Sunday, May 12, 2013

Culture Evolving: Egyptian Mahraganat Music Flowers in the Arab Spring

In just a few years, these and other young musicians have created a new genre of youth-driven, socially conscious music and forced it on the Egyptian soundscape.

Their music predated the political revolution that ousted President Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, and most of the musicians did not join the uprising in Tahrir Square. But the turmoil since has left Egypt’s huge youth population searching for voices that address issues they care about.

Half of Egypt’s 85 million people are under 25, and many found what they were looking for in the raucous, defiant new music known as “mahraganat,” Arabic for “festivals.” The songs’ addictive beats helped, too.

“We made music that would make people dance but would also talk about their worries,” said Alaa al-Din Abdel-Rahman, 23, better known as Alaa 50 Cent. “That way everyone would listen and hear what was on their minds.”

The music is a rowdy blend of traditional Egyptian wedding music, American hip-hop and whatever else its creators can download for free online.
The Egyptian revolution, such as it is, created a new cultural landscape in which an already existing form of music called “mahraganat” could thrive and animate a much larger audience.
The music’s swift rise from the alleys of neglected Cairo neighborhoods to car stereos and high-class weddings and even television commercials reflects the profound shifts in Egyptian society since the revolution. More people are looking for open discussion of social issues and willing to reach across class lines to find it. Like the revolution, the music came from young people who looked at their lives and did not see much to look forward to. So they made noise, spread their ideas through social media and were surprised by the results. ... Arab popular music has long been dominated by beautiful stars who croon about love and heartbreak and market themselves with music videos shot in luxurious settings that many Egyptians will never visit. Mina Girgis, an Egyptian ethnomusicologist, said that left a wide opening after the revolution for music more in touch with its audience.
It remains to be seen, of course, just how deep this musical revolution goes. Will the new styles persist in Egypt and spread elsewhere in the Arab world? Will they move beyond the Arab world? Will they change the political climate in Egypt? Indeed, can music do that sort of thing?

By way of comparison, I note that manga existed in Japan before World War II, but it grew tremendously after the war, as though Japan's defeat changed the cultural landscape is a way that allowed this heretofore minor form of popular culture to grow and diversify to the point where it now constitutes 30% to 40% of Japan's annual print output.

Will these new grooves change Egyptian society as profoundly as African-American grooves have changed American society?

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