Out of the Picture: Shaabi Music at Geneina Theatre

Article written for Ahram Online but not published.

El Geineina theatre push boundaries in their search for underground talents bringing shaabi music from the streets and weddings to the stage.

On Thursday night, Geneina hosted artists associated with weddings and gigs at neighbourhoods such as Al-Salam, Al-Mattaria and Embaba on their stage.

The line up included DJ Amr Haha, acompanied by Figo, Alaa 50, and El Sadat Rap as they collaborated to blow the audience away. Almost the entire audience were on their feet dancing, singing along and enjoying the beats for the whole concert.

“Audiences were leaving the event telling us that we made them happy in a time where they couldn’t laugh” Ashraf Qenawy, El Geneina Theatre Manager told Ahram Online “People let out so much energy that needed to get out” He added.

While the mix of Hiphop beats with Arabic rap lyrics along with house beats and shaabi tunes, doesn’t necessarily sound like a combo that works, it did.

“With hiphop music once the beat starts it moves you” Sadat Rap said “We mixed that with popular Shaabi music that we played” He explained.

“Shaabi music reflects Egyptian culture with all its contradictions in the moment. It rebels against the ready-made stereotype, and spreads like wildfire because it is danceable music that gives listeners a chance to vent their feelings about anything worth longing for.” El Geneina theatre wrote in their press release.

Revolutionary Tunes

Their music took audiences from singing about the police, to the revolution, to the different types of drugs out there.

“We wrote a lot of songs after the revolution” Alaa 50 told Ahram Online “We say it like it is with no censorship” he added.

Their songs used many cultural references such as Ahmed Foad Negm, one of Egypt’s most prominent poets’ words, along with references from old Arabic films. They also used chants from the revolution such as: Down with the regime, Bread, freedom and social justice and mixing the famous “People want to bring down the regime” with “People want 5 pounds of phone credit” which rhymes in Arabic.

One of their songs also discussed the sectarian clashes that have been going on in Egypt, saying they believe it to be from a “hidden hand” which is the same pun the regime used when talking about the revolutionaries in Tahrir during the 18 days.

Criticism & Attention

During the few days prior to the event, El Geneina theatre got a share of criticism on the event’s wall on Facebook. There was a dialogue happening between those applauding Geneina for bringing underground Shaabi music to the stage and those who felt it was inappropriate with the venue.

“I was happy there was dialogue” Qenawy commented “However, I did not like that a discussion relating to art turned into a classist issue.”

“Are you against it because you don’t like the music or because these artists and their music are from a different social class?” He wondered.

“This music is enjoyed by a majority of our society. As a theatre my goal is to not only provide a service for 5% of society but to strive to provide for the whole 80 million” He added.

The artists were very happy to be featured in Geneina and to be getting media attention “Isn’t it sad when our own country and media gain an interest in us after we gain international recognition?” Sadat commented explaining how he was invited to preform this year in Hydepark Festival in London.

“Our problem is we don’t have any media coverageeven though we have talent” Alaa 50 told Ahram Online, “I wish we had resources to go big. We have the potential but no the opportunities even though we can blow people away” He added.

Next Show

On Saturday “Out of the Picutre” continues to bring audiences more authentic Egyptian underground music to the stage.

Ola Mohamed, or Ola El Mansoura star, under fourteen years old, has recently released her first album (Souq El Bashar). Despite her age, she is known for her singing style and the strength and capabilities of her voice which reminds us of the great baladi singers like Shafika, Badria Elsayed, and Fatima Sarhan. Her strong and tender voice is consistent with the feel of the urban neighbourhood, but Ola has a different style at the level of form and content. She is not a singer in folkloric dress, but an ordinary girl with an urban look which reflects a different mood fitting the new life in Egypt.

She will be joined by DJ Islam Chipsy along with drummers Khaled Mando and Islam To’to’.

The performance will start at 8:30 PM.

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