Home Hear Now Hear This: Maha | Orkos

Now Hear This: Maha | Orkos

If anybody out there is making a romantic movie set in a 1970s Egyptian disco, this long-lost relic from a Cairo vocalist has got your soundtrack needs totaly covered.

THE EDITED PRESS RELEASE:Orkos is a completely unknown album by Salah Ragab’s Cairo Jazz Band vocalist Maha, recorded in Cairo in 1979. It features productions by Hany Shenoda of Al Massrieen. Maha’s Orkos, originally released on cassette, is one of these standout musical diamonds that combines jazz and Egyptian vocal traditions with funk, Latin and soul.

The back story: The arrival of the cassette age was a turning point in the music industry all over the world. Manufacturing a vinyl record was a time-consuming process, as well logistically and financially a barrier of entry for many. This soon led to a proliferation of smaller acts and record labels dedicated to a particular sound without the barriers present in making vinyl.

At the same time, in Egypt in the 1970’s and early 1980’s, a new generation of musicians and composers made their way into the scene. Hany Shenoda, Mohamed Mounir, Magdy El Hossainy, Omar Korshid, Salah Ragab and Hamid El Shaeri are some names that come to mind. They all made very different music compared to one another but what connected them was their desire to add something fresh and new to what was perceived as the widely monophonic musical traditions of Egypt.

Many built their sounds on a combination of their own musical upbringing with influences coming from the outside. The success of these projects varied but for each one of these artists there were numerous lesser-known bands and singers. A lot of these often-short-lived projects would release their music on cassette on tiny labels.

Maha’s Orkos album fits this category, and it’s fair to say that it was not a success when it was originally released in 1979 by Sout El Hob. While nobody remembered much about the release or Maha herself, sales must have been very limited and the project was quickly forgotten about and no followup release was produced. What a pity: Maha possesses a strong and energetic voice equally grounded in jazz as well as Egyptian vocal traditions, singing over instrumentals that offer a very wide range — from the funk sounds of Law Laffeina El Ard excursions into Latin music in Orkos to the moody mellow sounds of We Mesheet.

When contacted in late 2021, Maha was clearly surprised to have someone call about music she recorded more than 40 years ago. But she also seemed interested in the idea to bring her music back to people’s attention, so the next time we were in Cairo we met. She told us her brother introduced her to music, and she played with various bands, including Cairo Jazz Band until leaving music in the 1980s. Luckily, she kept a great collection of old photos and she even had a spare copy of the promotional poster made for her release.”