Thirty years ago, wandering the streets of the Khan el-Khalili, Egypt’s most famous marketplace, I asked vendors what was the most representative music of Egypt. Without exception they all told me Umm Kulthum (1898-1975), who is still regarded as the best female singer of arabic music of all time. I bought many tapes of her songs. Haunting and exotic, I continue to be mesmerized by her sound and most intrigued by the audience response to the words she sang.
NPR broadcast a story a few days ago about Banning Eyre who went to Egypt to record music for Afropop that will focus on Egyptian music this month. He reports that since Mubarak’s fall, the freedom for artists and musicians is palpable. And the new music, not found on radio or DVD yet, is emanating from the streets and from wedding celebrations where these street musicians are hired to entertain. This music is imbued with religious and hip hop influence, but is definitely a music original and all its own, deeply connected to the egyptian spirit and psyche. DJ Chipsy’s music, in the soundcloud below, is representative of this new sound.
And from these same roots comes Mahmoud el Leithy, who also began as a street musician.
It is worth the effort to explore the musical riches discovered on Eyre’s visit to Egypt, specifically Cairo, on Afropop Worldwide. From coptic hymns to heavy metal to sufi dance, a wide variety of provocative sounds are explored historically, politically, spiritually, and culturally. The first in the series exploring the modern history of Egypt through music is posted in the soundcloud below.