When they were 11 years old, twin sisters Leila and Omnia Hegazy loved to write songs together. As they grew older, their career paths diverged. Leila studied Studio Composition at the Conservatory of Music at Purchase College and sang at New York venues like the Apollo Theater; Omnia attended the Clive Davis Institute at NYU Tisch and became a politically outspoken artist in the Lower East Side’s indie scene. After their father died, though, they decided to join forces again and become HEGAZY, fusing their styles to create an uplifiting, powerful pop-rock sound.
We were recently able to chat with the Hegazy sisters about their EP Young, which will be released at the beginning of next year. Read on to learn their thoughts about everything from working as a creative team to standing up for social justice to drinking tea.
TYF: First of all, let’s introduce you to our readers. If you had to choose three adjectives to describe your sound, what would you say?
Leila Hegazy : Sometimes dirty. (Laughs)
Omnia Hegazy : Soulful, dirty… kind of lush.
TYF: You used to record music separately, but now you’ve teamed up to sing and write songs together. How would you say that’s changed your creative process?
Omnia: Yeah, we both were producing as solo artists. Our process is still, in a way, very similar in that we don’t necessarily start our songs in the same room with each other, because we’ve had the background of being individual musicians. Like, Leila will have an idea on her own, playing the piano or singing to herself, and then she’ll take that idea to me. Or sometimes I’ll start jamming on the guitar by myself, and then I’ll come up with a song, and I’ll take it to her. And it’s kind of like Lennon-McCartney, like finishing each other’s songs. So I guess for me, it’s just like there’s an extra filter to go through now. When we were solo, we didn’t really have that filter. But now we have the other person to get ideas out of, and we can put [each song] under a microscope and really rework it. And sometimes the songs that we make together stay in their original form, but most of the time, the other twin tends to “mess it up.”
Leila: “Mess it up” in a good way, and that’s what makes our music a little cooler, maybe, than when we were on our own. (Laughs)
TYF: Now let’s talk about your upcoming EP Young. What would you say are your favorite lyrics on the EP?
Omnia: In the single [“Alive”], there’s a line that goes, “I won’t die until I know that I’m alive,” and that’s the line that people seem to be saying back to us at shows a lot. They say the whole quote, so I guess that means something.
Leila: So in our second single, [which is] actually about to come out pretty soon, there’s a lyric at the end of the chorus. And the song is about xenophobia, and it focuses on what people think about immigrants. You know, what are they afraid of? And the lyric at the end of the chorus is, “You know what’s coming, and we’re taking something that was once yours.” And I feel like that one says a lot.
TYF: Speaking of which, in October, you guys tweeted a photo of a group of children. Your caption read, “Had a blast shooting music video #2 over the weekend with these cuties! This video is gonna melt hearts. #weareallimmigrants #heretostay” Can you tell us some more about this video, and how you developed the concept?
Leila: Yes. We’re so excited for it! So the basic concept of the video is to get a bunch of kids—and most of them are kids that we actually know personally, through their families—to participate in a video just doing what normal kids do. We have [kids from] all different backgrounds. The lead female is Syrian, and the lead male actor is Latino. And we just start with them waking up like any normal kids. They’re about to go to school, just doing their thing. It’s like, “Oh my goodness! Look at these immigrant families! They’re so scary!” (Laughs) It’s pretty much at school, on the playground and in the classroom. And the whole idea is, “This is what you’re afraid of. Kids playing with other kids.”
Omnia: They don’t care. Kids don’t care.
Leila: It was fascinating, too, because we set out to prove this point by making this music video, but we got all these kids in this room and they proved our point before we even proved it in our video. We just put all these kids from all these different backgrounds in a room—who didn’t know each other—and by the end of the day, they were all friends. So it just goes to show that it’s just the adults who can’t get it together. (Laughs) So that kind of speaks to what the song’s about, but in a fun way that’ll make people think and just really melt hearts. ‘Cause all the kids are so adorable.
Omnia: We’re actually not in the video at all. It’s pretty much all the kids. And we saw the video in our heads, actually, as we were writing the song. Usually, that’s not how it goes. Usually, we come up with the music video concept much later. It’s kind of like a political satire, in a way. It’s kind of like a “Na-na-na-na-na!” type thing directed, quite honestly, at the far right, saying, “This is what you’re scared of! These adorable children!” It makes them all look pretty dumb. (Laughs)
TYF: For the music video for your other song, “Alive,” you follow various people around New York City with a camera crew. Did you know these people ahead of time, or were they strangers you met through the video?
Omnia: We actually did know them. They were people that Leila and I, and the director, knew. The director said, “Well, let’s think of who we know who would be okay with us following them around at work and in their lives.” So that kind of helped in that it wasn’t as awkward to capture. The idea was, “People have a day job, and then they have what they really love to do.” And some people are lucky enough to have them be the same thing, but a lot of people aren’t, so that’s a struggle.
Leila: Also, I think even if you do like your day job, it’s not necessarily the only thing you’re doing. [The video shows that] people aren’t as predictable as we think. You can have multiple things that you love at the same time. Like, I’m a yoga teacher and a musician. It’s possible. (Laughs) I love that.
TYF: What’s the most interesting thing you saw while working on the video?
Leila: We got to go to a drag show, and that was a blast. The show at the end of the video was an actual drag show. We were following these people around, and we got to see the drag queens and really get some insight into drag culture. And we definitely knew about drag culture, but I think we learned so much. We’ve always had respect for it, but we learned more about what it means to take on another identity. Also, being there while Miz Jade was getting ready felt like such a privilege. We were like, “Oh my God, thank you so much for letting us be here and see into your world!” The whole downstairs area in her apartment, where she has all of her wigs and all of her shoes…
Omnia: That she makes herself.
Leila: That she makes herself. Oh my goodness. And we go to her, we’re like, “Thanks, it’s such a privilege.” And she goes, “(Laughs) It is!” It was such a fun show. I went to college with her. That’s how I know her.
TYF: You recently performed for the UN for Peace Day, as well. What was that experience like?
Omnia: It was cool. It’s always interesting to be the only musical act in a day full of speeches. And I think because of that, people received us really well, because they’d been listening to people talk for three hours. (Laughs) It was really powerful. We performed our single “Here to Stay,” which is coming up, at the UN, in the era of Trump. So that was a really powerful feeling to us. We were like, “Wow. We are speaking truth and power in a place that really actually matters.” It was beautiful to be able to do that. And we had the privilege of being able to have a lot of young people in the audience, which is usually not the case at the UN, because we performed at Student Day. It was all young people. And that’s really who we’re trying to reach with our music, anyway.
TYF: That’s a perfect segue into my next question. Since you seem to be very socially conscious individuals, do you have any advice for young people who are looking around at all the unrest in the world and thinking, “What can I do to help? What can I do to make a change?”
Omnia: I think that because of the Trump era, people can’t take peace for granted anymore. During the Obama era, everybody was like, “Everything’s cool! Everything’s fine,” and there wasn’t really a lot of awareness about problems in our country. And I think that a lot of problems have really come to the forefront because of the Trump administration. And the beautiful thing about it, even though it’s terrifying to us, is that young people are more engaged than they’ve ever been. I guess our advice would be, “Stay awake.” That’s a line in one of our songs. “Stay awake.” Because there’s a lot of people in our administration who are playing with your interests. And it’s up to you to call them out. It’s up to you to stand up and to make history and to help people. The state of things is not okay. Don’t just be complacent and let other people control your lives. And in a lot of ways, people are more mobilized than they’ve ever been, and that’s a great thing. I would say, “Keep staying awake. Stay woke.”
Leila: And not just on Facebook and Instagram.
Omnia: Not just on Facebook! Take it out to the streets. Posting is great, but go to political events and learn more and talk to people who disagree with you. I think that’s important.
TYF: Very good advice. And now a more lighthearted question—In an interview with another publication, you mentioned liking tea. What are your favorite flavors of tea?
Leila: Great question! I drink green tea every morning. I have to have green tea. But also, I love rooibos, personally. It’s a South African tea.
Omnia: I’ve always been an herbal tea person, but now I have no sense of smell, which means my sense of taste is almost nonexistent. Fun fact. (Laughs) Because of that, I’m all about black tea now, but I never was before. There’s a seriously strong English brand… What is it? Ahmad Tea. I have that brand of black tea every morning. I need it to wake me up.
TYF: Finally, is there anything else you’d like to say to the readers before we wrap things up?
Omnia: February 9th, our EP is coming out. Stay tuned for that!