What is Sha’abi?
The word Sha’abi means “folk”, “popular to the people” and “music of the people”. Sha’abi is an offshoot of beledi/ baladi music, and its music is truly that for the working class people.
Sha’abi is many things: a style of music, a style of dance and also a culture. It has always been present in Egyptian musical culture, but after the revolution it has become much more popular and mainstream to Egyptians, especially the youth who view this as a way to express their political views, frustrations and rebellion. Sha’abi can be political in nature, satirical, comedic and also open discussions about daily life. Sha’abi has had a similar evolution as rap and hip hop here in the western world, and started off as cassette culture. It was created away from the record company and mainstream world of music, more underground and secret.
Sha’abi emerged in the 1970s and was first popularized by the legendary singer Ahmed Adawaiya. Adawaiya sang about the daily injustices about life, about greed and government corruption, about the state of working class Egyptians. He was the first famous sha’abi singer, although many homemade and bootlegged cassette tapes of other singers with similar messages could always be found.
The song lyrics contain street slang, metaphors (often using food and drink as veiled references to sex), references to government and politics (again also veiled) and the usual love / lack of love. There is also a feeling of despair and general ambivalence of life. But there can also be songs that celebrate and make fun of the mundane in life. You can think about sha’abi music as a form of political resistance, rebellion and defiance.
Mahraganat sha’abi is otherwise known as techno sha’abi, electro sha’abi, street sha’abi and is characterized by a heavy synthesized, autotune, high energy sound. The lyrics typically are racier and more scandalous to sha’abi, but can also be very veiled. Typically this music is barred from main stream music outlets (radio) although pirate radio stations (and of course the internet) manage to help spread this music. This music is strongly Egyptian social minded and is created for and catered to the youth in the post-Mubarak times. Its popularity has grown into having this style of sha’abi played at weddings and in huge mahraganat festivals. Gestures are heavily used (ie) folded hands with the thumb and pinky standing out indicates playing with knives in the street (not violent but playful).
A word of caution
It is always important to make sure you get your music translated by someone that speaks Arabic who can understand the references. Music that you think sounds happy or fun might have a very serious message, and you do not want to be “that dancer” who used something completely inappropriate. Also be careful when buying music off the street from music vendors – a friend of mine knew a dancer who was using a fun and high energy sha’abi song in a performance and found out later it was a very racist song that was quite explicit!
Dance: The dance is loose, bouncy, unregimented with lots of gestures. The feeling is cheeky, sassy, coquettish, playful and earthy. Each movement may be simple but there is a lot of feeling and expression. It is very free spirited but also very relaxed and simple. This style of dancing is the dance of the people, so you don’t need to be refined or calculated. Put your own personality in it and have fun!
Dress: You can wear a beledi style galabeya with a hip scarf, but if you are dancing to electro sha’abi, its better to wear a street clothes style (jeans, t-shirt, halter top). You can accessorize with chunky jewelry, rhinestones, chains etc and can wear a hat or a headband. The dance is typically done in either street shoes or barefoot. Men can wear jeans or another style of casual pants, a t-shirt or tank top, again with street shoes or bare feet.
Notable Singers: Hakim, Shaban Abdul Raheem, Sami Ali, Sahar Hamdy, Magdy Talaat, Amina, Saad El Soghayar, Mahmoud Eleithy, Ok Wa Ortega and Magdy Shabin.
Bint el Sultan - Adawaiya
Salametha Umm Hassan - Adawaiya
Haboso - Hakim
Zaki ya Zaki -Hoda
Hatgawez – Saad El Soghayar
El Beeah el Than - Saad El Soghayar
Hab W Dab – Oka Wa Ortega
El Hantour – Amina
Enta ya Enta – Mahmoud Eleithy
Efred - Hakim