'Mahraganat': New Hybrid Music Wave Sweeps Egypt

Ongoing turmoil in Egypt has created a vacuum that is being filled with frenetic beats in uncontrolled public spaces perfect for all-night parties, writes Mosa’ab Elshamy.

al-monitor Over 20,000 fans descended on Madinat El Salam, an hour from Cairo, for the wedding of DJ Sadat, a Mahraganat godfather, April 22, 2013. Photo by Mosa'ab Elshamy.
Mosa’ab Elshamy

Mosa’ab Elshamy

@mosaaberizing

İşlenmiş konular

music, egypt, culture, artists, art

May 7, 2013

MADINAT EL SALAM, Egypt — Madinat El Salam [Salam City], a remote city an hour outside Cairo was built by the Egyptian army after an earthquake left over 50,000 homeless in 1992. Twenty years later, its wide modernist streets have become fertile ground for an emerging music scene that is now making its way across the country.

Mahraganat, which means festivals, is difficult to classify under one genre. It refers to the carnivalesque atmosphere of shaabi (local) music mixed with electronic music and the spirit of early hip-hop — but the artists who created it do not accept this description. Mahraganat, they say, is something new and unique.

The hybrid genre first surfaced on YouTube in late 2009, and really took hold in 2010, just before the revolution. Radio and TV stations did not give them airtime, and with no record deals in sight, they built their reputation beyond their neighborhoods by circulating amateur home recordings via YouTube. The unknown uploaders back then resorted to band nicknames and their music first gradually spread across local areas in Cairo — Salam, Matareya and Ain Shams — before sweeping the entire country.

March 13, 2013. Egypt. Photo by: Mosa'ab Elshamy

Egypt’s social and political turmoil has created unique opportunities for this distinctive music. Since the revolution in 2011, officials no longer have as much control over public spaces, which enables performers to put on shows in areas previously reserved for “stars,” and thus reach the middle and upper classes as well. Still, a large portion of people in this part of society look down on Mahraganat, calling it music for drug addicts and the poor.

From the outside, the Mahragan world looks chaotic and unprofessional. To an extent, it is. The production tools are primitive and mediocre at best. The idea of copyright is almost nonexistent, to the point that it is sometimes impossible to know who sang which song first. Much like the early days of hip-hop, to counter this, disc jockeys often resort to mentioning themselves at the beginning of their tracks, and sometimes throughout. Still, that doesn't completely prevent other artists from recycling the beats or some of the lyrics.

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