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In Egypt, socially conscious music festivals flourish

"It's kind of strange, but okay. You can't help but dance- in an awkward fashion- but it was well worth it," music lover Yahya Karali commented on a recent concert he attended by Amr 7a7a Figo and Sadat in London.

Twenty-six year old musician Sadat (Al-Sadat Mohamed Ahmed) not only coined the term 'mahraganat', but was the first to perform it; originally a dancer, he went on to run his own DJ agency before turning to create this new genre of music. He and his friends DJ Fifty, Figo and Amr 7a7a are part of a growing cohort of musicians who are finding their focus in teeming gigs both at home and across the world.

The flourishing music scene, originally from Egypt, is now being performed in venues across the world. 'Mahraganat', which translates as festivals and has been described as a mixture between wedding music and American hip-hop, began in Cairo's impoverished areas. Its style is hard to define as its creators insist it is unique, and shy away from descriptions which label it as sha'aby or moulid.

In the beginning traditional TV and radio stations refused to air their songs so they shared them via mobile phones and posted videos on YouTube. These days the founders enjoy slots on TV adverts and films, their music can be heard at weddings and from the open windows of passing taxis and boats on the Nile. Some of their videos have attracted over 3 million hits.

Part of the lure is the lyrics, which address social issues such as the economy and politics; "The people demand five pounds of credit," has been sung alongside the familiar revolutionary chant from 2011, "The people demand the downfall of the regime." From the very beginning, the lyrics have always been popular; development of the music itself came later.

The words are a refreshing break from years of pop stars that have dominated the Egyptian music industry – which is the largest in the Arab world – with tales of love and heartache, and create music videos from locations inaccessible to the average Egyptian. Despite his success, Sadat still lives in Salam City where he grew up, and doesn't charge for performances in his neighbourhood.

'Mahraganat' is largely popular with young people in Egypt, who make up around half of the country's 85 million population. Though the music existed before the revolution, their growing popularity now reflects a new wave of political awareness that has manifested itself in Egypt since the revolution, and provides a platform from which they and their listeners can debate social issues.

Growing recognition abroad indicates not only a widening success in the worldwide music scene, but Egypt's connection to other cultures. "I think it coincides with the proliferation that is occurring in the electronic music scene, a form of a cross culture bridge between Europe, America and the Middle East and also across genres between hip-hop and electronic music," explains Karali.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.

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