Ali El-Saudi, a young Egyptian man living in Dubai, works as a lawyer in a multinational company. Until very recently he was a big fan of Amr Diab’s music, but he’s not anymore.
Andeel: Do you remember the first song you heard by Amr Diab?
Or something else from the same era.
Andeel: Can you remember how you felt about it at the time?
Andeel: When did you find out about Amr Diab? And what did you think of the way he looked?
Ali El-Saudi: I could recognize him by the time I was almost six… At the time I had no favorite singer, no favorite music genre —
At that time Amr Diab was the exact opposite of those guys, in everything, even the way he looked.
Ali El-Saudi: And it was very easy to understand the lyrics of his songs, unlike Fairouz or Oum Kalthoum or Mohamed Mounir.
Andeel: Do you remember the first time you bought an Amr Diab tape?
Ali El-Saudi: Of course.
Andeel: Which one?
Ali El-Saudi: Nour al-Ain (1996).
At this point Amr Diab became my top favorite singer in Egypt and the whole world.
It was the beginning of my faith.
Andeel: How much was it?
Ali El-Saudi: I think it was LE7.
Andeel: Did you save up to buy it?
Ali El-Saudi: Don’t ask where I got the money!
Ali El-Saudi: I really don’t remember.
What matters is that I really enjoyed that album in my underwear throughout the whole summer.
Andeel: Have you ever copied something off Amr Diab? Dress sense, hairdo or…
Ali El-Saudi: Yes… I once bought a shirt that looked like the one he wore in the Allim Alby poster.
I saw the shirt by chance, and I wouldn’t have bought it if it didn’t look like Amr Diab’s.
Andeel: Apparently, starting from Nour al-Ain, Amr Diab started to monsterize — according to your uncle Ibrahim’s expression. Why do you think that happened?
Ali El-Saudi: Why did I think it happened at the time? Or why do I now think it happened?
Ali El-Saudi: Let’s agree on something.
For me Amr Diab went through three main phases.
First phase, the pre-Nour Al-Ain phase, was the PR phase.
At that time he was very real —
Or let’s say seemed real.
A struggler, relatively different,
Very smart with his choices.
Ali El-Saudi: The monstrous phase,
in which he just presented high quality commercial music — Nour Al-Ain till Allim Alby.
In the monstrous phase, despite the fact that his music was very commercial, he still had some respect for his audience.
Andeel: But you were more attached to him during the monstrous phase, right?
Ali El-Saudi: Right… But maybe that was because I wasn’t yet a grown-up, with sexual urges.
Can you see a connection between Amr Diab’s music and sex?
Ali El-Saudi: The first time I had sex with a non-Egyptian woman she wanted me to play an Amr Diab song and turn the lights off.
Ali El-Saudi: Amr Diab’s songs are associated with places.
Andeel: If Amr Diab had the same voice and made the same choices but looked like Mohamed Mohie, would he have had the same success?
Ali El-Saudi: No… He wouldn’t have been successful!
Andeel: And if Mohamed Mohie, with the same choices and voice, looked like Amr Diab, would he have been more successful?
Ali El-Saudi: He would have been more successful than how he is right now… But he wouldn’t be in Amr Diab’s position.
Andeel: What is your mom’s favorite song by Amr Diab?
Ali El-Saudi: Tamally Maak.
Andeel: Why do you think she likes it?
Ali El-Saudi: It was a nice song… And at that time he wasn’t that exaggerated in the way he looked, his body, or with his money.
Andeel: Do Amr Diab songs make you think of money?
Ali El-Saudi: Now, yes.
Andeel: And before?
Ali El-Saudi: No!
Andeel: When you see his elegant shiny pictures in which he looks like a rich person, or hear the rumors about him owning an elevator for his car etc.,
Have you ever fantasized about having more money or imagined a happier life while listening to him?
Ali El-Saudi: Only lately,
When I started remembering his age and looking at photos of him.
Andeel: Until very recently you used to really like him and you defended him against criticism. How do you feel about him now?
Ali El-Saudi: I really hate him…
Andeel: When did the transformation begin?
Ali El-Saudi: My love for Amr Diab started reducing since the Al-Lailady album.
Andeel: For totally musical reasons?
Ali El-Saudi: For musical reasons first,
But right after the revolution it turned into hatred.
Andeel: Before you talk about the revolution, I want you to tell me in more detail how you started liking his songs less from a musical perspective.
Ali El-Saudi: The quality of the songs (which are still commercial) went down. They are now made more carelessly.
Repetitive melodies, weak lyrics.
However, I still like one or two songs in every album. There’s also another factor I can’t deny. Every year I change, and my taste consequently changes. I mean, my interests at 18 are not the same when I’m 28.
Andeel: What’s the song you liked most on the latest album?
Ali El-Saudi: Gamalooh (His Beauty) was the only one I felt tolerable, but it wasn’t amazing either.
And on the album before that, there was Andi So’al (I Have a Question).
Andeel: What happened with the revolution?
Ali El-Saudi: What happened during the revolution for me and many people,
was a sudden and intense interest in politics,
and an aversion to many things related to pre-revolution Egypt, including Amr Diab.
Interests changed, new and different music appeared, with new topics that are closer to the new reality.
Ali El-Saudi: Like the independent music that recently spread.
Hamza Namera, for example.
Andeel: During Amr Diab’s Dubai concert, the audience requested Raseef Nemra 5 (Platform no. 5), and during an improv session, Diab made fun of the song’s lyrics, saying that he still couldn’t understand the meaning behind it.
What did you think of that scene?
Ali El-Saudi: I’m not shocked. Amr Diab was never an intellectual, he never claimed to be one.
He just knows how to sing… And lately even that he has willfully abandoned .
Andeel: But much of his audience loves this song in particular, and are fond of the lyrics, which are quite revolutionary. It tells the story of poverty, injustice, consumerism and capitalism quite bluntly.
Ali El-Saudi: It’s from a film I really love.
The fact that Amr Diab doesn’t understand the lyrics or the film doesn’t make the film bad.
Just like Shaaban Abdel Raheem in Mowaten wa Mokhber wa Harami (A Citizen, an Informant and a Thief, a 2001 film by Daoud Abdel Sayed).
Andeel: Do you really think he doesn’t understand what it means? Or are there other reasons why he might be claiming that now?
Ali El-Saudi: It’s the first time I’ve thought about it this way…
Of course there are reasons that make him claim not to understand it, because he represents everything contradictory to the meaning of the song.
But actually not understanding the meaning is still a very real possibility.
Andeel: In that same song, there’s a bit that describes the city and its shapes, where he sings “Old movies and a Coca-Cola ad.”
After Amr Diab signed a contract with Pepsi, he changed the words to “Old movies and a Pepsi ad,” and even he changed it again when he signed with a water company.
What do you think of that?
Ali El-Saudi: It’s a very funny story.
Amr Diab has become a commercial project.
Like Pepsi itself.
Andeel: Can you remember what directly follows that bit in the song?
Ali El-Saudi: “You do business to live till the end of your days, and if they sell a chicken you make commission.”
Andeel: When you see bands like Cairokee appearing on Coca-Cola ads or making a move toward commercialism, how does that make you feel?
Ali El-Saudi: I’m not against anyone who makes ads.
And I’m not against making money.
I myself work to make money,
like anyone else.
But Amr Diab has become one of those artists who turn themselves into commodities,
not an artist who’s promoting a commodity.
Andeel: When you used to like Amr Diab, did you hate Tamer Hosny?
Ali El-Saudi: A lot.
I still hate him
with a passion.
Ali El-Saudi: But when it comes to music quality now, Diab is no different from Tamer at all.
I hate Tamer for reasons related to music alone.
Andeel: That’s all?
Ali El-Saudi: And for other reasons that have nothing to do with any competition with Amr Diab.
Both make commercial music.
But to be honest, even the quality of shit used to be different.
Now they’re mostly on the same level. The songs of both are irritating.
What’s the Amr Diab song that bothers you the most?
Ali El-Saudi: Many of them.
But the latest one for example from the new album is Ana mesh Anani (I’m Not Selfish).
Andeel: What do you think he listens to when he’s driving or on his spare time?
Ali El-Saudi: I think he listens to very little music
And listens to commercial house music at the gym.
Andeel: If Amr Diab bought a book, what would it be?
Ali El-Saudi: He doesn’t buy books at all…
And I can’t picture him reading, not even slightly.
Andeel: If by coincidence or necessity a book attracted him, what could it possibly be about?
Ali El-Saudi: A book on Enrique Iglesias.
Oh my God.
Andeel: Do you think he’ll read this interview?
Ali El-Saudi: I hope so.
Andeel: What will he think about it?
Ali El-Saudi: He’ll think my opinion doesn’t matter.
Ali El-Saudi: Amr Diab is one of the things that has tricked me most in life.
Just like how I used to think Rana Zahran was the most beautiful girl in the world.
Andeel: Are you happy now?
Ali El-Saudi: I’m trying.
Andeel: Thank you very much.
Ali El-Saudi: Can I tell him a few last words?
Andeel: Be my guest.
Ali El-Saudi: Can you retire, like, 12 years ago, dear artist?