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The Man who brought Swallow the Sun to Egypt

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The title does have a really nice ring to it huh? This month Metal Blast celebrates its 8th anniversary. Metal Blast Festival is one of the leading Metal events in Egypt and the Middle East. We had the chance of interview the founder of Metal Blast Festival “Usama Ahmed” who recently carries the name “The Man who Brought Swallow the Sun to Egypt.

Rana Atef : How did the idea of Metal Blast come to your mind?

Usama Ahmed :

“Well actually it wasn’t just me who thought about doing Metal Blast, the main idea back when I used to be Zatrion’s band drummer, we were making music and working hard but we felt that we are doing nothing after all as long as we can’t make live shows in Egypt, because metal concerts were banned for many years in Egypt. After many conversations and actions between the band members, we thought to break that silence and make concert by ourselves, but it wasn’t Metal Blast yet.”

Rana Atef : How did you choose Metal Blast crew?

Usama Ahmed :

“After we thought to take steps forward, we started to contact some other bands and friends to start working on metal concerts, we didn’t plan to make a festival or even make any calendar for more than one event, all what we wanted is to play live shows. After many phone calls we collected our forces and built the concert teamwork from different bands musicians who were interested in playing at the concert and help make it happen.”

Rana Atef : How did you choose the name of the festival?

Usama Ahmed :

“Well actually it was a brainstorming session between many people, we brought lots of names to the table but at the end of the day we chose Metal Blast.”

Rana Atef : What are the difficulties you faced?

Usama Ahmed :

“In general, metal concerts were banned in Egypt. Many organizers tried to bring the scene back to life but they didn’t have luck, even some old metal concerts organizers tried but they also didn’t succeed, and that was our biggest fear to face the same end as others. In the second place when we started to work, maybe easily we made our first meeting and as I can remember it was really long around 7 or 8 hours. In the first steps we didn’t put any managers as most of us were still students, all experience they got might be how to play music and study the homework, but also some of us were older and already working but they didn’t have enough time, and some others wasn’t serious enough.  Later, we started to give ideas and share our minds till we put the mainlines and started to give tasks, but we faced lots of delays and some actually disappear and ignored our calls, any way we had to go through it all with 4 or 5 people from maybe 12 and with time, they became just 3 and later on it was just ME.

With time I started to take leadership and the control, not sure actually how that happened but I found myself taking the responsibility and decisions. With our limited experience we decided to keep our work up step after step till we reached a good venue to make our dream come true.

Now because of the lack of experience, we didn’t make all the permits for the concerts then, we actually didn’t know that till we got a phone call from the venue owner before the concert 3 days to tell us the concert can’t be done because of legal and governmental paperwork.

Urgent meeting, lots of noise, fighting, shouting and hours later, we didn’t know what to do, it’s already canceled and let’s face that and tell everyone.

And at this point we became just three, I, one of my band members and a friend. Next morning we started to call bands and fans who already bought the tickets and refund them. In return we got a really huge support and trust from bands and fans that we were clear and faced the responsibility.

Later after our second event, we faced some issues that affected our work which I totally refused and that brought nothing but actions between me and lots of my team and even my partner so I decided to close everything and make lots of changes with new plans and vision and  new blood (people) so I started to reselect new crew and I built it all again from scratch, and with time it became better and better.”

Rana Atef : Do you put any standards for choosing Metal Blast line-up?

Usama Ahmed :

“Indeed to keep the good trust and reputation of Metal Blast, I had to keep myself updated with what’s going around and what the local scene needs and regards to that we play our puzzle game to select bands. But as for Metal Blast management, there’s some points and high quality control we had to follow to choose the lineup. We’re already getting a really huge amount of requests from all over the world, bands asking to share Metal Blast stage, some of them are international bands and that’s really making me proud and it gives me the energy to keep our work and progress going, so we updates ourselves with what the scene needs and we chose with our standards.”

Rana Atef : Tell us more details about Metal Blast Festival 1?

Usama Ahmed :

“After few months and when everything was really painted black full of negative energy because actually we believed that we are not going to succeed. We even decided to disband Zatrion. But for a moment I thought about it and the good reputation and support we got from fans and friends, few days later I decided to continue what we started, as I said we were just 3 and I was the only one who just graduated few months ago and started to work in advertising agency as a graphic designer, even I didn’t have that much experience back at that time.

From here I started to take it really serious and started to study events management in general, in the same time I involved and gained good experience in the music scene and corporate events through some work in the agency I used to work with.

And this step actually took me 2 years of studying and getting more actual experience in the field. Back to usama.jpg12010 when we decided to give it another try with different minds and wider visions, we started to put a shape for the entity and how it should work, I started to collect data and information about others older organizers and what they faced and how they used to work and what was their strength point and what was their weak points, and then we started to make actual plans, in a few days everything was ready and we decided to choose different type of venues. “Sawy Cultural Wheel” as it’s cultural center support arts in general not just music. For months we were trying to get our concert done but with no hope until we asked for meeting with the owner Mr. Mohamed el Sawy and we delivered a presentation with all the details and full actual plan to prove that we are not messing around and we know well what we are doing to do later in the coming few weeks and with really heavy rules and conditions we got accepted to make our show.

We started to collect bands and take active steps and when everything was almost done, the situation in Egypt wasn’t that good because it was before the revolution. So we postponed, months after months till we reached March 2011 and made our dream come true and it was really a hard time but we made it. “Mascara, Karma, Enraged and Beyond East” that was our lineup for the first METAL BLAST 2011. With more than 1000 attended, as it was the first metal concert in Egypt after 5 or 6 years with no concerts.”

Rana Atef : What was the audience feedback?

Usama Ahmed :

“Well I think it was good enough and full of positive energy to continue our work till now, don’t you think?! (hahaha)

During my journey since 2008 till 2016, lots of crew members and partners and friends have changed, but the only stable positive energy was really from the audience and fans as they pushed Metal Blast to improve and work harder year after year. In this journey I was about to stop everything few times but every time I saw a feedback from a Metal Blast fan and how loyal they are, it pushes me back whatever the case was, I know it’s not only my festival and I know they are big part of this and they are partners of any success we made, even when they see something might affect Metal Blast, they give aggressive comments, so I think audience feedback is really important and it’s affected Metal Blast in a good way.”

Rana Atef : You provided workshops through Metal Blast Festival, but we didn’t see that in the latest Metal Blast concert, what were the reasons for Workshops absence?

Usama Ahmed :

“Well last year was a new step in Metal Blast journey, we used to make the workshops to bring new blood to the local scene and upgrade the bands who already working and also generating new bands, and we are kind done with this stage for now, we already delivered our message in this part already. We got active scene now actually other events and organizers started to be active and made some good work, but sure we will make more workshops and other activities soon, but we just in a different direction right now, so we need to be focused more on what we have at this step but sure we still got lots of plans.”

Rana Atef : As we saw through the posters and the designs of Metal Blast Festival 2016, the theme was The Ancient Egyptian Mythology. How did you choose this theme?

Usama Ahmed :

“Well the concept when we started was supporting the Arabic and Middle Eastern bands we choose to say and deliver that in the oriental logo regards to our Arabian civilization “the old shape”, now as I said we are taking new steps, we try to put Egypt and M.B in world wild festivals map introducing it with the most known and lovable civilization in the world “the pharaonic civilization”, so we merged between the two unique civilizations to introduce our concepts merging with the most unique music in the world “Heavy Metal”.. So it actually looks like we merged 3 worlds… maybe we could be time travelers soon (hahaha)”

Rana Atef : After the latest Metal Blast concert, The Egyptian Metal heads and the Middle Eastern Metal heads call you “The Man who brought Swallow the Sun to Egypt”. How did you manage to contact Swallow the Sun and convince them to perform in Egypt?

Usama Ahmed :

“Yes, it took us few years to bring international act, but we had to make the scene ready and active for such a step, and we realized that we were ready since last year 2015 so our target was to take the big next step. So we started to contact some bands and others contacted us, which normally happens in any festival. But in some stages in the journey, we started to think which bands would get and give more credit in the Egyptian and Middle Eastern scene, and then we started to work on our selection.

Actually, one of the new members in M.B crew got a big hand on swallow the sun selection.

As I had to deal with some managerial issues at this time and I left band communications to Mahmoud Ezzat, and I was following up with him, and he really put great efforts and I wasn’t disappointed. We all then agreed on the band lineups in general, then we started to confirm and work on the agreements and so on. And actually when we talked with Swallow the Sun, they  where more than helpful and excited to play in Egypt as it was the same with the other bands, actually all members and even managers showed such perfect support and respect.”

 

Rana Atef : The Egyptian Metal Concerts suffer from many technical problems, how do you see the problems of the concerts in Egypt?

Usama Ahmed :

“Well, yes indeed actually it’s a stupid issue and it got many aspects.

First lots of musicians are not aware of their instruments from the technical part, and not aware how to bring good sound and the best of their equipment, even some professional musician face the same issues. They focus more on music creation and their own play scales but they leave other important points like ‘how do I fix instruments or gear problems.’  Knowing more about the mechanism and technicality of their equipment, knowing more about stage and the difference between studio rehearsals, techniques, equipment setup and stage sound checking, line checking, live performing, setup.

usama.jpg2Musician should study and know more in general because it’s not just music and how good my  studio sound is. It’s different when it come to Live music, sometimes we see musicians who gets issue with his guitar or effect and he has no clue what’s going on and writing for us to find and fix his equipment or give him a replacement to go live or sound check time. And yes that happened more than once, but also sometimes shit happens.

Secondly from the organiser’s end, we might find some are not using good stage equipment.

Third part and it’s really heavy and important… The venue as you know all metal events made in same place and we are not allowed to use the venue for more than 1 day so we have to set up and make the sound checking with bands and the event itself on the same day which is really a hard and heavy task which requires a good crew to make such big event come together, but by the end of the day we are working on different plans in regards to all of that but it just takes time to improve and change.

At the end even big scale festivals and international musicians might face such technical issues but the result changes from one to another regards to the scale and preparations and risk management and actually the experience.”

Rana Atef : After 8 years of successful and many dreams became true, what is the next step and what the bands you wish to perform in Metal Blast?

Usama Ahmed :

“Yes indeed, well we are working on just one target now to is put Egypt and introduce our scene to the world festivals map and make Metal Blast the major festival in Africa and middle east region and maybe the world.
About the bands, well all the bands you can imagine starting from the new underground bands till the main international acts in the world.”

We the guys applaud Usama Ahmed for his effort here. Clearly a man with a passion for the music and the scene. With him at the helm we can see good things coming from Egypt in the nearest future. Never forget folks, support your local bands /,,/

Rana Atef

Rana Atef is one of the youngest active female reviewers in Egypt. She is one of the Admins of The Egyptian Metal Scene page, One of the Admins of The Egyptian Metal Archive, Writer/Reviewer at Rock Era Magazine, Writer/Reviewer at Jorzine and The Egyptian Representative at JoScene. She started writing at the age of 17. She has more than 80 published reviews through only 3 years. She joins AudioInferno to have a greater view of the whole African Metal Scene.

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