Meet DJ Kaboo, the Egyptian musical marvel behind the Arabic hits of “Moon Knight”
DUBAI: In contemporary Egyptian cinema, no composer has had a greater impact than Hesham Nazih. Across more than 40 films over an award-winning 20-year span, Nazih has strengthened every project he’s scored, from “Son of Rizk” to “Blue Elephant.” Now the composer of Marvel’s “Moon Knight” TV show, Nazih has officially done the crossover that only a handful of truly international big names, such as Ennio Morricone and AR Rahman, have managed before him – an opportunity that he did not take it lightly.
“I knew it was a huge step for me,” Nazih told Arab News. “Working with Marvel was a game-changer for my career. I had countless thoughts in my head and had to fight a lot of them.
“Moon Knight” is a singular work for Marvel Studios in more ways than one. Starring Oscar nominees Oscar Isaac and Ethan Hawke as well as Egyptian-Palestinian actress May Calamawy (from the TV series “Ramy”), it tells the story of a man with dissociative identity plagued by ancient Egyptian deities in a show that’s equal parts comedy, horror, and Indiana Jones-esque adventure.
Perhaps most importantly, it’s a show that, from its conception, refused to go down the usual route of oversimplifying Orientalist Egypt – both ancient and modern – that Hollywood has historically taken. Instead, Marvel brought in Egyptian voices in front and behind the camera, including director Mohamed Diab, editor Ahmed Hafez, and Nazih.
At first, the composer says, he was paralyzed by the responsibility of identity, wondering how many Egyptian musical traditions to consciously imbue into the show’s score, before realizing it was only getting in his way. After all, Egypt was in his soul and would come out in his music whether he liked it or not.
“I decided to stop those thoughts and enjoy the moment. I thought to myself, ‘I’m writing music for a Marvel superhero.’ At my fingertips is a huge orchestra to play with the best conductors in the world.’ I let it out freely and unconsciously. I followed my emotions,” says Nazih.
It didn’t take long for her to emotionally connect with the job. As he sat in his studio in Cairo late at night, a space equipped with a bed in case he wanted to spend long stretches of time focused on his work (as he often does), he began to watching the series unfold, feeling overwhelmed.
“What’s amazing about this series is that you can relate to the characters easily and feel them, without any additional explanation. It’s so clear and impressive on the screen. Giving my heart to him wasn’t really a difficult task, because he was calling my heart all the time, really,” says Nazih.
“In episode five, for example, during one scene, there was a moment of silence, so I stopped performing. At that point, for the first time while performing, I had tears in my eyes. eyes. This one grabbed my throat. It wasn’t because of the music. It was because of Oscar Isaac’s performance. I knew how important that scene was, because it was important to me. I went with the simplest form of scoring because it delivered instantly,” he continues.
At that time, Nazih remembered the young boy he once was, sitting in front of a small television watching old movies, noticing how music was what appealed to him the most.
“I was maybe nine years old when I knew this was what I wanted to do. Watching these films, I kept wondering how this was happening to me, how this music was causing a gush of emotion that (hit) you right in your chest and stomach and everywhere. I was so taken by it as a kid. I remember movies like ‘The Godfather’ and ‘Rocky’, times when the music and image, color and sound are one in your head and heart I knew I wanted to do this too I didn’t even know what it was called but I knew I wanted to do,” says Nazih.
“Moon Knight,” with its returning storytelling elements, gave Nazih the chance to create a score as universal as the ones he first fell in love with, all with his Egyptian heart. He and Diab, however, sometimes disagreed about the predominance of Egyptian elements, Nazih reveals.
“Mohamed wanted to build the score on the Egyptian elements, and my idea was that the Egyptian presence is there, and it’s obvious, but it’s not a purely Egyptian show. It has to come out of the story authentically and at the right times. One of the great things about this show is that it’s for the whole world to watch and relate to, so it couldn’t be just for us Egyptians,” says Nazih.
Part of the problem was that Egypt and its culture is not a monolith. Egypt is a sprawling country with many cultures and musical traditions, so labeling something “Egyptian” limited what it could mean. For this reason, the team mixed in music that captured some of the country’s diversity.
“In Egypt, we listen to different kinds of songs and music every day,” says Nazih. “You go to the street and you hear Mahreganat, or Egyptian street music. Then you find a cafe that plays bassoon music from 70 years ago, then a hotel that offers classic Egyptian jazz. Everything is here.
When Marvel heard Nazih’s score, the feedback was instant – it exceeded all expectations.
“They kept saying how exciting it was, how fresh it was. It was extremely rewarding,” says Nazih.
That reaction was reflected when the show, which debuted this week on Disney+ in the Middle East, was released internationally in late March. Nazih’s score has racked up millions of streams across multiple platforms, and many who have no knowledge of his Egyptian heritage or his enormous work comment that he does what they want but a good score. do: elevate the Marvel storytelling they love so much.
This success has not gone unnoticed. Diab revealed to Arab News that Marvel is considering working with Nazih on future projects. While Nazih has yet to be contacted – or may have signed too many nondisclosure agreements to reveal anything – he knows his outstanding work has been recognized by Marvel executives.
“After the last episode aired internationally, (Marvel President) Kevin Feige invited us to a Zoom meeting. He said so many amazing things to me, and everyone else. They’re all really amazing people. They were all helpful, kind, and positive. It’s only for those people that you really want to work all night to deliver and push yourself, to reach places you didn’t even know you could go,” says Nazih. I would love to work with all of them again.”