Egypt pulls the plug on popular street music

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Egypt's musicians union says that mahraganat music is 'loaded with sexual innuendo' and 'completely unacceptable' — Courtesy photo
Egypt's musicians union says that mahraganat music is 'loaded with sexual innuendo' and 'completely unacceptable' — Courtesy photo

CAIRO — The union of Egyptian musicians has banned performances by singers of popular street music after the lyrics of a chart-topping song were deemed too racy for the conservative country.

The ban announced Sunday targets singers of mahraganat (Arabic for festivals) which has its roots in impoverished Cairo suburbs and spread after Egypt's 2011 uprising that ousted a longtime president.

Mahraganat, often known as "electro-shaabi" (or popular electro), is a genre that relies heavily on computer-generated and synthesised beats.

It has gone mainstream in Egypt — a cultural powerhouse in the Arab World — with its outlandishly named stars stepping over moral boundaries and monetising their social media success.

But critics have roundly condemned mahraganat as symptomatic of a low-brow trend devoid of the sentimental qualities of romantic pop music that dominated Egypt's booming industry in previous decades.

Earlier this month the song "Bint Al-Giran" (The girl next door) reached over 100 million views on YouTube and was the second most played hit on SoundCloud, the do-it-yourself streaming platform.

On Valentine's Day, crooner Hassan Shakoosh performed his hit at a packed Cairo stadium to tens of thousands of fans.

But the song's lyrics — "I drink alcohol and smoke hashish" — sparked the ire of the union, which reflects the views of authorities and takes orders from the culture ministry in the Muslim majority country.

The head of the musicians union Hany Shaker was quick to react and on Sunday banned mahraganat singers from performing at clubs, cafes, hotels and concerts.

"This kind of music which is loaded with sexual innuendo and offensive language is completely unacceptable. That's why we have pulled the plug on it once and for all," Shaker said.

A statement by the union said "legal proceedings" would be lodged against establishments that host the performers.

"This is a terrible social phenomenon that Egyptian families are complaining about," union spokesman Tarek Mortada told AFP on Monday.

The manager of Shakoosh apologized.

"We are very sorry for our mistake and respect the union's decision," manager Camba told AFP on Monday.

He said the lyrics which offended public sensibilities were played at the stadium because of a technical glitch.

"We have lost 17 gigs overnight — besides the emotional stress on Shakhoosh and the team with everyone jumping in and commenting about our music," he added. — AFP


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