By Myki Angeline
HEGAZY are Leila and Omnia Hegazy, twin sisters from New York with an extensive music background. Each started a solo career in their teens. Leila began hers as an R&B singer performing in several well-known venues in New York, including the legendary Apollo Theater. She also studied Studio Composition at the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College.
Omnia preferred a more rebellious rock/pop sound and became the more politically outspoken sister. She attended the Clive Davis Institute at NYU Tisch. As solo artists, they released a handful of critically-acclaimed EPs (Leila also released a full length album) before coming together as a duo. It was after their father’s passing in 2015 that Leila and Omnia came up with the name HEGAZY. It was their way of honoring his wish to have his daughters come together as a musical duo.
In the Summer of 2017, HEGAZY recorded their first EP together, Young which is set for release in February of this year. The 2nd single released, “Here To Stay” is a politically-charged song that speaking strongly against xenophobia; a subject the twins know all too well. Growing up as females who are half-Egyptian and raised Muslim, Leila and Omnia have endured racism and sexism all of their lives, and especially in the music industry. But, instead of being discouraged, the twins work together bringing awareness to the issues by combating social injustice with their unapologetic lyrics and soulful music.
I reached out to Leila and Omnia to learn more on what drives these inspirational sisters and what advice they have for women in the music industry.
WiMN: Can you share with us the inspiration for your single, “Here To Stay” and what the
reaction and feedback has been since its release?
HEGAZY: “Here to Stay” is about xenophobia, which we experienced first-hand while growing up Muslim in the age of 9/11. Our goal was to satirize the ridiculous stereotypes
people have about immigrants, and the fear-mongering rhetoric that has become so
normalized by our current president and those like him. We wanted to say that yes,
we (immigrants and their children) are coming/already here, and we’re not going
anywhere. The feedback has been mostly positive except for a few comments here
and there from Trump-supporters. Our favorite was that “we have a lot of nerve”
and our response to that, is yes, we do. When you’re young Muslim women living in
a country where the current administration hates you, you’d better have some
HEGAZY: Yes and yes. We both have “difficult” Middle Eastern names and this has been a
challenge for both of us in this white, male-dominated music industry. When we
decided to become a duo, it was important to us to avoid whitewashing our cultural
identity, which is why we chose to use our last name.
Of course being a woman adds another layer of challenges. There’s a lot of casual
sexual harassment and condescension. Male sound engineers constantly talk down
to us at shows, assuming we know nothing about sound. Male industry people talk
down to us and assume we know nothing about the business (they’re wrong).
Whenever Omnia shops for guitar-related things, male sale associates don’t take her
seriously (or ask if she is in the wrong department-true story).
Another factor that holds female musicians back is that men in decision-making
positions of the business often gravitate towards music made by other men. Most
industry people, from the labels, to the publishers, to the bloggers, are men. And if
you ask your average man (inside or outside the music industry) who his top 10
favorite bands/artists are it’s very likely that he’ll list 10 male artists/groups.
Whether they mean to or not, many men write off music made by women as “girl
music” and even if they like it, somehow it’s in a different category.
WiMN: How has being twin sisters impacted your music career, both personally and
HEGAZY: Being twins of the same gender, especially as women who look alike, we’ve naturally gravitated towards being part of a unit (as society expected us to), but we’ve also
struggled to find our individual voices. We’ve been socialized to do everything
together, and this has been both a blessing and a curse. Though we had lots of fun
writing our first songs together as young adults, at some point we naturally went our separate ways so that we could discover who were as individuals and musicians.
We went to separate high schools and colleges, and this was when our creativity
really blossomed – Leila fell in love with R&B/soul, and jazz, while Omnia wrote
angsty pop/rock songs, (some with Middle Eastern influence and political subject
matter). So while we’ll always have that twin connection and that magical sibling-
harmony, we’re really glad that we separated for a while – if we didn’t, our music
wouldn’t have benefited from the same pool of diverse influences.
WiMN: Who are some artists that have inspired you to become musicians?
HEGAZY: Our earliest influences were Oum Kalthoum, Billy Joel, and pop stars like Whitney Houston, Mariah Carey, Celine Dion, etc. The artists who have most shaped our
current sound are Emily King, Ella Fitzgerald, John Mayer, and Alabama Shakes.
WiMN: When is your album ‘Young’ releasing and do you have any shows lined up to
promote the album?
HEGAZY: Our EP Young will be out on Friday, February 9, 2018, and we’re celebrating with a big EP Release Show at Mercury Lounge in NYC that same night at 7pm (we go on
at 8pm). Other tour dates are still TBD, but our plan is to promote this EP far and
WiMN: What else does HEGAZY have in store for 2018? Did you attend the Women’s March on Jan 20th?
HEGAZY: In addition to touring, we plan on releasing our second EP (which is finished) in
2018. Sadly we were unable to make the Women’s March this year because we played another social justice-oriented event at a college that we’re really excited about.
WiMN: What advice would you both give to women wanting a career in the music
HEGAZY: Always speak your mind, even when your environment is a sausage fest. And never forget that “diva” is a sexist word used by men who are intimidated by you.
Learn more about HEGAZY at hegazyband.com