Aya Metwalli (*1988) is an Egyptian vocalist, improviser and composer-performer particularly skilled in singing microtonal Arabic maqam. She grew up in Cairo where her father would play non-stop Oum Kalthoum songs on her childhood family road trips to the beach and her mother; known to have the most beautiful voice in the family, always sang at home and in gatherings with family and friends. Long before she was able to form her own taste in music, Aya was fed an extensive repertoire of classical Arabic songs and melodies that now lie on a bed of velvet in her heart. Aya started fiddling with the piano the age of five and soon after, she got her first solo singing gig on the pre-school stage. She continued to practice the piano with a home-teacher and received practice-based vocal training while fronting the school choir all throughout her school years. At the age of seventeen, she bought an acoustic guitar and self-learned the instrument while earning her bachelor’s in English literature. She posted cover songs on YouTube from her bedroom then moved on to writing and composing her own music and self-released singles on SoundCloud, slowly gathering an impressive online fanbase. In late 2011, she started performing live acoustic gigs at cafes and small venues in Cairo.
In 2014, she took advanced music production classes and stretched out her sound delving into the darker side of her subconscious mind. In 2015, she moved to Lebanon and established herself in the electronic and free-improv music scene in Beirut. She self-released her debut EP BEITAK toward the end of 2016 and has been exploring more avant-garde territories since.
Described as “a musical enigma” by The Guardian and a musician who has “crafted a spellbinding brand of anti-pop” by Pitchfork, Aya currently uses analog synthesizers to produce gritty textures and strange, unsettling soundscapes announcing the arrival of a grim reaper who never comes. She sings like a woman in a death wail, heavily influenced by traditional Arabic song, combining the sultry with the macabre and wedding noise to melody. Over the past few years, she has performed solo live sets at festivals such as Jazzwerkstatt in Switzerland, Onassis Stegi Tectonics in Greece, Norbergfestival in Sweden, La Magnifique Avant Garde in France, Irtijal Festival in Lebanon among others, as well as performed pieces for the Biennale Interstellaire des espaces d’art de Genève and the Singapore Biennale at Singapore Art Museum (SAM). She’s also been featured in Nicolas Jaar’s audiovisual installation Retaining the Energy, but Losing the Image at Het HEM in the Netherlands and Gilles Aubry’s sound installation The Whistle at OTO Sound Museum in Zürich. Most notably, she was commissioned by Musik der Jahrhunderte Stuttgart e.V. to compose a piece for the contemporary vocal ensemble Neue Vocalsolisten Stuttgart, which was presented within the framework of ECLAT Festival Neue Musik Stuttgart in Germany and ULTIMA Oslo Contemporary Music Festival in Norway.
Besides music, Aya has a background in dance and has received intensive training at Cairo Contemporary Dance Center (2012-2014) under the artistic direction of the internationally renowned Egyptian dancer and choreographer Karima Mansour. In 2019, she took part in the critically-acclaimed Lebanese dancer and choreographer Ali Chahrour's theater spectacle Layl/Night as a dancer and singer. The piece was performed at Ann Arbor University in Michigan, Bard College in New-York, Zürcher Theater Spektakel in Zurich, Kunstfest in Weimar, Campania Teatro Festival in Napoli and DañsFabrik Festival in Brest.
At present, Aya is in conversation with her demons, working on her debut LP and continues to experiment with live performance and improvisation.