Egyptian singer and composer Dina El Wedidi has taken another important step onto the world stage with the release of her first album, Turning Back, on 24 October in Egypt. The album will be released at the end of October in Europe and at the end of November in the United States.
Turning Back features one folklore Egyptian song and 10 original songs, written over a period of six years, with some honed under the guidance of Gilberto Gil. The internationally renowned Brazilian singer-songwriter was El Wedidi’s mentor in the 2012-2013 cycle of the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative. Gil also performs one song with her on the album.
During the mentoring period, El Wedidi continuously studied Gil’s technique and process in preparation for her future album: “Gilberto Gil influenced me in many ways over the year we worked together,” says El Wedidi. “Even though he wasn’t directly involved with the album except for the one song, he was influential in that he taught me how to deal indirectly with many aspects of song-making and producing. Gilberto’s song, with a theme about the night, ties in with the rest of the album.”
In keeping with El Wedidi’s interest in connecting politics with art and music, the songs on the album mostly have social and political themes that reflect the recent period of great change in Egypt. “It is not a political CD, however. So, it should not have any political repercussions,” she says. Some of the songs reflect the situation in Egypt, some are personal and social things that I wanted to mention in my first album.” They are generally optimistic though, says El Wedidi, who explains that she composes songs – sometimes using an Egyptian percussion instrument without strings called a daf – when the music comes to her. “I compose the music, but not the lyrics, which come from various Egyptian writers,” she says.
“Technically, we worked with several guest artists with different styles and different backgrounds such as Mazaher, an Egyptian traditional singing troupe. Integrating their voices into the album was a worthwhile challenge. I believe that challenges are a good motivation and good exercises to take you to the next level in your life and career.”
Though from different cultures, El Wedidi and Gil found that they had the language of music in common, along with similarly creating songs with political overtones. Egyptian Bossa Nova, a title combining both of their backgrounds, was the song they put together for London’s Back2Back Festival in 2012. This was the beginning of their journey over a year in which they travelled to the United States, to the famous Montreux Jazz festival, and visited each other’s country. “I have to admit that the trip to Brazil to record with Gilberto Gil, having sessions with him in Cairo, in fact, the entire process was full of adventures and exploring and the source of interesting stories,” expounds El Wedidi.
“I am still in touch with my mentor and keep him informed about my news and things that happen to me in the music world. I follow his website and check his concert schedule, with the idea that I could visit one of his concerts soon. Overall, his participation on my first album is the biggest gift he could have given me,” she proclaims.
For Gilberto Gil, El Wedidi is “a new-born star”. Her new album Turning Back should further secure her place in the firmament.