The Beauty & The Brains Behind The Ramadan Hit Nelly wa Sherihan
By Shorouk Abbas and Francesca Sullivan
Catching up with a star of one of Ramadan’s most popular series isn’t easy. Girl in a whirl, Donia Samir Ghanem was happy however to spend a few moments with Cairo West Magazine to give a glimpse into what is going on in her busy life.
CWM: What are the most enjoyable aspects of working on your current series, Nelly and Sherihan?
DSG: Working with Amy, I think that Amy is funniest girl on earth and it is even more fun to work with her every day.
How have your many fans reacted to this series so far? Does it match your expectations?
I think the reaction is unbelievable, people are in love with Nelly and Sherihan and I was really happy to hear that the series is the most viewed so far.
What are you looking forward to doing next?
I think I will take a break for around a month to relax and start planning my next steps, I have a lot of ideas in mind.
Who makes you laugh?
Name one person, dead or living that you would love to meet? This is phrased in a strange way.
My grandmother Now, is she dead or still living?
What is your beauty regime?
What is your favorite app?
It’s not easy being a teenage entrepreneur. Clients are more likely to tell you that you look like a potential but still very young to trust, rather than invest in your new start-up scheme. Then when against all the odds you finally achieve success, you read in the media that it must all have been through your parents’ money and connections. Very frustrating!
Nevertheless, we needn’t feel bad for Hisham Gamal, singer, composer, movie and TV producer, software development director and founder of the multi-faceted media company Roznama New Online Vision. Feted and acclaimed at a tender age for his numerous achievements, this young man is not just going places, he’s already been to plenty, and is definitely on the business and cultural map for keeps.
His company Roznama (meaning a portfolio of different components bound together) has already scooped up an impressive array of big name clients for its services in social media management, website development and advertising, including Mohamed Henedy, actor Karim Abdel Aziz, companies such as Mercedes Benz, Renaissance Cinemas and huge mobile apps. During Ramadan, Gamal hit the headlines again with enthusiastic acclaim for his advertisement for the Magdi Yacoub Foundation, for which he wrote the music as well as directing stars such as Nelly Karim and Mohamed Hamaki, and appearing himself.
It seems an irony that Gamal, who initially had to convince his parents he wasn’t cut out to be an engineer, is only now studying for a business degree. One would have thought he’d already passed the practical with flying colours!
Cairo West Magazine caught up with him for a candid chat.
CWM: Hisham, how and where were you brought up?
All over the place. We used to live in different countries, sometimes for only two years at a time, so I attended lots of different schools. It wasn’t the best for me as a child as it did not allow me to have long term friends, school or home. I convinced my parents to let me attend university in Egypt as I always felt that Egypt was the place where I would settle one day, but their condition was that I study architecture. My heart wasn’t in it though; I wanted to do business studies.
How did Roznama Art Productions come about?
It all began back in 2009 when I became interested in music production. I started with 5000 EGP and a tiny home studio at a friend’s house. The first album I produced for upcoming singer Hatem Fahmy did not meet my expectations. I was a little bit disappointed, but the experience was invaluable. We were on such a low budget we even manually copied the CD’s one-by-one to sell. Then I met the hip-hop artist Ahmed Mekky and collaborated with him successfully. Later I decided to contact Donia Samir Ghanem to produce her first music album and the music side began to take off from there, and I was also employing people to work on the on-line services.
What were the main challenges for you starting out?
My age! I was making appointments with different kinds of companies and they would tell me "What you are saying sounds really nice ! But we need you to get someone who is older to negotiate with, you’re too young for us to talk to." In the end I decided I’d have to cut my hair and buy a suit in order to be taken seriously. I looked like a kid dressed as a grown-up. But once I started being successful I let my hair grow again and ditched the formal clothes.
I had this crazy need for success; it was 2011, I had no money to pay the employees and the accountants were advising me to stop and give the market six months to see what was going to happen in the country. But I was totally driven and insisted on going on. I gathered everyone together (I had about twelve people working in the on-line software at the time) and told them we could only survive if they took half salary. They all agreed, which enabled me to continue until things began to get better.
What is your musical background and influence?
I’m the only member of my family who is musical (apart from my mother who used to sing me lullabies at bedtime). I play keyboards, guitar, drums and harmonica. My idol and inspiration was Michael Jackson, who I believe had a profound influence on the international music industry as a whole. In Egypt there are two main strands in popular music: mainstream and underground. For me the former is too conventional and restrictive in form, while the latter does not always meet the proper quality in terms of lyrics and music composition. So I like to be in the middle and produce what I call ‘Mainground’ music – containing the discipline and structure of conventional musical composition, but the innovation and creativity of the underground.
When and how did Boyband begin, and what is the concept behind it?
Although there have been group bands in Egypt in the past, they weren’t teenagers. I saw there was a gap in the market for a real boy band; one that that age group would identify with. So about three years ago I started looking for three guys who would cover all the bases, in terms of look, character and talent for sure. We auditioned over 3000 singers and ended up with only two guys, Mohamed Gamal and Mohamed Fouad – so I made up the third.
We have a special contract with Youtube, part of which entails producing a new video clip on the first day of each month. Nine clips have been released so far. I only release music on digital media; nothing else is relevant now.
Tell us about Nelly and Sherihan; how did the series come about?
I already had a working relationship with Donia Samir Ghanem (last year Roznama had an equally successful hit series with Lahfa, also starring Donia and her father Samir Ghanem), and although she and Amy her sister had never actually worked together on screen I thought it would be a great idea. Fortunately they didn’t need much persuasion. The concept (rich girl/poor girl) is an classic one, but we tweaked it to be relevant to a contemporary audience, and it’s been hugely popular thanks not only to the actors but also a brilliant writing team, Mustafa Sakr, Mohamed Azz and Kareem Youssef. Each of the characters has over half a million followers on social media, with viewers rooting for ‘Team Nelly’ or ‘Team Sherihan’. To perfect her character, Donia spent time hanging out with girls from Nelly’s kind of background.
The clip for the Magdi Yacoub Foundation has been a great success. What was the concept behind it?
Usually adverts for charities concentrate on trying to make you feel sorry for victims with distressing images that appeal to peoples’ guilt about not doing enough to help. I wanted the whole feel of the clip to be positive and upbeat with a joyful feeling – after all it’s for a happy cause. I received the lyrics for the song and came up with the melody there and then in my head. It was my first time to direct a clip completely alone and it was quite a surreal experience being there with all those stars thinking, I’m in charge!
What about future directions?
Well, I sing and write music, I produce and direct – and my problem is I can’t decide which I love best. That’s probably my Gemini nature coming out. But actually it’s not good because each one of these requires focus and hard work. Perhaps I need to concentrate on one at a time, but meanwhile I am just enjoying being creative.