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Hesham Nazih Interview: Moon Knight

Hesham Nazih Interview: Moon Knight Image
  • Posted on 22nd May, 2022 05:07 AM

Moon Knight composer Hesham Nazih chats about his work on the show, blending Egyptian and contemporary music, and working in the Marvel universe.

style="text-align: center;">Warning: Some SPOILERS for Moon Knight to follow.

Marvel recently wrapped up the first season of Moon Knight, which is arguably the best Disney+ MCU outing yet. Created by Jeremy Slater and featuring Oscar Isaac in top form, Moon Knight brought a new hero (or three) into the MCU even as it told a story notably separate from the Marvel entries that came before it. Although Moon Knight tells a fantastical story, the series has been largely praised for the care taken when portraying everything from DID (dissociative identity disorder) to ancient Egyptian theology and customs.

Moon Knight's focus on telling its story the correct way extends to its music, as the show tapped established Egyptian composer Hesham Nazih to create the score. Nazih is no stranger to composing for films that top the Egyptian box office, but Moon Knight marks his largest English-language project to date.


Related: Marvel Already Proved Moon Knight Can Return, Despite Oscar Isaac's Contract

Hesham Nazih spoke with Screen Rant about blending musical styles, finding his way to working with Marvel, and some of his creative choices on Moon Knight.

Screen Rant: Can you talk about your background? How did you first get into composing, and what road led you here?

Hesham Nazih: I'll go backward. I started doing music for films, mainly - this is my main occupation, doing music for feature films and TV series and stuff - for the past maybe 23 years, somewhere around then. My first feature was in 1997, and then it goes like - yeah. This is 2022 so this makes it 25 years. I didn't get the chance to study music academically, you can call me self-taught. I've been playing music since I was a kid in local bands, and slightly bigger bands, in Cairo, Egypt. Actually in other cities too, in the city of Alexandria and the city of Port Said, which is a smaller city by the Suez Canal. In the tip of the Suez Canal and the Mediterranean.

And this is where I grew up, and this is where I learned everything about music, and this is where I learned that I would love to be a composer. Until the age of 17 when I joined the college, joined the university - where I studied engineering actually, which is not really related to music. But I always knew that this is only a temporary phase, that I could cross this education phase and join the professional realm of music composing.

Screen Rant: How did you get involved with Moon Knight? I also understand that you found yourself in a temple to Khonsu right before you got this job? Is that true? 

Hesham Nazih: Yeah, that is correct! I joined the show, well, first, one day Angie [Hesham's manager] called me and told me we received an e-mail. She repeatedly called me and was like "Please call me, I have big news," then she said we received an e-mail from Marvel. And I was like "Marvel? Marvel... is there such thing as Marvel Arabia, maybe, maybe there's Eastern Marvel," and she said "No, it's Marvel, there's only one Marvel. That's the only Marvel we know. And they want your demo reel, they want to listen to your demo reel because they only have three days to decide on a big project that they're working on." And I was like "Ah, okay, this doesn't make much sense to me. They already made their mind up, but they're just checking more options. It's not going to happen."

I didn't know what it was about, and at that time I had never met Mohamed Diab before - the director. Never met him, even by chance. Of course, I've known him from his films and we knew each other from our work, but we never met. Never talked, never worked together, or anything, and we don't have too many friends in common. So I was so oblivious, I didn't know what it was about. And a few days... a lot longer than Marvel mentioned in the beginning, more than three days, about ten days, they wrote back and they were like "Okay, all right, we want to hold a meeting with Hesham. Just a meet-and-greet and stuff," and I was like "Oh, this must mean something."

The first meeting, I met with Dave Jordan, the head of the music department... from Marvel. It was an amazing meeting. They were amazing. They were so friendly, so accommodating, they were so much fun, really. And they told me all about Moon Knight, the show, the character, everything, and they told me about Khonsu. And of course, at this time I know it's Mohamed Diab's project. Afterward, perhaps a couple of months later, I flew to Budapest to meet with Diab where he was filming. This was our first meeting. And then I realized that he recommended me or suggested me to Marvel, and they contacted me.

The first meeting Marvel told me about Moon Knight and Khonsu; I didn't know there was a god named Khonsu. And then I read about it, and I discovered that it's a big one because he's the son of Amun, that's the biggest in ancient Egyptian beliefs. And just a few days before my flight to Budapest to meet with the guys, I had to fly from Cairo to Luxor for a few hours - just a few hours - for something that had nothing to do with Moon Knight, and then fly back to Cairo at night.

In the city of Luxor, I visited this huge temple of Karnak, that is a great temple, a very famous temple. And within the premises of Karnack there is another temple, and we had a guide at the time, and the guide took us and we stepped into this other temple, and the guide said "We are now stepping into the temple of Khonsu."

And I was hit by the notion that there is a temple of Khonsu, and by that time, of course, I wasn't allowed to talk to anyone, anybody around me about Moon Knight or the show, or what I was doing. And this visit had nothing to do with Moon Knight, so I kept my mouth shut and I was so taken by this shocking coincidence that I had to fly a thousand kilometers, maybe, from my place to Khonsu's temple. And then, because it was a special visit, they opened this little chamber, the chamber of Khonsu himself, and so we stayed in it for a few minutes. And I went out to get some fresh air, and it was night, and I looked up to the sky and it was a full moon. So I thought to myself, "Okay, this must be it. I'm here for a reason, it must be for a reason." And then a few days later I flew to Budapest, so yeah. It was amazing.

Screen Rant: Once you found out that it was this show, rooted in Egyptian mythology, what was it like when you started creating music for it?

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Hesham Nazih: When I got back from Budapest, because this trip to Budapest was the first step toward the actual work. Getting to know the show - and this is when I watched the first two episodes - I visited the sets, and I'd been to one of the shooting days. I got involved in the work, and I got to sit with Diab and talk a lot about the whole thing. I got to read all the episodes and stuff, so yeah, when I got back - this was in August, maybe? Early August, mid-August, somewhere around there - this is when I started to write the music for the show. And this is where I started to put the main, big ideas, or main blocks of the musical ideas of the show together.

Screen Rant: What's your composing process like? Are you writing on piano, another instrument, how does it work for you?

Hesham Nazih: I don't have a specific or fixed routine, but I usually compose on piano. You know, my MIDI controller here. MIDI keyboard. I'll just write the main themes. And sometimes it hit me when I was driving or walking around, something and then I would grab my phone and hum it or record the idea. I don't have a fixed routine, but yeah, first on the piano and then try to input instrumentation and musical color to the main musical ideas.

Not quite often I do that, but when I do that, I only do that for the scores I intend to make melodic and thematic. Because not all scores are thematic and melodic. But this one, I had in mind that this was going to be very thematic, so I started with the themes and melodies and motifs first. So this is why I'd write it on the piano first.

Screen Rant: And you had to create themes - there were all these different characters, and then there were gods, and then you had Marc and Steven and their relationship. Was there any writing that was particularly challenging for you?

Hesham Nazih: All of them! All of them. Of course, actually, the main one, and the theme for Arthur Harrow. Though very small, very motif-like, it was really - I had to do it a few times before getting convinced and getting everyone convinced with it. Because, you know, Arthur Harrow is not just another regular villain. He's a cultish figure, and he's someone who acts upon a belief. He has a reason and he has a rationale behind what he's after.

And he's been in Marc's shoes before. He's been Khonsu's avatar before for quite a few years, and he knows. So, he's not just a bad guy, when you introduce a bad guy, he's someone with a principle. I'm not saying he's right, it doesn't make him right, but he's someone who needs to be musically dealt with in a different manner.

Of course, the main theme for Moon Knight. Although, the one I have put in the show is the first idea I had on the first day, in the very first moments I laid my fingers on the piano. But I stayed for too long, trying to alter it, change it, come up with something else. I always came back to it. Always, always came back to it.

Screen Rant: And what about your instrumentation? It sounds like you use some traditional Egyptian elements, and then you also use a lot of vocals. So what was your thought process in combining all those instruments together?

Hesham Nazih: The magnitude. The magnitude, the scale of - you know, there are moments in the episodes and the story... when they reflect sheer power, sheer amount of rage and power. So, I was thinking of this wall of sound, this large fabric of sound that encompasses the spectrum of the story, which lies within the Egyptian mythology, and the Avengers, and the action, and the romance, and the dramatic tension, and everything the show has. It's a very wide spectrum of eventful, and I like to call it high-octane, dynamism. So, I had in mind everything at once.

I knew that at some given point, I had to put it all to the max. All the Egyptian elements, the orchestral, vocals, everything that can sing. Everything that can hum. Everything that produces a sound to be there in this wall of sound. Of course, these are specific moments, not all the shows, but some specific moments I need to do that. So I need to come up with the elements that blend well, and fit together well.

And luckily enough, I found those Egyptian authentic instruments, like the rabāba and the mizmār and the arghul among others, that sit perfectly well within the classical orchestra for some cosmic reason. They sound well within them, they sound well solo, they sound well within the ensemble, they sound well on top of it, buried on top of it, they blend really well.

Speaking of the vocals that you mentioned... One of the great, or the easiest, or the most prominent way to express the Egyptian - to portray the Egyptian music, is by vocals, because we sing. We're a people - we sing. You walk on the street, you step by someone sitting, and you find them humming or singing. We sing. In everything, in most of our habits and customs, we're melodic, we're so used to singing. In rituals, in prayers, in everything! In ceremony, in weddings, we sing. We're a people used to singing, rather than playing. We don't use instruments much. So singing is the main focus in music.

I first used the vocal elements while portraying the Egyptian aspects in the music, but afterward, the big chorals became a great part of the composition itself.

Screen Rant: Were there any moments or was there an episode that was the most exciting for you to work on?

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Hesham Nazih: Yeah, there were like six of them that were really exciting! I remember six of them being really exciting. Yeah, each one of them is special in their own way.

The first is so special in the way - how would you tackle the action and introduce the musical character within the events and within the scenes. And the second was, "All right, we're getting deep into trouble, into business." And the third's "All right, we're in Cairo, Egypt, and this is the confrontation, and really really huge moments and scenes where Khonsu sacrifices himself and trusted Marc to liberate him once again." And then comes the fourth episode with this insane twist. And the fifth, with all this multitude of everything in full and in excess, and then the finale. It's an amazing show.

Screen Rant: Do you hope to work more in this world? And do you have something coming up that people who love your music can check out after they watch Moon Knight?

Hesham Nazih: Oh, absolutely, I'd love to do more of that. Absolutely! It's a great universe to be in, the Marvel universe. I wouldn't have - I didn't have that in mind, that one day I'd be writing music for the Marvel universe, and yes of course I would love to come back to it. And for now, no, I'm just relaxing and having much-needed time with my family and my little daughter and son. I'm enjoying this time off for the moment.

More Moon Knight Interviews

Moon Knight follows Steven Grant, a mild-mannered gift-shop employee, who becomes plagued with blackouts and memories of another life. Steven discovers he has dissociative identity disorder and shares a body with mercenary Marc Spector.

More: MCU Just Confirmed How Good A Spider-Man & Daredevil MCU Team-Up Would Be

All episodes of Moon Knight are now streaming on Disney+.

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