Around eight years ago, a young man from the informal Cairo neighborhood known as Salam City began experimenting in the Fruity Loops DAW and jumpstarted a movement that now electrifies the streets of Egypt’s capitol. Ahmed Farid, widely known as DJ Figo, is widely viewed as an innovator of the electro chaabi sound, a loose development of the chaabi (populist folk) that reached peak popularity in the post-war environment of the 1970s. Electro chaabi, also known as mahraganat (which translates to festival) to the younger generation, includes elements of dancehall, hip hop, grime and other wide-ranging cultural motifs. Mahraganat artists, almost all in their 20s or younger, utilize rapid fire bars in Arabic over unconventional time signatures, involving air horns, occasional 8 bar structure, and a boundless package of effects and sounds drawn from cracked copies of Fruity Loops and Sony Acid. Auto-tune is wildly popular, giving many mahraganat songs a sheen that isn’t entirely different in its poppy diffidence from Chicago’s bop sound. Mahraganat finds a physical home at street festivals, weddings and other public gatherings, but has also reached a level of popularity where it can be heard coming out of radios and makeshift speaker systems on virtually any corner in Cairo. Earlier this year, the British Council joined with Rinse.FM and the Cairo-based 100 Copies record label to bring together Brits like Mumdance, Pinch and Kode9 with the aforementioned Figo, as well as Sadat, Diesel and Knaka. So far, a wildly inventive Boiler Room session and Mumdance’s “Cairo Calling” mixtape are the two main outcomes of the project, but the meetings have supposedly betrothed a wealth of fascinating material.
Across the Mediterranean, Dutch trio Cairo Liberation Front have publicized the electro chaabi/mahraganat sound en masse and have infused an American hip hop mentality to the whole affair. Inspired by spastic keyboardist Islam Chipsy and educated via blogs like Matb3aa and Showqna, CLF began playing house parties across the Netherlands, bringing the festival atmosphere to their performances and lacing Dutch crowds with the sounds of Cairo. In tandem with The Quietus’ excellent John Doran, CLF’s Joost Heijthuijsen traveled to Cairo to study the sound and involve themselves in the grassroots movement that now involves dance and fashion. Heijthuijsen and CLF don’t profess to be experts in the history or development of mahraganat, but they have been struck by the effect that is had on the marginalized youth of Cairo and have strove effortlessly to spread the gospel of electro chaabi. Nowadays, CLF play shows all over Europe and interface with Egyptian artists regularly. They also bring a rather unique contemporary hip hop spirit to the affair, bringing left-field major label icons Future, Riff Raff and others into the mix. DJ Figo, Sadat and the hilariously named Allaa 50 Cent will never be as popular outside of Cairo as they are within the Egyptian capitol, but with an increasing number of ambassadors including Doran and CLF, the movement is rapidly expanding into new rings of global society. The internet has made mahraganat available to anyone with a computer and the scene’s defining youth has made the web a source of material, inspiration and collaboration. Stream/download below and hit the jump for the track list.