The call from Marvel Studios came out of the blue, composer Hesham Nazih recalls when the studio reached out to request a demo roll of his compositions. It wasn’t until weeks later, when Nazih was called to a meeting with Marvel’s music department, that he learned that they were interested in getting him to score the latest Disney+ miniseries. Moon Knight — and that Egyptian director Mohamed Diab, who served as executive producer and directed four of the series’ six episodes, had recommended the Egyptian-born composer.
Nazih’s enthusiasm for the project grew immediately upon seeing the first two episodes. “The character of Moon Knight and the character of Marc Spector [one of the many dissociative personas played by star Oscar Isaac], is so rich, so dramatically full,” he says. So were the dramatic elements in the show. “So much happened: suspense, drama, tragedy, romance, action-packed fight scenes. It was very challenging and inviting at the same time. I thought, ‘Wow, this is a full-volume photo.’ ”
Egyptian culture also plays a key element in the series – ancient gods appear as characters, both good and evil – and Nazih mixed folk instruments such as the arghul, mizmar (both reed instruments) and rebab (strings) into his orchestral score. “The music is organic,” Nazih says of his strategic use of Egyptian sounds. “Those old instruments fit perfectly within the orchestra. Sometimes they were in the front, sometimes [isolated] yourself. I played with depth.”
At the same time, however, Nazih notes that while the show contains Egyptian motifs both visually and sonically, “this show wasn’t about Egypt. The essence of it is part of the story, but it isn’t.” the story.”
Nazih says director Diab sought authenticity, a desirable quality that was taken for granted because of the composer’s identity. “Mohamed wanted it to sound authentically Egyptian, and I said, ‘Don’t worry about that. We wouldn’t do it any other way,” Nazih said. “It’s like my accent, the color of my skin and eyes, my hair – it’s all in it. I didn’t try to avoid Western stereotypes of Eastern music, because I don’t have that in me.”
Speaking in metaphorical terms about his musical approach, Nazih likens himself to a potter making a vessel, pointing out how he manipulates a single theme to work in different dramatic ways. “Sometimes it’s like a piece of clay that you roll in your hand, making it long and soft and thin,” he explains. “Then you can roll it into a ball, or shape it into squares – it’s the same piece of clay. I had to keep the unity of the music.”
Nazih also states that his goal was a sound that “leaves an impact in your chest and your head,” regardless of where the viewer comes from or where the project takes place. “Film music has reached a form of musicality that is now universal,” he explains. “It started in the West, but it’s not exclusive to the West anymore.”
This story first appeared in a standalone July issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.