Egyptian composer Omar Khairat has a talent of a special kind. His music is characterized by softness and fluidity. He is known for adding an Egyptian taste to global classical music, creating a harmonious mixture that no one else could create.
Daily News Egypt interviewed the renowned composer to learn about his journey with music and cinema. He also recalled his memories with late actress Faten Hamama and filmmaker Youssef Chahine.
How was your musical conscience formed?
I was in the first batch that joined the Conservatoire Institute in 1959. I benefited greatly from this stage due to the multiplicity of interests in different music types from the West and the East. I loved both. I studied the works of Beethoven and Mozart, as well as Al-Sunbati, Abdel Wahab, Umm Kulthum, and Abdel Halim.
I was also influenced by my uncle Abu Bakr Khairat, the founder of the Conservatoire Institute. He was one of the pioneers of symphonic music in Egypt, as he composed the first Egyptian symphony. He also laid the cornerstone for the Academy of Arts, assigned by late president Gamal Abdel Nasser and then minister of culture Tharwat Okasha.
Music for my uncle was a message he inherited from his father, Mahmoud Khairat, who was also a prodigy in music, painting, and translation. The atelier, where he used to paint, was a meeting place for famous artists and public figures, such as Sayed Darwish. I learned from my uncle to give a special character to my musical compositions. That’s why his works are still alive.
Did your grandfather have a hand in the family’s interest in arts?
My grandfather Mahmoud Khairat was a poet, lawyer, musician, and painter. Critics said he was the first to write a novel about a female villager, 12 years before Mohamed Hussein Heikal’s Zaynab novel. He taught his children music at home. Our house was a permanent salon for great thinkers and artists such as Moustafa Reda, Al-Manfaluti, and Mahmoud Mukhtar.
Your grandfather wrote an opera. Why didn’t you present it?
My grandfather and uncle wrote an opera in Arabic, but their work was not completed. This type of art requires huge effort, time, and budget to finish it. In addition, Egyptian and Arab peoples are accustomed to Umm Kulthum, Abd Al-Wahhab, Farid al-Atrash, and Abdel Halim, so it was difficult to produce an Arabic opera.
You said Arab peoples are accustomed to traditional songs of Umm Kulthum and others, but you presented global classical music. Did you worry about the people’s reaction?
No… I did not worry about it at all. Actually, I was very excited because this was what I loved and learned. Thankfully, the Egyptian and Arab peoples received my music well.
Your concerts are always sold out. Does that add pressure on you?
Pressure never ends. Artists will always be worried about the audience’s reaction. No matter how many concerts I have performed, I am still anxious before every concert.
I have had a goal since I chose this career, which is to elevate music and artistic sense, especially that our people love songs rather than only music.
How would you like to be referred to; an international or Egyptian artist?
I have a lot of achievements abroad, but I prefer to be called an Egyptian artist. Egypt is my people, my family, and my country.
You always work with a selective group of singers, why?
I prefer singers with unique talent and strong vocal abilities, such as Ali El-Haggar, Mohamed Mounir, Mohamed El-Helw, Medhat Saleh, and others. El-Haggar was the first singer I worked with. He is also the singer I have worked with the most. He has a strong and melodious voice. He understands music and our cooperation was fruitful. I also worked with many female singers, such as Angham, Latifa, Amal Maher, and Reham Abdel Hakim.
Have any of Egypt’s pop music stars, like Amr Diab, Tamer Hosni, or Hamaki, ever asked you to work with them?
No, it has never happened.
What do you think of the current music scene?
Currently, the success of some new songs may last for one or two months. However, only strong and valuable songs will eventually attract the people because their value remains.
Has your music production ever been affected by your busy schedule of concerts?
I like performing concerts because they have many advantages, especially in the opera house. The chemistry that occurs between me and the audience is extraordinary and beautiful.
I focus now on composing music, which is by the way more difficult than composing songs. However, when I find good lyrics, I will return to song composition. I have worked hard over the past years and now it is time to harvest my work.
You composed soundtracks of many films, which one of them you like the most?
I like Sherif Arafa’s films, such as Al-Jazeera and Walad Al-Am. We traveled to London to record the latter film’s soundtracks which were performed by the London Orchestra. I also like the films of Youssef Chahine.
You said that your first soundtrack was in “The Night of Fatma’s Arrest” series, although your actual beginning in this field was in “Who Killed This Love?” film, why?
I love all my works equally, but I consider “The Night of Fatma’s Arrest” as my real beginning, not to mention that the series starred Faten Hamama, who basically introduced me to the film industry. So I see this series as my eldest son. It was a very important stage in my life.
How can the film’s soundtrack translate its atmosphere?
By adapting the music to speak in the film’s own language and theme in each scene. The soundtrack is the musical equivalent of the story.
You composed the soundtracks of four documentaries only. Why did you stop?
I am proud of these films, especially the ones of Al-Qubba, Al-Tahira, and Ras El-Tin palaces, which I call “the trilogy”, but unfortunately, the offered documentaries now are not up to par.
How do you define the stages of musical development in your career?
The stages of musical composition in my life are like a human being’s. It has childhood, youth, and adulthood, and each stage has its own splendour. I love and respect them all. I always remember them and thank God I was able to reach this level.
As for the current stage, it is very sensitive and requires more focus. I am waiting to present something that suits this stage in my life and artistic career because what I presented during the last stage was crowned with success and I am satisfied with the work I have done.
Your musical compositions have a lot of spirituality, why?
This is because I grew up in a religious atmosphere, and this is a gift from God to express what is inside me in this spiritual way.
Have you considered composing Sufi music?
I have already composed Sufi music of the “Al-Hallaj” play a long time ago, but it still lives in people’s conscience, as well as my other works that I presented more than 40 years ago. I am currently thinking of presenting a Sufi work during the coming period.
How would you describe your work experience with Youssef Chahine?
In fact, he was one of the greatest artists I have ever worked with, and he had great artistic energy. He was very interested in music. Working with him was fun. I remember that during the filming of the Sixth Day film, he asked me to play drums while he danced in front of me to give me a sense of the scene that I was going to make its soundtrack.
How do you see Egypt now?
Everything that happens now in Egypt is for a better future. We have been through a lot to preserve our country and its regional value. Long live Egypt and I love President Al-Sisi very much.
How do you see the awards you have received?
Honours are very important to the artist. For me, I felt that my work was well valued by the audience, which pushed me for more work and giving. Thankfully, I have received many awards for my musical works in many films.
What are your upcoming cinematic projects?
I am currently preparing for a film by director Sherif Arafa.