Tamino Channels Voices From The Past Into His Debut Album 'Amir' Belgian-Egyptian singer Tamino comes from a long line of musicians and is creating an impressive career of his own by melding together his vocal style with Arab musical theory.

Tamino Channels Voices From His Arabic Heritage Into His Own Eccentric Sound

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When the singer Tamino was a kid, he visited family in Cairo. He found an old guitar once played by his grandfather, Muharram Fouad, who was a famous Egyptian singer decades before.

TAMINO: It was just lying in storage, in a cupboard gathering dust. I didn't play guitar back then, so when I saw that guitar, I immediately knew I wanted to learn how to play the guitar.

SHAPIRO: He did learn. He took that guitar back home to Belgium, honed his singing voice and began writing songs.


TAMINO: (Singing) Yesterday I was a word left with no voice to speak it.

SHAPIRO: Now at 22, he has released his debut album called "Amir." In part, it's an exploration of his grandfather's music and an attempt to experiment with those Arabic musical roots.

TAMINO: My grandfather - he was very poor, and then he was discovered when he was 19. And he starred in this movie called "Hassan And Nayima," which is kind of the "Romeo And Juliet" of Egyptian cinema. And the songs played in that movie became hits not only in Egypt and the whole Arabic world actually.


MUHARRAM FOUAD: (As Hassan, singing in foreign language).

TAMINO: He had a very long career until the '80s. To compare, it's like the Frank Sinatra of Egypt. But he died unfortunately when I was 5, so I don't really have memories of him. I only have his music.


TAMINO: This small orchestra from Brussels called Nagham Zikrayat do these evenings where they play music of famous Arabic musicians.


TAMINO: They wanted to do one of these evenings with his music, and they wanted me to sing. But I don't speak Arabic because I grew up in Belgium. But I returned the question. I asked them if they would want to play on my record, and they did.


TAMINO: (Singing) I crowned the same old passing of time, gave the golden scepter though it was never really mine.

They captured the essence of Arabic music from, like, the '50s and the '60s. We call it the golden age of Arabic music. They add this individuality and charisma in what they are playing, different ad libs and all of that.


TAMINO: (Singing) It has stopped to move me.

String players - they even tune their violins differently.


TAMINO: And we had cassettes of my grandfather. I gave them to a friend of mine. She takes the cassettes, and she makes new sounds with them. You cannot recognize them anymore. But for me, it was symbolically very important that these sounds came from these cassettes that I had all my life.


TAMINO: Recording with this Arabic orchestra was a very conscious decision of course. And adding electronics - that was very conscious also. We really wanted to represent who I am, which is a coming together of all these things.


TAMINO: (Singing) And as the full start tries his best to make the white pearl shine, glances of a new day have arrived.

It's important to study the traditions. And what I'm doing right now is I'm finding that culture again. It is definitely a big emotional step to go back to Egypt. I've been there are a lot of times, but I never play there - so many things that I still have to discover about the country of my father, you know? The language going to be hard. I know it's going to be hard. But the one thing that's not hard is the music. It's the one thing I've always had a connection to. It's the one thing that just feels like it's in me, like a homecoming.


SHAPIRO: That's Belgian-Egyptian singer Tamino. His debut album is called "Amir." Producer Noah Caldwell caught up with him at the South by Southwest music festival.

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