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Hip Deep in Egyptian Music: An Afropop Series

May 1, 2012

While we’re on the subject of music, the 5-part, Hip Deep series on Egypt from the acclaimed public broadcasting radio series Afropop Worldwide is now available on the program’s companion web site.

However, the site, while amazing, is not well organized; it’s like browsing through a really cool old record store. In the interests of efficiency, I’ve organized the five-part series on Egypt into a coherent series below.

For each episode you’ll find the title, a brief description, a link to the episode podcast, and a link to the Afropop page for each episode, which includes supplemental goodies like photographs and interviews that didn’t make it into the final broadcast.

Part One: Cairo Soundscape

The series opens with “Cairo Soundscape,” a sonic tour of Cairo from the chatter of car horns on jam-packed streets to the lulling waters of the Nile. “We start with a focus on the city’s spiritual life, the persistent call to prayer broadcast from mosques city wide, Quranic recitation, Coptic hymns sung in ancient churches, and a Zar healing ritual in a working class Cairo neighborhood.  This program introduces the themes and central characters for this unique Afropop program series, which takes the pulse of a culturally rich society in the midst of upheaval and historic change.”

Web Site of Supplemental Goodies about Egypt’s soundscape.

Part Two: Cairo: Hollywood of the Middle East

By the mid 20th century, Cairo had become the unrivaled center for music and film production in the Middle East. Producers, writers, composers, actors, musicians, star singers, and creators of every stripe flocked here to take part in the city’s fervent, international, progressive artistic milieu. This was the heyday of the diva Umm Kulthum, Mohamed Abdel Wahab, and the beloved singer and composer Abdel Halim Hafez. But events of the 50s and 60s signaled an inward turn for Egypt and Cairo. The 70s saw the rise of a rougher, more street-wise music–sha’bi–and films began to lose their edge. And the 80s saw the emergence of a slick new pop sound that has resonated in the Middle East ever since. We hear from artists, producers, and scholars in this unique Hip Deep edition.

Web site full of supplemental goodies for Egypt’s golden age of cinema and music

Part Three: Cairo Underground

The third installment looks at the underground music that’s “been percolating in hidden corners there, largely ignored by nearly all broadcast and print media. It turns out a musical revolution has been going on in Egypt well before the political uprisings of 2011. On this program, guided by historian and musician Mark LeVine, we hear music that either was or still is “underground.” We meet Cairo rock musicians from the band Wust Al Balad, and also from widely stigmatized heavy metal musicians who appeal to a small, passionate, and surprisingly wholesome audience. We also hear experimental music by composers out to break the orthodoxy of the Egyptian past, and sample new forms of sha’bi pop and Sufi music, bubbling up from poor urban neighborhoods where street weddings may offer a glimpse of Egyptian pop music to come.”

Web site of supplemental goodies about Egypt’s underground music

Part Four: Living Traditions

The fourth installment of the program looks at Egypt’s rich musical traditions, “from the amorous odes of desert Bedouins to the keening boom and blare of a Zeffa wedding procession. New Cairo venues now present Nubian music, ancient sounds from the Delta and Suez regions, and even the music of the zar healing ritual–elevating these forms above touristic fare found on Nile Cruises and in old Cairo. This Hip Deep edition, rich with recordings made in the field, offers a sonic map of Egypt’s traditional life, culminating in the ecstasy of a Sufi saint celebration–a moulid.”

Web site of supplemental goodies about Egypt’s musical traditions.

Part Five: Revolution Songs

The series concludes with a look back at the songs that fueled the Tahrir Square uprising in 2011, and ahead at where music is headed in post-revolutionary Egypt. We meet Dylanesque Tahrir Square troubadour Ramy Essam, Egyptian pop legend Mohamed Mounir, silenced political singer Azza Balba who rediscovered her art in the midst of revolution, and Karim Rush of Egypt’s leading hip hop group Arabian Knightz. We hear new work from emerging artists: Eskenderella, Dina el Wadidi, the Choir Project, and rapper Ashraf el Samman. Egyptian ethnomusicologist Mina Girgis provides up-to-date commmentary from Cairo, and predicts that–whatever happens in the political sphere–newly empowered rappers and inspirational sha’bi DJs will join forces to create the new pop music of Egypt.

Web site of supplemental goodies about the songs of the revolution.

Additional supplement: Is the future of music a hybrid of rap and electro-sha’abi?

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