Egyptian producer Ahmed El Ghazoly, also known as ZULI, caught our attention as a boundary-crushing force after being a go-to producer for local rappers. He’s in town to perform at BRDCST as part of Cairo’s New Wave programme curated by Nadah El Shazly, but don’t be mistaken: El Ghazoly isn’t solely defined by his identity. Though he dislikes the socio-political situation back home, he remains in Cairo because it’s cheap and allows him to make a living from his music. Knowing he was around, we couldn’t resist showing him around Brussels, right after his DJ set at The Word Radio. So we took him – willingly or not – and hopped on Tram 51 for a trip through town and a chat.

Interview by Hannes Rooms
Photos by Catherine Lemblé, shot in Brussels

Grime, dubstep, jungle, garage: I hear UK influences in your sound.
All my influences come from the internet and, before that, from MTV. I tend not to think too much about these things. I just use whatever sounds I’m drawn to. I wasn’t even aware how UK my music was before people started telling me. I’m not sure if I even listen to that much UK stuff in particular, I think it’s more American trap these days. Growing up in London until my tenth birthday definitely had an impact on me, but not musically. I was too young.

All my influences come from the internet and, before that, from MTV

In a press release you stated: ‘I might have more in common with an Indian accountant in New Delhi than with another Egyptian musician.’
Grouping musicians together is not as easy as people make it look. Just because two musicians live in the same city doesn’t necessarily mean they have anything in common. If you were to look through an unbiased lens, you’d see very different individuals. I do understand where it comes from and that there are no ill intentions, but I feel this is something I need to point out. In the press and in conversations amongst musicians, the story is often valued more than the real situation.

What does urban culture mean to you?
I don’t wanna be boring, but again, it isn’t something I think about. I always liked trap music because of the sound. It has less to do with its socio-economic background but more to do with the rhythms and grooves. I understand why these labels are used, but it’s literally the music for me.

You also produce trap beats for local rappers. Who should we google?
The only one you can find online is Abusive. None of the work with the other rappers has been released yet. The plan was to do a mixtape with all of them, but since I lost my files I’m back to square one. Discovering a new generation of rappers inspires me.

Discovering a new generation of rappers inspires me

You sample them in your work as ZULI. Are those lines carefully chosen?
I use a lot of rap vocals from these sessions, but also acapellas I find online. I don’t look at the meaning of the lyrics; I just use flows I like.

What makes you sad?
I’m very emo, man. Everything can make me sad. How emo is that answer from one to emo?

Very emo…
There’s a difference between being sad and being disappointed about something unfortunate. I’m often disappointed about, for example, the situation in Cairo.

How disappointed were you when your equipment was recently stolen on tour?
I took a train from Paris to Poitiers and fell asleep like an idiot. I woke up when we arrived and my laptop, interface and headphones were gone. Then a GoFundMe was organised for me which reached the target in just three days. Psychologically, that really lifted me. The kindness and support in the scene is just overwhelming. Now that I think about it, I get emotional.
Thanks for the ride. Please remember to check out.

Zuli will be performing on 6 April at BRDCST
BY NIGHT at Beursschouwburg, Brussels
Free for all.