Egypt’s War Against the Mahraganate: Controversy, Censorship, and Class Struggle
egypt mahraganate the music (which literally translates to festival music) has been the subject of controversy no doubt ever since the appointment of veteran singer, Hany Shaker, as president of the Music Syndicate.
An evolving genre born from the impact of the 2011 Revolution, mahraganate mixes a melodic singing style with familiar rap with the lively beats of simple techno hip-hop as a backdrop. With a generation resulting from a revolutionary struggle, mahraganate was bolder, fresher and cheekier than anything happening in both the mainstream and indie scene at the time.
It quickly became the dominant form of street music in Egypt. Despite his popularity, the Syndicate and mainstream press continually vilify and mock mahraganate artists.
What the Syndicate considers lowbrow music is nevertheless a genre enjoyed by others, especially the Egyptian working class. Listeners now find themselves in the crossfire of a culture war between the Syndicate and the new wave of mahraganate music, as they try to figure out where the good and the bad lie.
MUSICIANS’ UNION: PRINCIPAL REGULATORS OR ARCHAIC SILENCERS?
Since Shaker’s proclamation against gender, the Syndicate has undergone a purge of a plethora of mahraganate artists such as Hassan Shakoush, Mohamed Ramadan and Magdy Shatta.
A mahraganate the artist often targeted is none other than Hamo Bika, known for his hits Wada’ Ya Donya Wada’ (Goodbye world, goodbye) in 2019 and Enty Me’alema (You are a boss) in 2020.
Draped in ostentatious gold jewelry, dressed in a sleek black pompadour, a distinctive soulful patch and a shrill, growling voice, Bika is one of Egypt’s most polarizing personalities. mahraganate artists.
In an interview with Al Dostor (The Constitution) in 2019, Shaker identified the genre’s music as unsophisticated, indicating that social class and cultural background play a role in the conflict between the Syndicate and mahraganate singers.
“We have tried as much as possible to combat this unscholarly art by prohibiting performers from giving concerts and refusing to issue licenses [to them]and we also banned union musicians from working with them,” Shaker said.
Bika was first on the Syndicate’s list of banned artists when it was revealed in November 2021. The artist who failed the Syndicate’s required singing exam was cited as the main reason.
Legally, the Syndicate regulates the Egyptian music scene into a mold that represents an artistically presentable image of Egypt. For Shaker and the Syndicate, some mahraganate singers like Bika and Hassan Shakoush do not meet this standard.
Shakoush, unlike Bika, had already passed the Syndicate’s vocal testing process, but was banned from performing due to behavioral issues and performing uncensored lyrics at a live televised event.
“It’s not just a matter of making a living [off music]. These are people who use certain words and phrases and behave aggressively. They absolutely must not be presented to the public,” Shaker explained in an interview with Ahmed Moussa in 2022.
The Syndicate’s justification was evident amid the circulation of Bika’s viral video rant; he is seen aggressively threatening the institution and its leader after his failed second attempt at the Syndicate’s singing test.
In other words, to become a member of the Musicians’ Syndicate, artists’ singing skills are tested before a jury appointed by the Syndicate. Bika was deemed unfit to sing based on the jury’s judgment during his test, and therefore unfit to be part of the Syndicate.
However, some believe that the Syndicate’s disapproval mahraganate goes beyond the behavioral issues and vocal skills of the two genre leaders.
MUSIC OF THE PEOPLE OR SOCIETAL DECADENCE?
Beyond the Syndicate’s regulatory body, a plethora of prominent Egyptian figures have also criticized the impact of the genre on society – from political representatives to fellow artists.
A parliamentarian, John Talaat, expressed his concerns in 2020 about the influence mahraganate lyrics and culture can have on younger generations. It was not the last time a member expressed his contempt for mahraganate – the prohibition of songs of the genre in the public space has been considered by some parliamentarians.
Following his re-entry into the Syndicate after a nine-month ban, popular mahraganate singer Omar Kamal expressed his support for the Syndicate’s decision to ban certain musicians and regulate lyrics.
When asked, some traditional Egyptian artists expressed their support for mahraganate: the genre, for many, has marked the evolution of music. Amr Diab, arguably the most decorated musician in modern Egypt, expressed his acceptance of mahraganate as genre during an interview with Amr Adib in Al Hekaya (History) in 2020.
“Space [for musical tastes] has always been broad… audiences vary across tastes and cultures, and that means we need music [for everyone]”, Diab said.
Bika expressed his frustration with how certain sects of society, including the Syndicate, perceive him, highlighting the class division he feels in the music scene during an interview with talk show host Asma. Ibrahim in 2022.
“How do they see me? How do these people see me? Do they think I’m a parasite or trash?… I’m sorry, with all due respect, Mr. Hany Shaker, I’m a human being.
THE WAR AGAINST THE NEW WAVE CONTINUES
From this point on, Bika and Shakoush remain banned due to the controversy surrounding their careers. The ban as a whole resulted in financial losses for those on the Syndicate’s blacklist.
At the same time, mahraganate continues to grow in popularity globally. On May 10, US label Reservoir Media and UAE label PopArabia acquired Egyptian music studio 100Copies to further market the genre.
act and mahraganate sensation, Mohamed Ramadan, was the first artist signed to this initiative. Ramadan, who is currently on a regional musical tour, is among the banned singers of the genre.
The denigration of mahraganate musicians has an impact on many other artists beyond Shakoush and Bika – artists who have gained popularity over the past few years, such as Omar Kamal, 3enba and Ahmed Moza, among others.
However, the union lifted the bans on some artists on the blacklist after they submitted official documents and passed the union’s singing test. Artists now registered have been categorized as chaabi singers, while the Syndicate continues to deny the existence of mahraganate.
Despite the Syndicate’s tight reins, the art form’s popularity continues to rise, as listeners migrate to YouTube and streaming platforms in place of live performances.
“What is forbidden is desired”, explained the experience chaabi singer, Hakim, when asked about the ongoing ban during an interview with Amr Adib in 2021.
“If you leave it as it is, only time will tell if this type of music lasts or not, depending on what people want,” says Hakim.
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