Ahmed Mohamed Sakran, founder of Vibe studio, the latest hub of underground music tells Ahram Online about the young and budding musicians who enter the studio and reveals his plans of business expansion
Published in Ahram Online and Al Ahram Weekly
On entering Vibe Studio, one is immediately taken by the unique atmosphere of the place. Founded by three partners, Vibe for Developing Arts has become one of the vital platforms for the budding underground musicians. It is equally recognised by these artists better established counterparts and often visited by artists working in the mainstream.
Ahmed Mohamed Sakran, known in the field as Siko, reveals that idea behind the studio had been on his mind for six years before he finally decided to make it happen. It started taking shape in the first months of 2011, a timing that sounds challenging but that proved perfect against the odds. Together with partners, Youssef and Nour, Siko picked a large location to give birth to “the first and only integrated music complex in Egypt,” as we read on Vibe’s website, offering six rehearsal and three recording rooms.
“Work, sweat and a whole lot of time were invested in the project that is now Vibe for Developing Arts,” the same site reveals. In one one interview Siko nonetheless explains that the Vibe we see today is only a drop in the ocean of his many plans which include a sizeable expansion of both location and activities. “My ultimate dream is to buy a large piece of land and create a production city for the musicians to rehearse, record and interact on many levels,” he says.
With music production technology already entering homes, studios across the world are finding it difficult to sustain themselves. In Egypt, this challenge is compounded by the economic difficulties of the past three years. Siko does not seem discouraged by the obstacles, however. He feels the revolution brought about many new opportunities and young musicians who need support, a place to rehearse and record.
“Until the revolution, many studios worked mainly with mainstream musicians; it was in 2011 that underground bands came to the surface. They needed a platform. We are mainly a rehearsal studio, I believe, one of the best in Egypt – however we do some recording as well. Understandably, the rehearsing process for rock, hip-hop, heavy metal, reggae or any other genre cannot be conducted at home and this simple fact will always draw musicians to us.”
For Siko the aim is not only to build a thriving business but also to provide a tool to help young underground musicians to realise their goals. “Underground musicians’ tastes do not represent the mainstream productions listened to by millions of Egyptians today. They like what they do, they rehearse whether they have a concert or not. Many of them explore music genres which are not embedded in our culture, rock for instance. On the other hand, and naturally, their audience is limited in number and this makes is more difficult for them to find financial support. Many such musicians pay for the studio hours, the instruments or a workshop out of their own pockets. Though Vibe is a business, and we do not provide services for free, sometimes we do help by discussing individual payment terms, etc.” Siko adds that his plans include working on receiving a support fund for the studio, which he would then utilise into direct support for the underground musicians.
Siko realises that his studio does not offer the cheapest packages in the city. It is the quality of the equipment, the general ambiance and additional activities that draw in young musicians. The studio offers a multitude of courses – most of them for free – that cover a variety of areas.
“The underground scene can learn about many technicalities related to studio recording, study mike techniques and stage presence. Some young musicians play guitar or keyboard, but lack knowledge of the many aspects of those instruments; some still need to deepen their knowledge of different genres. Very few know how to read music which is an essential component of musicianship. I believe Vibe can help boost or develop their knowledge in many more facets of the music world.”
Earlier this year, Vibe partnered with the Cairo Jazz Festival by hosting the festival’s workshops. “We want to be different, unique,” Siko states. “We hope to create Vibe TV, an internal channel that would present interviews with musicians, air their videos, provide constant updates about their concerts. All the musicians from the underground scene follow each other and want to know what their colleagues are doing.”
A few television screens in the studio corridor and waiting area screen music performances from the studio’s playlist. Yet with some bands refusing to have their songs screened, Siko still needs to work on formalising the internal TV circuit. In future months, Siko hopes to boost recording services.
“We already worked on Enraged, a heavy metal album, Sherine Amr worked on her C Project album, Mascara recorded in Vibe. Sherine Abdo and Nour Ashour are recording in Vibe now. I am happy that, slowly but surely, we are gaining reputation in this sector as well,” he adds.
As he lays down the short and long term plans, Siko expects that in upcoming months – and probably years – there will be greater financial difficulty, the first victims of which will be the underground musicians. “We are all in a difficult position. When it comes to Vibe, for as long as I can, I will try to look for new sources of income before raising the prices.”
As he closes his third year in business, Siko has developed extensive knowledge of the underground scene. As he develops dynamic links with the musicians and watches them grow, he points to many whose futures he believes to be secure and to others who will need to revalidate themselves in order not to succumb oblivion.
“Many people surfaced due to the revolution only; their lyrics were commentaries on political and social issues,” Siko’s words reflect the views of Fathy Salama. Siko points to the many changes that took place in Egypt in the past few years, and what was a good selling point two years ago, today needs to be infused with new creative ideas to gain the sustained interest of the audience.
“There are also many people constantly working on themselves,” Siko goes on to mention Dina El-Wedidi: the one example that keeps returning in conversations with many people in the field.
“It took Dina only three years to reach substantial success through very hard work. She works on her music; she composes, does arrangement. In parallel she works on her stage presence, relations with people; she has knocked on the many doors, worked on marketing, applied for funds and workshops. Dina does not sing to accompany the revolution, she focuses on the music, artistic and personal development. Massar Egbari, in the market for almost a decade now, is another great example of remarkable perseverance and development. Definitely what helped Massar Egbari is the opportunity they got to work in Ahmad Abdalla’s movie about Alexandria’s underground scene, Microphone,” he says.
“Look at another example: Cairokee. Regardless of whether you like their music or not, you cannot deny that they worked very hard to reach where they are today. They started as underground and today find support from Coca Cola. Such successes are never accidental,” Siko continues, adding that even if some musicians were lucky at a certain stage, hard, sustained work is the recipe for a long-term artistic survival.
“I have a lot of ideas in my head. I am sure in time we will manage to realise them all. While I work on increasing our income, I hope to be able to extend more support to the underground scene, beyond standard studio services.” He concludes by revealing that he is also reaching out to artists from other sectors. “Anyone who is talented is welcome to consider Vibe his platform. Should a young person have crafts skills, we will be happy to display his products in the studio…”