Interview by Erwin Van Dijk
The band Dendura is from Detroit/Grand Rapids, Michigan (USA). Dendura describes themselves as (breath in) Female fronted Egyptian themed prog metal or Egyptian infused prog metal with live belly dancing. Of course, Dendura is not the first band that incorporates Egyptian themes in their music. Examples are Nile (music and texts) and Iron Maiden (artwork see the album Powerslave and the current world tour. Steve Harris, who wrote the music for the song Powerslave never intended it as an Egyptian song. That was the idea of Bruce Dickinson much later in the writing process.) Belly dancing is also something bands use on stage – see DeadCell or the dancers from Rapalje (both from Holland) and singers like Shakira (who has like Dendura‘s singer Lebanese roots) Other references of the ancient Egypt in our modern culture are TV series like Stargate, Battlestar Galactica, the movie 10,000 BC and cats are everywhere today. In fact, one can write entire books about this subject. So what makes Dendura different from these bands? Let’s find out with some questions for Dendura‘s singer and keyboard player Aziza Poggi.
Can you tell us something about Dendura? Who founded the band and why did you decide to use the ancient Egypt as a theme?
I founded the band and recruited Steve Wethy a month into it. I always wanted the middle eastern and Egyptian influence in our sound as I always was intrigued and felt close to that kind of music. In the beginning, only half of our songs had it. Now, they all do.
The fascination of the western culture for ancient Egypt originates way back in the days of the Roman empire, more than 2,000 years ago. Since you use the ancient Egypt for your music, can you tell us why we in the modern world are so interested in a civilisation that vanished 2,000 years ago?
I think Egypt is one of the most fascinating and mysterious countries in the universe and it does carry on in today’s world. So much history and invention comes from Egypt. Makeup, the mummies, architecture, the temples, statues, the kings and queens, deity’s, how Egyptians lived and functioned, their beliefs in the afterlife and preparing their dead for mummification. If you watch The History Channel, you’re bound to see something about Egypt there. Egypt will continue being a place of discovery as long as mankind is still here. There is so much more out there to be discovered and that fascinates people as it is a place of mystery.
Where does the name Dendura come from? There is a Hathor temple in the village of Dendera. (Hathor was among other things an Egyptian love goddess. She also tried to destroy the human race but that’s another story.)
The name came from the Temple of Dendera in Luxor Egypt, Hathor’s main temple. I am very fascinated by the Egyptian deities and found Hathor’s temple perfect for our band name. She was known as being the goddess of music, dance and poetry. We just changed the spelling.
Who is Aziza Poggi?
I am an artist. I look at our music as colors that need the right textures and elements to paint the song. I look at everything as a journey and the road never ends as long as I don’t want it to. I am always learning something new about my voice, discovering new things that intrigue me and I feel deeply connected to my roots.
Tell us about your interesting tattoos.
I have four tattoos total. I have Nephthys, the twin sister to Isis, the goddess of lower Egypt who tricked her sister’s husband/brother into sex to have a son of her own who was Anubis, the god of the underworld and guardian of the dead. She was the lesser known of the sisters. I have her son Anubis on my shoulder, a cobra with hieroglyphics wrapping around it and the Eye of Ra as well.
You have Lebanese/Egyptian roots. Does your cultural heritage makes you a different singer compared to other musicians?
I think everyone is different really. This is just what makes me different, but of course there are other middle eastern singers out there. We just all have our own voice and sound.
Is it difficult to combine being the frontwoman and to play on a synthesizer onstage? Personally I think only Anneke van Giersbergen from Agua de Annique and the Gathering can get away with it. With a lot of other bands, like Grimskunk from Canada it simply doesn’t work. The synth acts like a barrier between the singer and the audience. What synthesizer do you use?
It’s a Korg, IX300.
And how? Like a piano or more for the sound effects?
I use the keyboard more for effects. Like a nice and heavy chamber sound or symphonic sound. In my case, I am not behind the keyboard that much. I play on sections where it fills up the sound. Our newer songs have less keyboards so I wont be back there as much as I have before. I have played it throughout the entire song of “I Have a Gun” and on the song “Symphony” and sometimes I just play sections on the keyboard on those songs that require it. If I were doing fancy keyboard parts, I couldn’t sing and play it at the same time (not yet) but because the keyboard parts I do play are simple, I can do that. I guess it depends on the vibe I am feeling with the audience.
Can you tell us something about the other members of Dendura?
Steve Wethy (Guitar) has been with the band since the formation. He also sings backups and writes lyrics. Sometimes, he comes up with vocal melodies which he is great at. He and I have been through a lot together and have always been on the same page musically when we were going through members and changes in our sound. Paul Stein (Guitar) joined about two year ago. I call him the linear thinker. He is very creative and also very technical. He and Steve are always coming up with new guitar lines and feed off each other very well. The guys all act like brothers. Justin Lee Dixon (Drums) is the newest member. He can mix up the metal and Middle Eastern drums really well. He has an incredible ear. He isn’t just great at playing drums. He sits in on my singing lessons with me often and gives me feedback and knows when I’m singing my best and when I am not. Each one of us has our own strengths and weaknesses and we all know what they are so we all balance each other out. It’s a perfect relationship.
Last time I was checking Dendura‘s website there was no bass player. For what kind of person are you looking for?
We have been looking for over a year now for the right bassist and we are working with one right now who we think might be the permanent member. We won’t be announcing anything final until after our CD is recorded. He fits in perfectly on a musician level and on a personal level. We auditioned several bassists before him and had one other really good candidate. We were looking for someone who musically was right, who would play more low-end bass, no slap (as was before), and who had the right personality. We have had people in the band before whose personalities and styles didn’t quite fit our own and, ever since, the band has said that will never happen again no matter how long it takes us to find the right person. We’ll use session people until then. Justin was playing as a session drummer for three months before we asked him to join, a bassist filled in for four months and we didn’t hire him, and now the bassist we are using has been with us for three months and he is on the verge of being hired. You only can get to know someone’s true colors with time and much practice. I compare it to being in a relationship because it really is like that. I wouldn’t commit myself to someone if I wasn’t with them for a few months. Steve and I just got lucky from the beginning as he was hired right away and sometimes luck plays a big part, and sometimes it doesn’t.
Dendura has released one album in 2006 called “New Life” (Killzone Records). Can you tell us something about the songs and the album in general?
“New Life” was self-released before we were on Killzone but they are releasing our new album we are working on right now with a Grammy-winning producer and Killzone has distribution with Century Media. The songs on the album are about a mixture of self-empowerment and Egyptian gods and ancient Egyptian history. For instance: “I Have a Gun” is our first song we wrote as a band and, at the time, I got out of an emotionally and physically abusive relationship. I wrote the song as my own defense weapon. Like my own protection. The gun isn’t stating I am going to harm this person, but I am protecting myself in case he comes and harms me again. The gun is more imaginary. “I, Nephthys” and “Isis” are Egyptian goddesses and sisters. They actually lyrically go together if you check out the words. In “I, Nephthys”, I am singing the song as if I am her confessing my sins to my sister for tricking Osiris (Isis’s husband) into sex to have a son, hence Anubis. In “Isis”, the song is still sung as if I am Nephthys and it’s about her qualities as a goddess. “Mummified” is about transition in life. I left it a little cryptic so it’s open for interpretation. “Rage” is about feeling as if I’m a puppet and releasing myself from others wishes on my life. “Symphony” came from a dream I had actually. I was out cold asleep, dreaming of wolves hunting me down in the woods. The keyboard parts were playing in the background like I was in a film. I have always had a fear of being eaten to death. I woke up, remembered those keyboard parts and started writing “Symphony”.“Nemesis” is a self-empowerment song about fighting the machine and way of life others put on us. I remember someone telling me once, we should strip away our Egyptian roots so we are more commercial-friendly and that is what is wrong to me in music. I think creative freedom and control is very important and feeding ideas and thoughts on how to make the song better is completely fine and understanding, but changing someone’s roots is wrong to me and we won’t do that. “Shadowman” has nothing to do with Egypt or self-empowerment but is about the fictional character Laura Palmer from the Twin Peaks series to be exact. I am a movie buff and sometimes, we’ll combine story lines with films we have seen.
And the last question: what are Dendura’s plans for the future?
To continue to grow musically and myself vocally.