Listening to Cairokee’s Keif (Fix) recently, I was reminded to look up another crowdfunded project from a couple of years ago — this one on Mahragan music and dance.
The project was first put up on the site back in 2014, the idea being to make a documentary on the Mahragan movement, focusing on the dance rather than those who produce the music:
“The Story of Egypt’s Street Dance” is the first film to explore Mahraganat dance and its social origins. It will not only capture the athleticism and visceral power of the dance, the film will take you beyond the political upheaval in news cameras’ lenses to the alleys of Cairo where we will follow several dancers as they struggle to carve out a life for themselves in an uncertain time.
Another film on the subject is “Electro Chaabi,” directed by Hind Meddeb. As this name suggests, while the roots of this music are in shaabi or “popular” music, the massive amounts of autotune and electronic sounds also gives Mahragan another label — techno or electo shaabi.
More on Meddeb’s film here:
With “Electro Chaabi,” director Hind Meddeb describes the rise of this eponymous musical style (its name, “Mahragan,” roughly translates to “festival”): from the slums of Cairo to the mainstream of Egyptian popular culture. The film features Mahragan’s pioneering artists (DJ Amr Haha, DJ Ramy, DJ Vigo, Figo, MC Alaa 50 Cent, MC Sadat, Oka & Ortega, Weza – the last three of whom perform together as Eight Percent), who took old PCs, keyboards, and downloaded remix tapes to reinvent traditional Chaabi music with an electronic spin. Often piercing rhythms mix with distorted melodies, whose sarcastic and provocative lyrics highlight the struggles of daily life in Cairo’s slums. The artists repeatedly suggest that their success lies in their ability to express what people on the street are thinking, often using banal examples and humorous exaggerations, but also without hesitating to take up controversial political issues.
Since 2011, mahragan music has been given a “revolutionary” ethos, encapsulated in this line: “The “Mahragan” with its often blasphemous but honest lyrics, remains a lasting symbol of the achievements made towards freedom of speech in 2011.” The BBC called it a “controversial craze” which “can best be described as loud, crazy, digital tunes, with repetitive beats and lyrics.” One site with a “introductory” playlist of mahragan music introduces it as “a particular sound characterized by obsessive rhythm…The Mahragan sings what you can not sing and tell stories of everyday life.”
Here’s a Guardian article on mahraganat from 2014.
And another article by Maria Golia here.
Ted Swedenburg has also written about shaabi or electro/techno shaabi music here and gave a talk which touched on the same subject back in 2012, starts around 45:00 (Tanbura, Massar Egbari and Ramy Essam are discussed first):
More on Egypt and revolutionary songs (not shaabi directly) here: