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The Scene talks to French rapper MC Solaar about the influence of a Cairo childhood on his music.
The Scene: You were born in Senegal and grew up in Paris. What's your connection with Cairo?
MC Solaar: When I was kid I had an uncle who used to work here in Egypt. He invited my brother and I to visit him. I was 12 and we were going to see the country of the pyramids. It was paradise. It was my first time getting out of the suburbs of Paris and going to a place we'd only seen in schoolbooks, the first time taking a plane to another continent. You don't know the language and you play with the little boys on the street, learning the language by watching TV and listening to the radio, and through music too.
TS: What was it like being at school in Cairo?
MS: It was an amazing experience. When I arrived it was very hard. There were people from everywhere, speaking many languages so I tried to be strong. What was good in that school was that when were talking about Saqqara or any of the pyramids we'd just go and see them. When I went back to France I realized, "Yeah, that was pretty cool." I was very happy to have been in that school because it made me discover that the world is big. It's not just the suburbs where I used to live. When I was in that school I thought I would be perhaps a journalist or a translator. Often when I dream at night I do remember when I was in Egypt and when I was in that school because it was a very rich period for me.
TS: What keeps you coming back to Cairo?
MS: I like the noises and smells of the town, the places where people are living. It's good for the health; hanging around from morning until night, finding something to eat with your hands. I have been to many places like this. I get my ideas by traveling. I try to go to places or countries I have never been before and then take something away from them. I've recently been to Poland and Iceland. I just like sampling the vibe. Places I normally I wouldn't be able to go, that's the places I go. Then I go back to my studio in Paris just for reflection.
TS: Did Cairo inspire you musically?
MS: The first thing I understood was not the TV or radio, it was music. We'd sit on the streets and make up our own songs. We also discovered the big Egyptian orchestra, with the drummers and the beautiful charismatic women. We used to go to the pyramids once a week for the "son et lumiere" shows. They tell the story of Egypt, of the pharaohs and it was very dramatic, with music, with big voices it was very nice to see all the lights on the pyramids. It's good to see it as tourist because I'm a tourist myself sometimes. They used to be well dressed at nights, as if they were going to the opera. It was creative to be here. The sights, the things I have sung about in every album, on all songs, it comes from here.
TS: What are your musical influences?
MS: Certainly the jazzy hip-hop of the 80s. I was into A Tribe Called Quest, Jungle Brothers, Queen Latifah and the Original Flavor Unit. Very peace and jazz. It all started with the Zulu Nation. Afrika Bambaataa came to France and it felt like we had a new family. We shared something together. That was the beginning. We tried to be the best at rapping, sometimes painting, sometimes dancing, sometimes turn-tabling. And I chose rapping. I wanted to make music in which I was able to talk about life. I am very happy because I wanted to talk and I am talking.