Arts, Culture & Media

In Egypt, 'electro-chaabi' music stirs up controversy

Updated:

Most of our coverage from Egypt has lately been about the political tensions and the controversial new president, former Army General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. Actually, that's what this story is about, sort of.

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(This story is based on a radio interview. Listen to the full interview.)

'Electro-chaabi' is the kind of music you might hear if you went to a wedding in a Cairo slum. The music is Arabic and it's digital.

And it's both massively popular and controversial.

Hind Meddeb is a French-Arab journalist who's spent a lot of time with electro-chaabi's pioneers like one young man who goes by the name of Sadat.

According to Meddeb, Sadat is a great musican who made a song that pokes fun of al-Sisi and the elections. He sings how he's "not going to vote" and how he believes elections are a "masquerade."

Based on her time with free-thinking young musicians and rappers like Sadat, Hind Meddeb made a documentary about electro-chaabi.

Actually, in Egypt this music is called "maharagadan," but Meddeb coined the term electro-chaabi.

She came up with that name because of its mixture of both electronic music with traditional chaabi music. But she also says there are elements of Sufi, religious trance and even a bit of reggaeton from Jamaica.

Meddeb explains that in poor neighborhoods in Cairo, there are no clubs and no cafes or places for young people.

So, the only place to play music like this would be at weddings. These weddings would then turn into rave parties.

Although young men are the focus of her documentary, young women attend these parties. But the women are regulated into the background.

Meddeb predicts that the next revolution in the Arab world will be "the place of women in society." But young people do everything together, they just have to hide it from the conservative groups in society.

*Update: A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled Hind Meddeb's name. We regret the error.

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