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Abu Dhabi, UAESaturday 15 December 2018

Egyptian singer-songwriter Sarah El Gohary is on a career high

She talks about her latest single and signing a ‘win-win’ deal with a major record label after years of ‘bizarre’ recording contract offers

Sarah El Gohary is focusing on singles. Courtesy Sarah El Gohary
Sarah El Gohary is focusing on singles. Courtesy Sarah El Gohary

Sarah El Gohary’s career gives truth to the old adage “build it and they will come”.

The Egyptian singer, who lives in Abu Dhabi, has established herself within the local music scene by way of steady gigs including high-profile festival slots such as Beats on the Beach during the 2014 Abu Dhabi Grand Prix.

Now, after more than a decade of doing it alone, she is set to receive some high-powered help thanks to a signing with Universal Music Mena.

The Dubai-based record label snapped El Gohary up in May after exectives became intrigued when they saw a teaser she dropped for her latest single, High.

Released under her artist name, Gohary, the preview had a series of images of a solemn-looking El Gohary peering at the camera alongside seemingly random images of Japanese dancers and a group of kandura-clad men standing with their arms folded in the desert.

With up to 35,000 Facebook followers behind her, the 30-year-old understandably admits to feeling some trepidation when Universal, a big name in the business, came calling.

“I have been offered some bizarre deals over the years,” she says. “I remember in Egypt I met some companies who said I was not allowed to get married in my contract. Another company placed a one million Egyptian pound [Dh205,591] penalty if I didn’t abide by their rules. Another guy told me I had to lose weight first ... I turned that into a song called Balona.”

With El Gohary already a seasoned songwriter and performer, she praised Universal Music Mena for their guidance and support. She describes the relationship as a "win-win" situation for all involved.

“Because I have been doing it so long by myself I didn’t have to change anything,” she says.

“Also, by the time they signed me up I already shot the video, I already have my own sound and style. Then we joined forces and having them is a great help. By having them they can push my music to more platforms so more people can hear it.”

As they should; the self-funded video for High brims with studied cool. El Gohary’s vibe matches the track’s slinky electro-beat with an arresting staccato vocal style.

The full accompanying video is even more atmospheric, with the artist singing in locations including a desert, a lake and inside the abandoned Ilyushin IL 76 Russian cargo plane located at the old Umm Al Quwain airfield.

While shooting a professional video was always a part of the plan – El Gohary saved for nearly year to fund the project – the choice of song came relatively late.

Her fans are aware that High is actually an old tune El Gohary published on her SoundCloud three years ago.

The dramatic makeover from breezy Arabic pop to club-ready status is attributed to the adventurous production of Talal Qureshi.

“He is actually based in Pakistan and we worked on it long distance,” she says.“A few months ago, I sent him the vocals for this song, just for fun. And then he sent it back to me a few days later with this entirely new production for this song. As soon as the video director Ahmad Samara heard it, he was like, ‘Oh this is it!’”

With High amassing nearly 30,000 views in just over a week, El Gohary is opting to make more stand-alone singles as opposed to recording a debut album.

“I think we are in a time where an album would be unfair to the songs,” she explains. “Judging by the way people are purchasing music and the big stars releasing them, doing a single with video is the way to go. People would listen and pay attention to each song more that way.”

With the new single now available on most music platforms and supported by a label with contacts a mile long, El Gohary hopes her experience is able to push other local artists to take greater control of their work.

She is confident that talent always has a way of being discovered.

“You know what they say, that when you work hard things just come to you? I find that this is my experience,” she says. “I think for me it was always about working hard on my music because that’s what I am passionate about.”

High by El Gohary is out now