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Exclusive Interview with HEGAZY

Twins Leila and Omnia Hegazy are not only proving to the world that two is better than one, but also that music with a message can still be entertaining and fun. While they currently perform together as HEGAZY, they each have impressive music backgrounds of their own.

By her early 20s, Leila had already performed at several of New York’s most well known venues including SOBs and the legendary Apollo Theater. Her debut release, The Black and White EP, was recorded by Grammy-nominated producer Dr. Joseph Ferry; her second, a full-length album called Looking Glass, was funded by fans on Kickstarter. She studied Studio Composition at the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College, where Regina Spektor and other renowned singer-songwriters recorded their first records.

Meanwhile, Omnia attended the Clive Davis Institute at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, and played her way through the Lower East Side’s indie music scene. She became the more politically outspoken of the two sisters, inspired by American folk artists of 1960’s and the revolutionary musicians of the ongoing Arab Spring at the time. She released two EPs independently and a fan-funded music video with unapologetically feminist themes, garnering press from prominent media outlets in both the US and the Middle East, including Fox News, The Daily Beast, The Huffington Post, and pan-Arab newspaper Al Sharq Al Awsat.

The two sisters reunited musically after their father passed away in the beginning of 2016. While working together was a great form of emotional support, they also chose to make music as a way to honor their father, who always insisted they were more powerful together.

HEGAZY took the time to answer a few questions and let our readers get to know them better. Keep reading to see what they had to say.

For those who might not have ever heard of y’all, can you give us a brief history of the band and how it culminated into what it is now?

We are identical twin sisters who were previously solo artists and now we are a soul/pop duo. Leila is an R&B singer/songwriter and keyboardist and Omnia is more of a guitar-driven pop/rock artist. Hegazy is our last name: not a random word that we made up to sound cool. 🙂

What is it like working with your twin? Do you guys ever feel like you spend too much time together?

Haha, for sure. We rehearse almost every day and we live across the hall from each other in the same apartment building (we previously lived together), so you can’t get much more twin-y than that. Working with a sibling has so many layers to it – sarcasm, joking around, bickering, but also sharing hopes and dreams. It takes a lot of mindfulness and compromise to make the duo work, as well as remembering that we are sisters first and foremost.

How would you describe your sound without using genre names?

Soulful, smoky, rhythmic, dirty, playful, groovy. We do a lot of dual harmony when we sing together so there’s often two melodies for each song, a lower melody and a higher one, both equally important. We are influenced instrumentally by bands like Alabama Shakes, and vocally by artists/bands like Emily King and Destiny’s Child.

Talk about the writing process. Do you guys write all of your own material or do you have co-writers? If you write your own stuff, which one of you does most of the writing? How much of a song is ‘finished’ once the band plays it together? Have you had to scrap songs that just didn’t work once the band started to rehearse them?

We both contribute to our material equally. One of us will come up with an idea for a song on our own and sis will finish it. Often the way we play each song as a duo changes completely when we play it with a band or go into the studio to record. We’ve definitely written songs we don’t love, as any songwriter does, and sometimes it takes writing a mediocre song to write a good one later. But we’ve found that taking our songs to a band usually rejuvenates our love for them.

Is there a track, whether it’s one you have already released or one you have yet to release, that you feel best represents you and who you are as a band?     

“Alive” showcases both of our individual talents really well, but “Here to Stay” speaks to us the most in terms of message and urgency.

Talk about your single that you just released, “Here to Stay.” I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but it’s so good and so powerful.

Thanks so much! We wrote this song about xenophobia and anti-immigrant rhetoric in the times of the Trump administration and all that comes with it (the removal of DACA, the Muslim Ban, the mainstreaming of white supremacy, and the prevalence of hate speech in politics). We are half-Egyptian and were raised Muslim in the age of 9/11, so we know what it’s like to be treated like “the other.” Immigrants have been scapegoated for generations, accused of taking jobs and resources away from American citizens and contributing to crime rates, and we wanted to make fun of this nonsense by listing all the common stereotypes and flipping them around to be empowering, which is not what the xenophobes/racists on the far right intended.

The music video for “Here to Stay” is just as powerful as the song itself. How was that concept decided on and who came up with it?

We both came up with the concept for the music video very early in the songwriting process. We knew we wanted a Muslim character and a Mexican and/or Latino character, since these groups have been the most targeted by Trump’s rhetoric. The intention was to describe how “scary” we [immigrants and children of immigrants] are, and juxtapose that visually with adorable children of all different nationalities, races, and religions, getting along and playing together. The boogeyman may be real, but it sure as hell isn’t us (we’re pretty sure it’s Trump and the white supremacists who are out in full force right now).

Word has it that your debut EP, Young, is set to drop in early 2018. Can you give us a little insight on it? What are you most excited about this album? Any particular track that you favor and are most looking forward to sharing with the fans?

Our debut EP is a fairly autobiographical coming-of-age story and chronicles being young and naive with big dreams and not a lot of money, pursuing those dreams anyway, and all the challenges that come with it (being in love, coping with bigotry, rising above financial uncertainty, etc). It definitely speaks to the millennial experience, and we’re excited to share this perspective. Millennials are very often accused of being lazy and complacent, but we this is an unfair analysis, as many of us are dealing with so much more than our parents had to deal with (massive student debt, lack of opportunity, etc.). We’re also super passionate about the singles and music videos we’ve released so far, and can’t wait for our audience to hear the rest of the EP, including the title track “Young” – we think any young person in college or post-college will really relate to this one.

Last question: we’re called Talk Nerdy With Us so what is something that you nerd out over?

Omnia: I nerd out over guitar pedals, which I love collecting. I also nerd out over classical music and orchestral instruments, because my first love was violin and I still play. I’ve gotten really into cello lately too (hoping to incorporate this more into Hegazy in the future).

Leila: I’m a music theory nerd for sure, and this has always helped me with my writing. I’m also a yoga philosophy nerd (I’m a yoga teacher), and the Yoga Sutras and like texts are magnificent to me.

Written by Bryna Kramer

I could have followed in my father's footsteps and become a doctor. But there was just too much good television on.

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