This weekend, many Penn State students will likely travel to Dover, Delaware for the upcoming Firefly Music Festival, but only one will be on stage.
Marwan Ibrahim — "Mar1," as he's referred to on stage — has two timeslots during the event, where he will perform in front of his largest crowds yet.
He will first perform Friday evening from 8-9 p.m. at The Thicket, and 10 a.m. Saturday at the North Hub Beach Club.
“I remember my friends and I would watch festival 'after movies' and be like ‘Oh, we should totally go to that festival,’” Ibrahim (senior-energy engineering) said. “But I was like, ‘No, I want to perform at that festival.’”
More so, Ibrahim said he had wanted to perform at the first festival he attended and has gotten his wish.
Before leaving State College for the trip, he expressed his nervousness.
“Before any show, in my head, I say, ‘There are a million ways this could go wrong,’” he said. “But I feel, like, once I see people dancing, I won’t care what happens. As long as I’m enjoying myself up on the stage, the people down there will enjoy themselves.”
Ibrahim said he does plan to learn from the environment, comparing it to an outdoor, three-day lecture.
Accompanying Ibrahim will be high school friend Duncan Hillyer, videographer Zain Elwakil and manager Paul Rex Rivera.
Ibrahim credits Hillyer, 21, of Fairfax, Virginia, with his first big gig — a New Year’s Eve party during their senior year of high school.
Supporting his friend for several years now, Hillyer said he is “insanely proud” of Ibrahim’s accomplishments.
“His work ethic and his passion for what he is doing — that right there can carry him to whatever heights he wants to achieve,” Hillyer said. “[Firefly]’s going to be an adventure for both us.”
Meanwhile, Elwakil, 21, of New York City has a vision for the film he wants to produce for the festival.
“The biggest thing is going to be telling the story of how he is feeling while performing,” Elwakil said. “It comes down to moments and feelings… and we’re all super, super excited for what’s going to happen.”
Before working with music, Ibrahim was also well-known for another activity: swimming.
Competing professionally for 16 years, Ibrahim said he participated in a world cup in Qatar and also swam with the Egyptian national team.
When choosing Penn State, he imagined joining the university's varsity team, but instead chose to focus on his studies. That said, he did join the club swim team where he met Rivera, who graduated from Penn State last fall.
Explaining that the title of “manager” is not as central to him as his friendship with Ibrahim, Rivera had the select vantage point of seeing his friend as a swimmer, student and artist.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s swimming, school or DJ-ing, there’s still a time commitment and intensity and focus required to be good at it,” Rivera said.
By age 5, Ibrahim was enrolled in piano lessons where he soon became “that kid that could do crazy things on the piano.” He said his parents emphasized the importance of understanding notes and practicing every day.
“Music was always there in the background,” Ibrahim said.
More specific to Ibrahim’s journey to Delaware, he said he asked his parents for a small mixing set during his junior year of high school. Beforehand, he had just found free, online software to create music and wanted to “get more serious” about his production.
His mother, Samah Yousef, said she was hesitant to make the purchase because the family was in the process of moving, but ultimately bought the equipment during her son’s senior year.
Ibrahim created a makeshift studio in his garage, which he pointed out was directly next to his neighbor’s house.
“[My neighbors] hated it,” he said, laughing.
Most of his knowledge stemmed from online tutorials and continuous practice.
What started as minor song edits sent to friends soon turned into booking gigs. At Penn State, he has performed at parties, fraternities and local establishments, such as The Basement Nightspot and Champ’s Downtown.
“[Firefly] is a very important step in Marwan’s career in the future,” Yousef said. “Whatever the result, I believe the experience and knowledge is the most important thing in this stage. I consider this festival the first real step for Marwan.”
With time, Ibrahim sharpened his process — or rather, his lack of one.
“I have no process,” he said. “As soon as something hits my head, I run to my computer and try to put it out there and see how it works.”
He has also drawn inspiration from the world around him. For example, one State College storm led to his composition “Thunderstorms.”
Ibrahim said he is ready for the adventures his music will take him — and the places those adventures will be.
He's moved around a lot — he lived in Alexandria, Egypt for six years total and has also lived in South Africa, India and Qatar. Through high school, he said he attended a new school each year.
“Music takes you places,” Ibrahim said. “Going around to places and discovering new cultures, in a way, humbles you because if you stay in one place… eventually, you’re going to think the world revolves around you.”
Beyond music, Ibrahim said his main priority is his degree. He said as soon as he gets his diploma, he will “go full-on music.”
For a moment, he imagined what his life would look like should he be unable to perform, but said he would still be involved in music in some way, like managing artists or operating light systems at festivals. Ultimately, he said his background in energy engineering will help him with his technology-based career path.
Through all his adventures, Ibrahim appreciates the support he has found from friends and family.
“That fact that the people I was looking for [to trust] were right next to me all along — I trust [Rivera, Hillyer and Elwakil] with absolutely anything,” Ibrahim said. “I’m happy I found teammates [I could rely on].”