Sadness with a straight back: a conversation with Tamino

When 21-year-old Belgian-Egyptian artist Tamino (born Tamino Moharam Fouad) emerged last year with his debut single Habibi, we were immediately taken back by the richness of his voice. He carries with him a sense of experience it takes most artists years to develop.

So we caught up with Tamino to chat about his upcoming debut album, the influence of Arabic music, and the importance of not attaching yourself to any one place.

I think music should connect people“: Shortly before he releases his debut album, we caught up with Tamino for a chat.

HAPPY: So you’re just about to drop your debut full-length album Amir… are there any nerves or apprehensions?

TAMINO: Not really nervous, but definitely excited. I’m really happy. It’s an album without any compromise… it’s exactly what I wanted it to be. So I feel very ready and confident about it.

HAPPY: It’ll be the follow-up to your Habibi EP… how different was it for you piecing together a full-length record to an EP? If at all…

TAMINO: Well we recorded the EP and the album in the same run of recordings… it was the same producers, the same elements were used… that’s also why I put the songs from the EP on the album as well. For me, I just wrote a bunch of songs and we decided which ones should be on the album. It was a very natural, organic process.

HAPPY: Is the full-length album just an extension of the EP? Or does it sit as its own separate entity now?

TAMINO: Well I think it was always the plan to have all these songs together, you know? The EP songs were just the first ones we finished. The EP songs are a bit older than the other songs on the album… for instance, with Habibi, I think I wrote this song when I was eighteen years old. So I had already recorded those for the very first EP which never came out internationally… I found it very important to re-record these songs, and to get the full potential out of them.

HAPPY: Yeah right, because when you emerged with your debut single, you emerged with this really developed idea of your sound… how long had this project been in the works before then?

TAMINO: Yeah, I think I started writing songs when I was fourteen… but I was mainly playing in bands. Then when I was seventeen, I finished high-school, then I moved to Amsterdam and studied music. So maybe from that moment, I spent a lot of time by myself in Amsterdam writing a lot of songs and performing under my own name, my real name Tamino. So maybe from that moment on I just wrote a lot of songs, and by playing them live, I knew which ones I felt most comfortable with… and then I wanted to start recording these songs, and then it all just started happening.

HAPPY: Did it take you a while to settle on your current sound? Or is that something you’ve been quite sure of for a while?

TAMINO: Yeah I think it’s always been a process, you know? When I write a song… I can’t really force anything out of a song that isn’t already there. This is something that is like an organic evolution… I can’t really push it in another way, even if I wanted to. It’s more like a conscious evolution. Definitely in the making of this new album, I learned so much about production and recording, and how to explain my vision in more technical terms. For me, what was very important, was that this album is very big. It’s very important that when you listen, you have an open vision, not a claustrophobic vision.

A lot of singer-songwriters found that if they recorded their album into a small room with a shitty guitar and a glass of whiskey, singing about how much their life sucks… and for me, even though there is a lot of sadness in my songs, I wanted it to be sadness with a straight back…. a grandeur, you know? I see this in Arabic music a lot. They rip their heart out. They sing about a lot of sad things, they sing about heartache, but they always do it with a straight back… always with pride.

HAPPY: It’s interesting the influence of Arabic music… because your grandfather was quite a well known Arabic musician, right?


HAPPY: Could you tell us a bit about who your grandfather was, and the impact he’s had on your music?

TAMINO: Yeah, so he was a famed singer and actor from Egypt. If Hollywood wanted to make a movie out of him, they could really easily make a movie out of him. He started from total poverty, living on the street as a kid… he got thrown out of the house when he was very young. He’d work during the day and play music at night. He went to the Conservatory of Cairo when he was fourteen, and he finished when he was eighteen… and he still didn’t have any money. Then suddenly, he was discovered somewhere – some nightclub where he was singing – then became the biggest star of Egypt.

I knew him when I was very young, but I don’t really remember. He died when I was about five years old. He had an amazing voice, amazing charisma, and a big passion for music. He has definitely been an influence… but so has a lot of other things. It was mainly my Mum who showed me music when I was younger… she showed me classical music, Arabic music, Jazz, but also the great singer-songwriters from the Western world, like John Lennon or Tom Waits. So I mean, maybe it’s helped me to be able to listen to music without any boundaries. I like to know where things come from… to know the history. I don’t really like to think in boundaries. I take inspiration from so many things… from music, from literature, from movies, from whatever.

HAPPY: You’re now based in Antwerp… what’s the music scene like over there?

TAMINO: I don’t think there really is a music scene, necessarily. Even though there are a lot of great people making music in Antwerp, I don’t think there’s anything like that going on here. I love this city and I love living here, but I don’t feel a connection to any scene. I’m from a mixed heritage, so I feel like more of a world citizen… to use that cliché. I’m very happy to be here for a week, but normally I’m never here. I’m either on tour, or out somewhere on promo. I actually see more musicians from other countries than I do from Antwerp.

HAPPY: The reason I ask, is because most artists seem to establish a following in their local scene before cracking it elsewhere…


HAPPY: However you seem to have skipped that phase of your career. Why do you think that is?

TAMINO: Well you know, I had a good year in Belgium last year. I got to play some really cool festivals, and I’ve got to build a really big audience here. But I guess I’ve never really felt Belgian, because I’m not. I’m not really nationalistic, or interested in linking myself to one particular country. It was always very interesting for me to play music in many different parts of the world… just because I think music should connect people, and if I can do this in multiple parts of the world, then that’s the best thing for me. That’s really what makes me happy.

Tamino’s debut album Amir is available Friday October 19th.