Impact’s Music Essentials: Tamino

Ella Pilson

Perhaps obscure, but definitely special. Tamino is setting new precedents, fusing Arabic musical traditions with Western pop, rock, and indie vibes. Impact’s Ella Pilson compiles 10 songs perfect for new listeners.

Having released his second album ‘Sahar’ in September of this year, Tamino is still a relatively new artist with only one former album, ‘Amir’, released in 2018. As for the names, you can probably tell that he draws on his Belgian-Egyptian background.  Specifically, his grandfather Muharram Fouad, a well-known Egyptian singer and actor. Twenty-six years old, long black hair on par with Timothée Chalamet, and the magical powers of his grandfather’s traditional guitar, Tamino is definitely a rising star.

Tamino is symbolic of innovative and respectful cultural exchange

His songs are a product of listening to his grandfather’s music alongside Nirvana, Tom Waits and The Beatles. In this way, he has also produced a cross-generational diffusion, with his mix of pop with more traditional ballads like Habibi. Although under the alternative and indie rock banner, his strong vocals and powerful use of the vocal phonation known as the ‘falsetto’ gives a spiritual and emotional feel that’s quite hard-hitting. Live Nation’s ‘One to Watch’ describes this as ‘a space of pureness that can only be described as divine.’

Thus, although quite niche, I would say you might find something in Tamino’s emotional depth. If you’re a fan of Lana Del Rey (he’s covered ‘Mariners Apartment Complex’), Jeff Buckley (he has been dubbed the ‘Belgian Jeff Buckley’), or more traditional orchestral music, you may well find this appealing and in sync with your tastes. Tamino is symbolic of innovative and respectful cultural exchange, producing a complex musical style and an important message.

1) Sun May Shine

I think this is definitely one of his more mainstream-sounding songs, layering until it reaches the chorus where his voice soars. The main theme in the song is of two opposites and the dual conflict we often find within ourselves. From the romantic, light-heartedness to the bleaker and more vulnerable side. His music video features this through his doppelganger, capturing this sense of duality.

2) Cinnamon

This song is probably one of my favourites, its tones are as spicy and warm as the title suggests. And although most of his songs have a sombre undertone, this one is specifically more upbeat, having a catchy rhythm, funky drumbeat, and melody which all pair really nicely.

his work shows his love of life

Tamino revealed these lyrics came from a difficult transition from his home in Antwerp to Amsterdam, joining the prestigious Amsterdam Royal Conservatory at 17. He stated that these lyrics came from his loneliness, feeling homesick, and finding more of a difference between Dutch and Flemish culture than he expected. His hopes and dreams of being there not matching his experiences only increased his more introverted nature.

This honesty of feeling connects with audiences and displays his humbleness. Tamino aspires to bring people together through his art rather than working only for recognition. I think this is captured by one of his favourite quotes by the Lebanese-American philosopher Kahlil Gibran’s: “work is visible love”. Therefore, his work shows his love of life.

3) Indigo Night

This song starts with a rocking back-and-forth rhythm and builds with its solemn but introspective lyrics. It’s about a young man caught in despair, who meets a group of girls confused by his despondency. That night his spirits are lifted, which is mirrored in the title Indigo night: an evoking imagery of dreamy blue skies.

Also, there is a feeling of tranquillity and state of ephemeral bliss in a woozy haze between day and night. This again reflects Tamino’s experiences in Amsterdam of smoking hasj late into the morning, the sun set echoing the spread of these dark feelings within, descending into a state of hopelessness. The rippling strings reflect the continuous loudness within the mind, yet are also an example of blending cultures.

Many feel that he is breaking down stereotypes of Middle Eastern men and re-defining their sound

This song is a product of his collaboration with Radiohead’s Colin Greenwood and includes some classical Arabic flourishes from the Nagham Zikrayat Orchestra. This orchestra is made up of musicians from the Middle East and many refugees from Iraq and Syria. Again, this shows the complexity not only within his music but also of transgressing boundaries. Many feel that he is breaking down stereotypes of Middle Eastern men and re-defining their sound, the BBC hailing it as “The New ‘Sound of the Nile’”.

The music video for this song was inspired by the surrealism of Egypt’s 1940s Art et Liberté movement. It includes some serious and personal reflections – “Why can’t I sing along with some feeling, or some meaning? / It feels like I’ve always been blind”.

4) So it Goes

Definitely one of his more Egyptian and Arabic-sounding songs, this has an ancient Egyptian feeling to it. Almost transcending, these lyrics are filled with natural imagery and the stigma of stillness and sadness within the soul.

5) You Don’t Own Me

Again, coming from his own personal experiences of a difficult relationship, this song displays the emotional journey of love and conflict. Powerful, this starts with the steady chant of simple piano cords, before folding into his deep voice and intervals of an assured drumbeat.

6) w.o.t.h

This starts with a fast-paced guitar solo,  its momentum creating a heart-beat effect. According to Tamino, it is being “sung towards love as a being”. Right after the love song Verses, this addresses the meaning of love for him, its all-consuming and life-lifting nature.

7) Chambers

wanting to experience something new but not lose the security of the old

Here, Tamino showcases a toxic relationship from which he is unable to untangle himself. His use of battle symbolism, “That for the bullets you fire / I’m the main supplier” enshrines a feeling of hopelessness. He shows the hold they have over him, following them into a doomed war, “I’ll follow blindly in defeat”.

The repetitive cycle of this destructive relationship is reflected in carrying on the same vocal themes throughout the album. As well as the classic break-up dilemma: wanting to experience something new but not lose the security of the old.

8) Cigar

This was inspired by Tamino’s visit to the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam and the picture ‘Skull of a Skeleton with a Burning Cigarette’.  The music video, directed by his brother Ramy Moharam Fouad, tells the story of a man obtaining the chance to live again for one night only. This communicates feelings of freedom with sorrow: nothing lasts, but we can decide how we use our time.

9) Persephone

The closing track to his debut album ‘Amir’, Persephone is slow paced but once again erupts into a distinctly Egyptian-sounding chorus. This is an abstracted retelling of the Greek god of the underworld’s union with his abducted bride over a melodic guitar. The intricacies of a hurtful relationship: “You’ve come to love / What you always will fear”, with his falsetto adding texture to the vocal layers and intoning his moody voice.

10) Habibi

such a special and unique song 

His most famous track and the opening track to ‘Amir’, I have saved this until last as it’s such a special and unique song. Its emotional and meditational feel gives this a quality quite elevated above the rest. The song grows stronger by the minute, setting the tone for the rest of the album. Quite cathartic, Habibi is the Arabic word for describing someone you love: this translates to ‘beloved’.

Ella Pilson

Featured image courtesy of Joey Nicotra via Unsplash. Image license found here. No changes were made to this image. 

In article videos courtesy of Tamino via Youtube.com. No changes were made to these videos. 

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