Dokkan: On the Possibilities and Difficulties of Performing Instrumental Music

Cairo-based band Dokkan is one of those few contemporary bands that concentrates on performing instrumental music in which the instruments tell their own stories.

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Credit: Fouad el-Batraw

Tarek El Azhary and Omar Magdy first met at the Oshtoora Music and Arts Festival in 2015. The Oshtoora festival is an initiative in which the festival is a space where musicians and audience alike are able to meet, exchange ideas and collaborate on different projects. After a couple of meetings, they decided to start a music project together. This is how Dokkan was born, later Naeyr Osama and Mohamed El Mallawany joined their project. They know each other from different other music projects. Even though instrumental bands struggle sometimes to find a large audience for their music, Dokkan is self-confident enough to continue composing instrumental songs, and creating their own soundscape.

The term Dokkan means in Arabic little shop, and they came up with the idea of the name because it is easy and catchy. Omar Magdy is the guitarist of Dokkan, and experimental instrumental music is what drew him along with the other band members to make this band a reality. He has been playing the guitar for around 12 years, and this instrument gave him the opportunity to express himself artistically.

„I’ve always had a passion for music, but I can’t really say it was my decision to play music professionally, it’s more accurate to say that I kept listening and playing and somewhere along the line I got lucky getting the chance to meet amazing musicians and just playing with them and learning from them.“

They have uploaded three songs on Youtube, making it possible to the audience to get a glimpse of what they sound like. All of the band members are contributing in writing the songs for the band. Magdy explains: „Usually one of the band members come up with an idea or a melody of his own, and the rest of us will join in to complete the song and add ideas. The other way is just to come up with an idea while we are all improvising together, we will then re-visit this idea and refine it more until we all feel strongly about it. Obviously all of the band members participate in the song writing process. After for example I have shown the band an idea I have had, Mallawany will write the bassline for it and Neyr will experiment with different beats until we get something we love. They will add refining touches.“ 
Furthermore,  they combine different scales and melodies together.

„Arabic maqmas are an essential part of our sound. Both me and Tarek are heavily influenced by classical Egyptian music and Arabic Maqams, and the crossroads between western musical scales and Arabic Maqams are still very unexplored.“

Magdy explains that the track names are loosely related to the sound of the song. In an interview with Ahram Online though, Magdy and al-Azhary gave an example, how traveling to the island of Haissa in Aswan gave them the track name for their song.

For now, they have been solely playing instrumental songs, and letting the instruments tell the stories without needing any words. They have planned and thought about introducing a voice to their music. If they would add a voice to their existing soundscape, it probably would shift the relations of the instruments and the voice would play a more prominent role.

Dokkan doesn’t really need a voice because their complex compositions, and mix of instruments are powerful enough to express their music without any words, which is appreciated by the audience as Magdy noted.

„So far the audience has been more than generous in their reaction and the feedback we get is very encouraging, and it makes me even more happy because instrumental bands aren’t really a thing here, only a few bands in Egypt play without a singer, so I am very grateful that people are giving it a chance.“

They have only made a couple of songs available, their hope and dreams are to release more songs in the near future. After releasing a couple of singles later this year, a debut album is planned to be released, and may grant them the chance to both play live regionally as well as internationally.

 

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