Tamino, as a fascinating musician of mixed heritage - Egyptian, Lebanese and Belgian - blends traditional Middle Eastern soundscapes with contemporary rock, occasionally also moonlighting as a fashion model. His debut LP entitled 'Amir' was recorded with the Belgium based Nagham Zikrayat (meaning musical nostalgia in Arabic) Orchestra. Largely made up of refugees of Arabic heritage, the orchestra adds the drama of its traditional acoustic and classical Arabic sounds to an album that revolves around themes of youthful love, loss and beauty. The deluxe version of the acclaimed 'Amir' dropped this October.
Having already performed an NPR Tiny Desk set and been personally invited by self confessed fan Lana Del Rey to open at a show in Dublin, all the signs are pointing towards Tamino becoming a huge international star.
Speaking on the orchestra, he says that “the people I worked with were some of the most loving, warm and hard-working musicians I’ve ever worked with. They really felt the music and they were all very enthusiastic and kind. Some of them had lost everything, it was so inspiring and humbling to see how one can keep going in the face of all that and keep on being passionate when so much has been taken from you.”
Merely as a virtue of who he is, Tamino is bringing the sounds of Middle Eastern people who have overcome adversity into the ears of western listeners, along with other influences ranging from John Lennon, Radiohead, Soundgarden, Kendrick Lamar all the way through to traditional Arabic tunes and Belgian bands like Balthazar.
“At (Middle Eastern) concerts, there were always people coming up to me afterwards saying ‘that is important’. They say it because it’s a representation of worlds coming together and they find that important because they don’t see it much.”
His songwriting takes inspiration from literature – “a story can be as real and can mean more to someone than something real. It can teach us so much. I like to read books that a lot of people have read just to have the reference points when people are talking about them, but I also like to find these little treasures that no one’s really talking about. One of my favourite books is the Unbearable Lightness of Being by Kundera, which is a very known book but I love that book.”
He ethuses about The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran, saying it “was quite life changing, especially if you grow up without scripture and suddenly you have this book that’s full of wisdom without telling you, ‘if you’re naughty you go to hell.’ It’s just beautiful the way he does it."
"Beauty is life when life unveils her holy face, but you are life and you are the veil. Beauty is eternity gazing at itself in the mirror, but you are eternity and you are the mirror" - this excerpt from The Prophet eloquently captures the spiritual element of Tamino's lyricism and the way his well-read perspective quietly filters into his musical output.
"It’s not like these words come from a very disciplined monk that lives upon a hill maintaining this healthy lifestyle for all of his life. It comes from someone who’s gone through all that (difficulty) himself and tries to better his own life. It sounds like he has it together but no, not really.”
Tamino’s preternatural vocals are the result of much hard work as well as his heritage, and he ensures both are well maintained. ‘With my voice I can’t eat certain foods or go out and do crazy things after the show because we have to focus on the next show. I’m very disciplined."
His first form of creativity was acting but when he fell for music he felt it was very separate. “For me at least music is not about acting or portraying someone else, it’s more about getting to know and showing different dimensions or layers of you, of intensity as well. Sometimes people ask me ‘on stage are you never acting?’ But I would say it’s an intenser version of me on stage, which is sometimes easy to reach and sometimes difficult, like when the energy isn’t really there.”
His deep voice has an elusive, soothing quality – perhaps the best word to describe it would be mellifluous, a sweet, smooth sound. In an interview with NileFM he tells a story of a girl with autism who was moved to tears for the first time at the end of a performance of Habibi (or my love in Arabic.)
Sometimes when he performs he gets so lost in the music it’s like watching a mystic, in time with some divine rhythm. “Those are the good concerts, when that happens.”
He says his performances are “very interactive because I am very sensitive to whatever the energy of the crowd is. I feel if the energy is flowing and we are exchanging energies of warmth and kindness then the show is better, and we all go home with a great feeling.” He wants his concerts to bring diverse people together and be a place for free expression. There is a problem in the culture of celebrity where the performer is seen as other, but Tamino seems eager for the audience to feel they are on the same level, sharing one experience together.
“In terms of singing along it’s not a necessity, if they do it then I’m happy, but there have been occasions where people sang along a bit too enthusiastically (laughs), I would say, in a small venue and it was even louder than my singing, so that was quite distracting. But each has their own way of expressing themselves.”
The music video for Tummy shows how aware of the pitfalls of fame he is – “sometimes the attention becomes too much. It’s a metaphor for what the life of an artist is like.”
But he sees it all with a sense of humour. On shooting the video he said “it was very funny. Actually we had a lot of fun doing that one. I find it to be a music video with a lot of humour in it. It’s subtle and it’s a bit weird humour but I really like it. Just me in the gold paint I think is a very funny image for example. I never thought I would do that, it had to have some sort of comedic quality.”
When asked if he feels the need to hold anything back from his audience, “I guess you have to be wary of some things, because nowadays you have a direct line to your fans, which is social media. You can pretty much post anything you want to post, I could post a picture of me and family having Christmas dinner but I don’t really want to do that.”
“If you show a lot of your very personal life to people then you will attract more people who are really interested in the personal lives of artists, while if you don’t do that and it’s more about the content you’re bringing, the songs or whatever you’re making then you will attract people who are not really interested in you as a person but you as a creator. I guess it’s that you have to really get to know what you’re comfortable with, be true to that and stick to that, I think then everything is fine.”
He works closely with his photographer brother Ramy, who creates much of the art to match Tamino’s work. “I’m quite lucky with my brother because it’s not easy to have a lot of content and imagery that you’re content with, it’s not a given that happens easily. He understood my world. I must say I was quite amazed with the first music video we did, Cigar. He was like 17 and he was directing everyone, it was crazy. I was, of course, scared like ‘ah we’ve never done this before, he’s 17’ you know, but it all went really well.”
When asked what advice he would give to aspiring artists, he said, “the best advice is always to get to know and work from what you’re good at. Be true to that, be true to yourself, it’s a cliche but it’s really important. Because if you get attention and people start working with you, more people will have their own things going on and they will want to maybe use you, not in a bad way, but they just want to reach their own goals with you. So, you have to be very wary that what you’re doing is still your own life, your own dreams, that it’s still your path and that you’re not fulfilling someone else’s dream.”
“Because there’s a lot of people that will push and pull, you have to stand your ground and be very aware of what you want. There are so many distractions, especially with social media it can be quite overwhelming. Lots of people come to me and say ‘I don’t know where to start, I’m not into Instagram.’ ‘Well, what are you into?’ ‘I’m into Tumblr.’ ‘Use Tumblr then.’ Then that’s your way of talking to people, of communicating to your fans, and they will find you for sure. So create your own little universe and be comfortable in that. You will notice what happens then will feel good.”
Apart from occasional sponsored posts, Tamino’s Instagram account is all him. On using social media he said, “I had to find the fun in it, it can be quite fun actually. There are no rules. There is a power in how you decide what you want to show, it doesn’t have to be a lot. Just make sure people can find you and that your world is clear, if it’s another way of understanding you better and getting to know you a little bit better as an artist then it’s perfect. That’s how I try to do it, sometimes it’s still a pain in the ass." He laughs. "Oh yeah, I had this great thing happen, oh yeah now I have to post about it as a second thought, I hate that that’s my second thought instead of just enjoying that moment. That’s how it is.”
He’s now taking a much earned break from touring, but is optimistic about having a long and fruitful career. “I’m very aware there are ups and downs, it’s not going to be a steady line all of the time, but I’m looking forward to all of that.”
Count us in. In the meantime, you can listen to the Deluxe version of Amir and if you'd like to hear more about Tamino or the Nagham Zikrayat Orchestra from me find me on Twitter.