What is Shaabi?
As a word, Shaabi has multiple meanings in Arabic: “folk”, “popular (of the people).”
As a musical form, Shaabi is the voice of the street, an urban expression full of feeling, double entendres, and social commentary.
As a dance, Shaabi reflects a true and authentic expression of the Egyptian people and their humor and playfulness..
Below is an in-depth look at Shaabi music and its place in Egyptian culture - from a historical, social and artistic perspective. Through looking at the great Shaabi singers of the past and present, we will explore dimensions of class, neighborhood, and urban life unique to Cairo, and the movements you can use to bring the spirit of Egyptian Shaabi music to your dance.
The History of Shaabi Music
by Amina Goodyear © 2009
In the 1970's after the introduction and popularization of cassette tape recorders and their accompanying boom boxes, musicians and singers all over the world were able to sidestep the corporate world and self-produce and self-promote. There were several movements throughout the world that seemed to simultaneously create music in the genre called "cassette culture". Most notably this type of music was evident in England and the U.S. with punk music, in Jamaica with Reggae, in Algeria with Rai and in Egypt with Shaabi music. The literal origin of the word Shaabi (Sha’bi) in Egyptian Arabic is "of the common people". Here we will refer to it as music created by working class people, mainly of the younger generation.
Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt's president who gave Egypt back to the Egyptians died in 1970 and some of his nationalism died too.The policies of the government that followed opened the doors to the West. The working class people (Shaabi) with their rural roots were finally able to enjoy a little economic relief. Thanks to the newly oil rich Gulf Arabs hiring Egyptians and thanks to their tourism in Egypt, money flowed enough to make owning cassette players and boom boxes a staple in their homes. But in the 1970's Egypt also lost three of it's beloved singers - Farid al Atrache, Om Kalthoum and Abdel Halim Hafez. All this marked the end of Egypt's Golden Age and the era of pure love, unattainable love and repressed sexuality. It was time to move from fantasy and dreams to reality. The people needed to move on and were ready to declare war against the monied society and its conservative codes, the government, politics, corruption and just the general state of affairs in their miserable lives. True, there was a little more money flowing, but only enough to let them know that there really wasn't enough. With the readily available cassettes - commercially made, homemade and bootlegged - the Shaabi people were able to sustain a voice and it was no longer ruled by that Egyptian monopoly, RCA, the so-called " voice of the people".
The first well known Shaabi singer is undeniably Ahmed Adaweya. I like to call him the godfather of Shaabi music. He used his voice to sing songs of protest to various social injustices and veiled commentaries on the government and its policies and the cassettes he made spread the word. He was born in the mid 1940's in a working class (Shaabi) "hood" (hara) in the outskirts of Maadi, a district in the southern part of Cairo. He eventually moved to Mohamed Ali Street (also known as Shariaa al Fann -Street of the Artists) where he changed careers and gave up plumbing to work as a waiter in a café. There he was able to present folk songs and his popular mawaweel (pl. of mawal or vocal improvisations, usually heart-wrenching). By the end of the 1960’s he went from singing at mulids (religious festivals) and street weddings to high-class weddings in hotels. In the early 1970s he was singing regularly in the clubs on Shariaa al Haram (Pyramids Road) and his popularity and his new sound sold millions of cassettes. With his baladi roots, his shisha smokers' raspy voice, his memorable mawal and sometimes satirical lyrics, his combination of modern and traditional instruments, and just his general gruffness and way of life, he provided a template for the Shaabi singers who followed him.
Shaabi music is the sound and voice of the working class people. Many of these people are first and second generation from the countryside and they brought their baladi sounds with them to the city. They combined the Egyptian folk music and traditional instruments with the urban classic or art music and modern western instruments. Although it may seem that there is disregard for the traditional and cultural in their songs, quite the opposite is true. Their music is actually more versed in the Egyptian vernacular than the music and songs of the upper class modernized and westernized Egyptians. (Our beloved Mohamed Abdel Wahab's music was quite influenced by European and Russian composers. His music probably gave permission for others to follow along the same vein. Some of Farid al Atrache's songs are good examples.)
The singer's voice, besides being emotional almost to the point of tears, quite often has a low, raw and raspy almost gruff edge. The singer may begin many of the songs with a plaintive mawal. This vocal improvisation like much of the mawaweel of traditional Egyptian songs may sing of love, but often will be couched with references of disdain for the government, corruption and the establishment and other social issues.The mawal usually does not have a rhythm, but it may be accompanied or answered by the traditional nai, or the modern accordion, saxophone or keyboard.The mawal tells of the beliefs and feelings of the singer and sets the emotional stage for the actual song. Ahmed Adaweya, Hassan al Asmar and Shabaan were known for their mawaweel (pl) and many times their mawal would be the song. Following the mawal and preceding the actual song and melody is usually a fast upbeat tempo (such as maqsoum saeria- double time maqsoum) played by the tabla.The song, short and fast, can sometimes be shorter than the mawal and can broach many subjects. The lyrics are usually simple, contain slang or street talk and may complain of many things such as the use or non-use of drugs and alcohol, poverty, work and money, love and marriage, food (which is usually used as a metaphor for sex) and just the general hopelessness of living and life in general. More recently the state of economy has brought about even more depression and many of the songs also appeal to a greater power.
These songs, used as a popular form of resistance, using humor, irreverence and street talk to mask the true meanings, are often censored in the governmental supported media. Through the cassette culture cottage industry, they are passed on from person to kiosk, to taxi drivers and microbuses, and on to the general popular public. More recently Shaabi styled artists such as Hakim and Saad have been "discovered" and their music, although sometimes censored locally, has nevertheless been promoted worldwide as the music of the youth "in-crowd" or the "hood" - music like hip hop and reggae - slightly bad, so it's really in.The cassettes are a cheap and easy way to distribute the music. Even the stars such as Hakim and Saad don't seem to object to their music being bootlegged because the sales and thus, their popularity, can eventually lead to big gigs in large venues - and this translates to big money.
Another newer method of passing on the Shaabi music has been through the more modern tools that are virtually accessible to all. This is the mobile phone and the internet. In the late 1900's the saying was "telephone, telegraph, tell an Arab". Now in the 21st century that funny little joke is a reality as the mobile and the internet indeed quickly spread the lyrical word.
Also there is a slew of new Shaabi musicians using the nomenclature DJ Mulid and DJ Sufi. They hang out at mulids (religious festivals) and remix songs for the youth to dance to. Many of these Shaabi songs latch onto the rising conservatism of the times.The songs of love and money and the lack of both, seem to focus more on social injustice, poverty and giving up drugs and alcohol.The melodies and remixes can be hypnotic and trance-like (as in a dhikr -repetitious invocations) and often invoke the aid of a higher being.This new music is quite popular in Shaabi weddings as the repetitive rhythms and lyrics pull the audience in and are quite danceable.
This modern urban musical style with its rural roots combines a very eclectic range of instruments from the most classic and traditional such as the riq, cymbals, large and small (tura and sagat), the nai and the kanoun to the western violins, accordion, saxophone, trumpet, electric keyboard and now the digital sounds of the computer.
Since the turn of the 20th century Mohamed Ali Street was the main Shaabi center of these urbanized baladi artists - artists who had their roots in the country. Today, thanks or no thanks to the gentrification of the historic parts of Cairo and the economic neccessities to move to the outskirts of Cairo such as to Faisal Street and Pyramids Road (southeast towards the pyramids and Giza), the new main Shaabi center for the baladi artists - the musicians and singers - is the mobile and the internet. The Shaabi neighborhoods are now linked - almost as in a virtual Shaabi center.
(Singers and Cassette information are approximate dates)
- 1952 End of Monarchy (King Farouk) in Egypt by military coup.Gamal Abdel Nassser becomes president of the new republic.“Egypt for Egyptians!” finally.
- 1956 Suez Crisis (with British). Suez Canal nationalized.
- 1960's Aswan High Dam – Nubians relocated. Many moved to Cairo
- 1967 Arab/Israeli war. Israel’s army defeats combined Arab forces and occupies West Bank, Sinai, Golan Heights.
- 1970 Nasser dies, succeeded by Sadat – Sadat is pro-west
- 1971 Ahmed Adaweya
- 1973 Release of "Zahma Dunya Zahma" by Ahmed Adaweya in cassette format. October War by Egypt and Syria against Israel.
- 1974 Kat Kut cassettes - Farid al Atrache dies
- 1975 Om Kalsoum dies
- 1977 Abdel Halim Hafez dies - Belly Dance clubs attacked in Cairo
- 1979 Egypt and Israel sign peace treaty. Egypt banned from the Arab League
- 1980’s Shabaan Abdel Rehim cassettes
- 1981 Sadat is assassinated and succeeded by Hosni Mubarak
- 1984 Belly Dance clubs torched
- 1985 Hasan Al Asmar, Abdel Basit Hamouda cassettes
- 1988 Hamdi Batshan cassette
- 1990 Yallah! Cassette with Shabaan Abdel Rehim, Samy Aly, Hasan Al Asmar. (this is the mainstream of older "cottage industry" cassettes) - Hakim cassettes
- 1991 Mohamed Abdel Wahab dies
- 2001 DJ Mulid Shaabi music Shabaan Abdel Rehim makes Shaabi history with "Ana Bakra Israel"
- 2004 Saad al Soghayar
- 2005 Digital cassette "Immortal Records"
- 2008 DJ computer mixes on cassettes includes mulid carnival sounds DJ compilations available free on internet - Film "Cabaret"with Mahmoud El Leithy DJ mulid song
- 2009 Film "El Farah" with Abdel Baset Hamouda's "Ana Mush Arefni" and Mahmoud el Hosseny DJ mulid song
From the Back Alleys of Cairo into the Clouds:
The Changing Face of Shaabi Music
by Amina Goodyear © from The Belly Dance Chronicles Vol. 10 Issue 4 2012
Several years ago before my friend Debbie Smith moved to Cairo, we would meet once a week for a self-imposed language lab. For about 3 years we had had an on-going work/study session every Monday evening. We always began our sessions with Debbie asking in Egyptian Arabic "Akbarik eh?" or "What's new"? And after responding and bumbling my way through remedial qameyya (Egyptian colloquial dialect), our language lab conversations would begin.
Our conversations always seemed to move from trying to speak Arabic into listening to music and songs and using our Arabic dictionaries as an aid in translating the songs. Occasionally we would call upon an Arabic speaking friend for help in identifying a word when we were really stumped. We both really looked forward to these sessions that allowed us to discuss and research what we liked most, which were the cultural relationships of Egyptian music and songs with its people.
We especially liked, listened to and analyzed Shaabi music. The literal origin of the word Shaabi (Sha’bi) in Egyptian Arabic is "of the common people or the popular class". We related to the music of the popular classes with which we felt a relationship. It was fun, accessible, intriguing and traditional, though different from what most people knew as "traditional" because of these "outsider" or different lyrics.
In the '70's I started collecting Shaabi cassettes by Ahmed Adaweya and a few others and later starting in the '80's after visiting Egypt a few times, I amassed even more cassettes and CDs' by artists not known in the U.S. In the last ten years, Debbie, in turn, started visiting Egypt frequently and eventually married and moved there. She always brought back new music by even more "unknown to us" singers in the form of cassettes and CDs. The CDs were both commercially produced and also special made-to-order CDs burned from music shops and kiosks.
In our weekly "lab" sessions we had such fun analyzing and comparing Shaabi songs over this forty-year span of Shaabi music. As we compared, analyzed and made notes, we made many earth-shattering (to us) observations and also had many epiphanies based on our comparisons and discoveries. We decided that we needed to share our epiphanies with whomever. Who these people were, we really didn't know. But we wanted to share. So we decided to get serious and compile all our information for others to learn from, including the evolution and progression of Shaabi music and song.
Finally, equipped with media, hard facts, and a little of our own conjecture, in February of 2009 we presented the first of our Shaabi workshop series which we called "Keda? Keda Ho! An in-depth look at Shaabi music and its place in Egyptian culture- from a historical, social and artistic perspective."
Using the great Shaabi singers of the past and present, we explored various dimensions of class, neighborhood, and urban life unique to Cairo, and the movements that were the spirit of Egypt. Our first workshop was two days and evenings long and was divided into four parts:
The first day addressed the history where we discussed in depth the economics, the discrimination and life in the hara (the ghetto or barrio) and the backgrounds and songs of Ahmed Adaweya, Hakim, Saad al Soghayer and a few others. In this discussion we analyzed what made Shaabi authentically Shaabi and how Hakim fit in the picture as being the son of a mayor, he really did not have Shaabi roots.
In this section, we also talked about the "cassette culture" which began with the cottage industry of self-producing the music and how and why this music grew in popularity despite not being played on public radio or TV. This brought us to analyzing the music, its structure, instrumentation and lyrics, including the words - both in Arabic and in English translations and the all-important mawal (the poetic free-form plaintive mourning that could stand alone as a song or be the prelude to an up-tempo song).
The evening of the first day we had a video party and I showed rare clips from movies, concerts, music clips and video I filmed "in the field" in Egypt. We showed sights, scenes, gestures, clothing and personalities that captured the aspect of Shaabi urban life in Cairo.
The second day was devoted to dancing. Since we do not believe that Shaabi is a dance, but rather is a dance style, we chose not to teach it in the traditional Western manner of teaching dance. Our approach to Shaabi song and dance was showing authentic expression through understanding movement, rather than teaching choreography or sets of steps. We taught mostly in the Egyptian "follow the bouncing butt" methodology with explanations and translations given for the gestures used.
Later in the evening we had a show in a restaurant. Since the Arabic musicians were not Egyptian and also not Shaabi, we chose to use Shaabi recorded music to drive our point home. Later when the musicians came on stage for the workshop's dancer showcase, we danced again to demonstrate the difference between Shaabi and Oriental or Tarab.
To our surprise, this workshop was sold out and we were convinced to do a follow-up workshop later the same year (October). In the next workshop, we chose to continue our analyses using other artists and songs as examples of how this style of music continues to evolve and change - almost daily - based on the economy, the religion, the social pressures and even the politics of the moment. The key to Shaabi music and song seems to be that it is continually changing with history and forming the events that become history.
After our first two workshops, Debbie moved to Egypt. But did that stop our workshops? Actually not. Now she has excuses to come visit me in San Francisco in order for us to personally exchange ideas and to hold more workshops. Her move, however, did stop our Monday evening sessions. Because she now lives and works in Egypt, she has become fluent in Egyptian Arabic. And me? I now have an Egyptian Arabic tutor, Ayman, who meets with me once a week. He doesn't really like Shaabi music but admits that the songs give him an insight to new trends and even new words so I still get to study and analyze my songs. Debbie and I now have to discuss our ideas on our iPhones. It may be a bit awkward at times, especially because of the time difference, but now I can ask her to immediately research, interview and/or buy a piece of music or a movie or other paraphernalia and therefore gather new and cutting edge material for our personal knowledge, collections or future workshops.
One thing I have noticed from the flash drives, DVDs and compressed CDs I've gotten from Egypt in the past few years and especially since the January 25 revolution, is that the music, instrumentation and lyrics are changing faster than the speed of light. What I first thought was a unique concept borrowed from the West - much new Shaabi music uses rap, hip hop and electronic manipulations - now seems to be the norm. Shaabi music is going in so many different directions; especially with its new forms of "DJ" music that I can barely keep up with what is Shaabi music.
Following is a short summary of how I see Shaabi music :
As I said before, in the dictionary, Shaabi is "of the common people or the popular class". That to me means the poor, the working class, the laborers, the blue-collar workers...those less fortunate people who may live in poor neighborhoods or even in squalor and exist hand-to-mouth, juggling money to make ends meet and often-times resorting to untraditional, unethical, unlawful methods to get by in order to forget or alleviate stress and pain.
Before I actually met Shaabi artist Ahmed Adaweya, I knew him in the 1970's only through his music cassettes and I fell in love with his song "Salametha Om Hassan". This song is about Salametha, Hassan's mother, who was stricken by the Evil Eye, subsequently became sick and wanted to be treated her way, the old way, by holding a Zar to heal herself. Her son wanted her to be treated by more modern methods.
“Salametha Om Hassan” was a social commentary on the state of the Egyptian nation and to Egypt’s 1967 disastrous defeat by the Israelis and the general depressed mood of the nation. He wished Om Hassan (Egypt) a speedy recovery and hoped that the affliction from the Evil Eye that had struck Hassan (a.k.a. Gamal Abdel Nasser, the Egyptian soldier) would be cured.
Aside from liking the lyrics in "Salametha Om Hassan" that discussed a Zar (which led to fun and wild dances) Adaweya's songs were especially noteworthy for having a great percussion section, a new sound - horns - and a voice that had a sound unlike other singers. It was raw, unrefined, gruff, alive and melancholy. His mawaweel (pl. of mawal) were tear-wrenchingly moving.
Adaweya was the first modern singer I knew of to use lyrics as a metaphor for a political or social reason. I later learned of Sayed Darwish (1892-1923) who made veiled references to social and political problems as far back as the early 1900's. One big difference though was that Sayed Darwish was expressing discontent with Egypt's colonists, the British, and Adaweya was expressing discontent with his own government, the Egyptians. This was a big thing. Before Adaweya's songs, most Egyptian songs were about love. Adaweya dared to mock or confront his dissatisfaction with the government and the public policy in his cassettes. As a result, he didn't get any public airtime. He had to resort to underground "cassette culture" distribution. And this culture was widespread throughout Egypt and strong. In the U.S., he would have received "Platinum" albums, and "Grammies" for his popularity and wide distribution. Through his music and his place in the history of this music, Ahmed Adaweya became "The Godfather of Shaabi". Although Adaweya was not allowed airtime in government-regulated radio, he was the star of 27 Egyptian films.
Adaweya used a blend of traditional instruments and modern instruments and sounds creating new urban sounds from his rural roots. He used classic and traditional instruments such as the nai, violin, kanun, oud, riq, large cymbals and tabla. Besides adding and making the org (keyboard) and accordion part of his traditional Egyptian sound, he followed Ali Hassan Kuban(1929-2001) the Nubian wedding singer's lead and introduced the horns, the saxophone and the trumpet, to Shaabi music. Blending the old and new instruments is very typical of the Shaabi sound.
Ahmed Adaweya, known for his lifestyle, scandals, notoriety and his songs, is particularly known for his mawaweel. All this is typical Shaabi including his hoarse raspy voice probably as a result of smoking too much shisha. His mawaweel laments poetically, of love, of sex, of social conditions.
Most Shaabi singers of this next decade, the '80's, seemed to have these same qualities and themes. I'm thinking in particular of Hasan al Asmar's (1959-2011) song "Kitab Hayati Kitab" (The Book of my Life...as the paper is grief and the ink is made of tears), and Shabaan Abdel Rehim singing "Akbar Ahram, Akha Saah" (The names of newspapers...What's going on in the news. Shouldn't we care about life?) as found in the now legendary and classic Shaabi cassette, "Yalla".
Adaweya's mawaweel also inspired other Shaabi artists such as Hamdi Batchan who sang "El Hikaya" (What's the Story? about a dirty old man leering at a pretty girl) to complain of the same and more, on issues about the "nas" (gossiping or meddling people), their poverty, their shame, and the pity of being down and out. The songs in this time period (1980's through the 90's) and these singers concerned themselves with money, lust and love.
Mahmoud el Husseini and Abdel Basit Hamouda are famous Shaabi singers who starred in a movie called "El Farah" (2009) and sang of the moral decay and desperation of Egyptian society at that time. And while Abdel Basit ("Ana Mush Arefni" I Don't Know Myself) and Mahmoud el Husseiny ("El Abed wel Shitaan" The Slave and the Devil) were singing of the crimes, the devil, going to hell and repenting, desperation and the resulting sense of the overindulgences, Mahmoud el Leithy , a friend of Saad el Soghayer's, found his calling at mulids (religious festivals sometimes with a carnival feel). His particularly beautiful voice suited his style which is known as Shaabi Sufi. Sufi is the spiritual, mystical dimension of Islam sometimes incorporating the Zikr (dhikr), meaning remembrance, whereby the participants may chant and/or sway repetitively in order to achieve a remembrance to Allah). When Mahmoud el Leithy sang, his mawaweel would often-times reign over the actual song.
The overall effect of these Shaabi singers depicts a musical layering of the complexities of Egyptian life. The earlier Shaabi music from the '70's to the late '90's was also known as City Beledy or Urban Beledy. Then in this century, from about 2000 on to now, the singers were starting to be of a different generation and not so closely connected to their rural beledy roots. The Shaabi music started changing with access to computers, hand held mobile devices and the Internet. Shaabi singers and DJs started showing up at mulids and would "cover" traditional, classic and religious songs and would also sing songs preaching "repentance".
This increasingly influential group of performers also took their music to weddings where they called this specific form of music DJ Mulid, DJ Sufi and even DJ Karkar. This type of music has many different names and the form is often identical to their name. "Karkar " is the name of a movie that features comedian Mohamed Saad who plays multiple ridiculous characters in which DJ Mulid type music is used. Some DJs calling their music DJ Karkar show their irreverence to the spiritual nature of the Mulid while other DJs and Shaabi singers may praise Allah or preach about the sins of wasting their lives in a society whose very roots are dead. A society that knows that if you do not join the ranks of the corrupt, you will die of starvation.
As I mentioned above, Shaabi music is traveling in so many different directions that I can barely keep up with its various forms. I also wonder, with all its new permutations, where this Shaabi music is going? It doesn't seem to fit all the old standards of Shaabi that I knew and loved from the twentieth century. With very few exceptions, it truly has evolved from a singer with a good voice using a blend of Beledy and modern instrumentation and rhythms to a DJ "singing or rapping" to electronic sounds. And among the new sounds emerged DJ Mulid, DJ Sufi, ElectroShaabi, TechnoShaabi and most recently "Mahraganat" (festival music), which has taken on a self-appointed "global" power. Although the singing and instrumentation are radically changing and different, there is a common denominator. And that is the fact that they all seem to deliver a message. The message can be a complaint, preaching morality, a state of being or it could just be inane, but regardless, it is always culturally specific and/or socially relevant. Where the DJ's at first "covered" old Shaabi and even traditional (such as Abdel Halim and Warda) and classic (think Om Kalthoum) songs, they electronically manipulated the voices and the music, in an Electro Shaabi manner. This may be electronic and experimental in sound, but is still "Sufi" or "Mulid" in feeling.
The melodies and remixes are hypnotic and trance-like (as in a Zikr which involves repetitious swaying and invocations) and are emotionally healing as they invoke the aid of a higher being. This new music, DJ Mulid, DJ Sufi and Mahraganat is quite popular in Shaabi weddings as the repetitive rhythms and computerized and manipulated lyrics call the audience in a cathartic manner. It is powerful enough to establish a classic African "call and response" evocative interplay between music and audience.
Yes, the songs are danceable as are the songs at a rave here in the West. So, then, how would we Westerners dance to this music? If at a Hafla, we would just move, jump or sway the same as we would in a dance hall here. But how would we dance to it in a performance situation? First, we would need to take the time to understand what the words are about, since much of this music speaks out for religion, is about taking drugs or about social injustices, Is it appropriate to perform in a concert or in a dance festival? Perhaps certain songs could be used but not all. Perhaps it could be used in a theatrical vignette setting as a depiction of this style of dance.
In Egypt, most of these songs are danced by young men at weddings and Mulids. The men are the ones who are present and celebrating. The women and girls are usually not visible.
Today this music is Shaabi in origin. It is still the music of the popular lower classes. But Shaabi music is continually changing and in Egypt today, this Mahraganat music is being introduced to the other more affluent classes in other venues such as the theater. Mahraganat music seems to be actively embraced by traditionally non-Shaabi audiences who seem to enjoy listening to it and are attempting to dance to it. This is Mahraganat's chief role in this regard over other Shaabi forms. It is incomprehensible and is viewed less as a threat and more as a trend. So, by reaching out to the other classes who seem to like it and want to dance to it, is this street festival Mahraganat music still exclusively Shaabi music? I don't think so.
One DJ, named Haha used a familiar slogan and tune from the January 25 revolution called what "the people want". In this case, "what the people want" was DJ Haha using sub-cultural rapping and hypno-electronic smash-up rave-like "music" as a tool to reach "the people" and in many cases, to mock them. After the revolution, DJ Haha and other DJs did revel in the realization that there would be no more censorship.
"The people want something new
The people want five pounds' phone credit
The people want to topple the regime
But the people are so damn tired"
This celebration of no more censorship however, was however very short-lived as government officials are now applying censorship with a wrath in keeping with the new governmental quasi-religious policies. The latest (heart) breaking news as of July 2012 (since the election of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood party President) is the fact that censorship is charging forward. "The Egyptian Radio and Televlsion has begun to cut scenes from Egyptian movies made in the last 50 years that contain what it considers inappropriate acts, such as kissing and belly dancing." (Al Shorfa, April 16, 2012) And this will soon also include inappropriate song lyrics and speech.
I asked Raqia Hassan about this trend in music and she really didn't have much to say about it except that we seemed to agree that it appeared to be computer driven noise with people inserting stupid words through computer manipulation.
I was very interested and fortunate to be able to attend her workshop in the San Francisco Bay Area this July 2012. Since Raqia Hassan is the most powerful and influential dance teacher in the world by hosting the largest international dance festivals (Ahlan wa Sahlan) and by teaching, training, coaching and choreographing for some of the most beloved and sought after Egyptian born and International dance stars, it was great to hear her thoughts on the traditions of Shaabi music and song.
She introduced each class with an explanation of Shaabi and also differentiated between plain Shaabi dance and Street Shaabi. In her Street Shaabi she was careful and deliberate in explaining that this is a style of dance that is done by the common people and that although she was teaching a song with choreography, mannerisms and combinations, that she really only wanted people to leave the class understanding the essence of the style. This style she explained was very natural in technique and danced with a strong macho or macha feeling depending on whether it was done by a male or female. Her explanation of the regular Shaabi song was that it entailed a bit more stylization for the stage. In both the Street Shaabi and the Shaabi styles, she stressed the naturalness of the movements almost equating and eluding to the fact that its roots were very close to Ghawazee style dance. When she demonstrated and explained this, she seemed to be making reference to the Sonbati Ghawazee of the Delta region of Egypt. This is the style that is similar to the dance style of Fatma Akef, Dandash and Aida Nour and not to the style of the Banat Mazen Ghawazee of Luxor.
Since I worked and studied with Fatma Akef when I worked at the Bagdad in San Francisco, I felt very much at home with Raqia's Shaabi and Street Shaabi dancing. She said that this style of dancing is new to Egypt. I don't really believe that it's new to Egypt, but maybe it's new to the stage. She used music by Saad el Soghayer that came from the soundtrack (with singers Saad el Soghayer and Mahmoud el Leithy) of the movie "Sharia al Haram" released late 2011. The music is new but is very reminiscent of 1980's Shaabi songs. In fact the melodies of two of the songs could almost be the songs two Shaabi singers from the '80's, Sami Aly ("Elli Shatr Enhaa Tgannen") and Hamdi Batshaan ("El Hikaya") sang. but with different words. I was pleased to see that Raqia chose to use familiar Shaabi tunes in her workshops and that she chose to ignore the Mahraganat DJ music that also claims to be Shaabi.
Since many believe that Raqia's teaching and choreographies epitomize the latest, the greatest and the truest of Egyptian dance, a true layering effect of the complexities of Egyptian life, perhaps the fact that she chooses to ignore the Electro DJ styles of music means that at least from a dancer's point of view, Shaabi music will return to its original and lovable '70's and '80's form and structure. Some things of great cultural value cannot simply be brushed aside. They always will be alive.
Coming soon in 2017 - Mahraganat article - The changing face in Egyptian Youth