Asmaa

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Asmaa, 29 in 2017

We have to care more about what is inside, not outside

With my head deeply focussed on my phone’s gps I walk up the stairs from the crowded metro in Cairo’s Downtown area. I have to find the café where I am meeting with Asmaa. As I turn around a girl says my name – “Cludia” – the way the Egyptians pronounce it, forgetting the “a” in the middle. As the only foreigner within miles Asmaa found me already several hundred meters away from our meeting point. Earlier I had looked her up on Facebook, where I found pictures of her wearing a veil, but today her long black hair is visible in public.

Asmaa tells me she saw my post on Facebook, a friend of hers shared it, and she decided to write me. She turned 29 in January 2017.

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I ask Asmaa to present herself. She studied Art Education in Cairo and finished her Master degree in jewellery. Besides trying to create her own jewellery brand, she works as a sound artist. “I play different concerts, but not in Egypt, because this kind of experimental music that I do, is not familiar to the Egyptians”. Instead she travels to Europe. This spring she has concerts in Germany, Switzerland and Denmark.    

After several interviews with women in Cairo I understand by now that travelling alone as a female Egyptian is neither normal nor accepted in many families. In this case ‘alone’ means unmarried. But Asmaa did it. Several times. Actually she was already engaged twice. But it didn’t work out. I Egypt the marriage is involving both families and an engagement is a way to know if the relationship could work out. “I refused a lot of families. The men are coming to my family and they are talking about marriage. At first Egyptian men accept a lot of things from their wives, but after they get engaged they start to put down rules. My last ex told me to forget art. That we will move to Saudi Arabia and begin a different kind of life. I can’t. At first I was afraid because I thought all the men are the same. I was afraid of the future and afraid of being alone. After that I decided to achieve my goals. I have a lot of things on my list. It’s a very long list. I decided to do all these tasks without stopping. If I meet someone during my trip and I feel comfortable with him, it’s good. If not – it’s fine too”.

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How do you feel about being 29?

“My feelings before I turned 29 were completely different than they are now. I realised recently that I have to take care of myself and not care what other people think of me. I made the decision to take off my veil on my 29th birthday. I decided to do what makes me feel more comfortable. To be more natural without any kind of layers. To feel more free and lose the facade. Sometimes people ask me if I changed my religion. They think it is not right. But I dont care about them. There are many interpretations of the the Koran. In my opinion it is not related to religion whether you wear a veil or not. We have to care more about what is inside, not outside”.

How is it to be a young woman in Cairo?

It’s terrible! Especially because I am a sound artist. I’m always waiting for an occasion to move outside of Cairo to make my ears relax. They are very sensitive. I can feel the vibration of sound and different frequencies. It frustrates me when I hear traffic or sound pollution. It is very stressful to be in Cairo. After I have stayed at my home for a long time I can’t hear anything anymore. I created a sound track from the sounds of the night. It’s called the Sleep Journey. It’s about the moment when we start to fall asleep, when we mix reality and imagination into something surreal”.

During the revolution in 2011 I went to the streets with a group of people to record the sounds of the protests. My professor in experimental music, Ahmed Basiouny, asked me if I wanted to join the project. We split up and recorded in different places. Afterwards he disappeared and I found out that he had been killed during the protests. Then I stopped making music for two years”.

What do you expect from the next 10 years?

“I think I will live outside of Egypt. Maybe London. I would like to study a master degree in sonic art in London, and I will try to make my jewellery brand more famous”.


Don’t miss Asmaas concert with the Egyptian Females Experimental Music Session in Berlin.

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