Felukah: Egypt’s very own rap goddess

With her ever-so-suave demeanor, Sara Elmessiry is smoothly sailing her way through Egypt’s rap scene. Drawing comparisons to Leonard Cohen and Patti Smith, Sara paints her music with effortless poetic nuances.

Apart from her eclectic beats, Sara’s lyrics are what seem to delve through your very being through her raw and honest diction, making every word relatable.

Her Arabic and English lyrical fusion sets forth the exploration of the immense beauty of both languages whilst never straying away from her Egyptian identity. Artefact meets Egypt’s very own rap goddess also known as Felukah:

To start off, your name Felukah is extremely distinctive. Could you tell us where that came from?

Thank you! My mother thought of it originally. We were sitting on our balcony back in Cairo, bouncing stage names back and forth when she thought up Felukah. We were looking for a word in Arabic that would be easily pronounced in the West—the philosophy around the name unfolded organically after that. Just like a felucca (sailboat) that’s sailing along the river, I want to embody an ebb and flow in my verse. Artistically and psychologically, I choose to stay open and explore where the wind takes me, it’s a very peaceful paradigm that I write in. Even if the emotion I’m grappling with is unkind or unpretty, the paradigm itself is rooted in authenticity and nature.

How did you first get into making music and why?

I’ve been a dedicated poet and a lover of verse for quite some time now. I self-published a few poetry chapbooks in the past years, before discovering my love for music, and the poetry flowed effortlessly onto the beat. My passion for writing met my passion for dance/rhythm— and that’s where hip hop came in. I also was lucky to grow up in a musical household; my brother plays the piano and taught me how to record myself on ProTools. I’ve found music to be one of the most beautiful, cathartic forms of expression.

Could you tell us about the ideas, philosophies, and overall message derived from your most recent album Dream 23?

Dream 23 Album Cover

Dream 23 differs both musically and lyrically from anything I’ve put out before. The music is vibrational, energetic and calm at the same time — a quality I’ve always admired about timeless hip hop and R&B records. We’re serving old school flows on new school beats, lofi energy on heated topics like women’s empowerment, self-discovery and cultural pride. The album lyrically and sonically explores space in the first half and earth in the other, validating the dream world and the real world equally. It is split in so many ways: sonically, culturally and spiritually. In this project I’m really trying to pay homage to both Egyptian roots and New York culture with each turn around the sun. Since I’ve spun 22 times already, this album encompasses my own Dream 23. In another sense, the title can symbolise the sheer multiplicity of being; I could’ve chosen to chase one dream like rap, but instead it’s something more like 23 dreams — my interests multiply and deepen over time.

What’s your favourite song on the album?

Probably Apocalypse at the moment. It changes a lot, I’m always reflecting on my work. It’s been about six months since Dream 23 dropped and I can feel the music evolving and changing. Apocalypse stays hard, though.

As a creative writing student in New York, how do you merge the skills you acquire as a writer into your music? Who is your favourite female writer?

Felukah in a bathtub while wearing a glittery dress

Those skills definitely overlap. Exploring the underpinnings of writing has really shaped my view of the artistic process. Writers like Radwa Ashour, Haruki Murakami and poets like Nayyirah Waheed and Ocean Vuong inspire me deeply. The prose or poetry speaks volumes to me, so much so that it pushed me into the studio. Long before I found music, I was pushing my own poetry and attending my favourite authors’ readings around Cairo, New York and London. I like the idea of staying connected to print as I explore sound.

The hip-hop industry in Egypt is male dominated. Do you find yourself running into any challenges as a female rapper?

Without a doubt there’s limitations—but these limitations are there to be pushed. I’ve had to deal with my own limitations and insecurities as a majorly underrepresented Arab woman in America, and as a Westernised Egyptian in Cairo. Creating my own blueprint for this music flex has been and continues to be difficult, but it is incredibly rewarding and motivating at the same time. I rise to the occasion of setting my own scene for this in between.

Who are you addressing in your music, and what do you want to tell them?

I like to think the music speaks out onto a middle ground we can all relate to. Being neither here nor there, caught in our own worlds but calling out to the future. I think seeing that kind of representation and rocking it can potentially be really empowering, or at least I hope it is. I hope to leave a legacy of authenticity and innovation through my work—surrendering always to the calls of the universe as sources of creativity. My music is for anyone who can relate to this world of mine.

Are there certain topics you wish to highlight in your music?

All that speaks to me, always. But when I think impact, I think of inspiring a generation of people who strive to push love beyond all else. I want to encourage a closeness to the soul, an understanding of the spirit as it relates to music, narrative, craft. Topically, I want to empower women to break the silence and voice their thoughts and opinions on matters that have made men (and other women) uncomfortable in the past. I want to explore spaces and topics of real truth, whether that comes with pain or power is besides the point. Art will always give to you what you pour into it. I want to inspire people to create and to question, whilst bopping like a G.

How do you merge your Egyptian identity in your music?

Cairo on the mic so rock steady,
New York on my mind so rhyme heavy

Felukah rests on a terrace in sunny weather

I try to stay open to the influence of both and all cultures. I feel the underpinning and ancestral history of Egypt in my soul and I try to make it come through in my music. Delivery and aesthetic may be heavily Western influenced—I like icy trap beats and a crazy flow. That could be found on the corner of 118th and Frederick Douglass. But the content of the verse, the essence of it all comes from Cairo capital.

Who are your musical idols?

I gravitate towards old school flows and bar spitters like Nas and Andre 3000. I also like to employ honey melodies like Erykah Badu and Fairuz, moving forward from this album I want to explore more soul. Jazz also calls. At the root of anything I’ve ever created is a freestyle; I can only define my sound in the moment. I also admire artists like Solange, Noname, and Tyler, the Creator who toy with genre just enough to keep their sounds fresh while maintaining the same essence.

What is your all-time favourite song/album and why?

One of my favourite albums at the moment is “When I Get Home” by Solange. I admire the ways in which Solange has weaved in her experiences as a black woman navigating this world while still tapping into other realms. I relate to her distortions and creations of reality through music; when she gets ‘home’, wherever and whenever that may be, the world will know. Similarly, in my own way, I want to be on the run with Arabfuturism.

 

 

 


All images courtesy of Felukah.
Edited by Annika Loebig and Charlotte Griffin.