for as a performer; it’s like an adrenaline rush whenever that happens,” explains Funky Pharaoh.
When he isn’t on the Muzix stage educating and performing, Funky Pharaoh as a confessed gear head will spend the weekend perusing the expo and searching for new toys. “The value of the expo aspect of Muzix is in the advice you receive from the vendors themselves. You may not leave buying something, but you will definitely learn something new, especially at the Focus Media Group Booth, as these are guys are experts in the field and can point out the minute, yet helpful differences between a variety of gear,” Funky Pharaoh proclaims.
With a massive and diverse Muzix schedule planned, the Funky Pharaoh points out that he is most interested in seeing the debate about whether ‘DJs are Musicians’, checking out award winning sound engineer Mohamed Sakr's workshop on Mastering, and watching his good friend Amir Farag demonstrating the power of the Maschine. These are but a few examples demonstrating how diverse the Muzix program this weekend will be. Whether you are looking to enter the industry or impact it like Funky Pharaoh, Muzix will be the first step you need to take before embarking on your own musical journey. As for the Funky Pharaoh his path is already paved, and if you haven’t heard of him yet, expect that you will as already he is upping the sound of music in the Arab world on his personal mission of forging a new Arab sound that all Egyptians and global music lovers can appreciate it.
To learn more about Funky Pharaoh click here.
For a chance to win two Traktors from Muzix click here
To stay up to date with the latest details from this growing expo visit Muzix at their official website or Facebook, or check out their new YouTube Channel hosting videos of artists who will be attending the event as well as demonstration of them using their favourite musical gear.
Photography by Ahmed Najeeb.