Saturday, March 22, 2014

Mahragan: Excellent photos from Mosa'ab Elshamy

 Sadat and tuk-tuk in Sadat City (Mosa'ab Elshamy)

Mosa'ab Elshamy is one of the best, maybe the best, photographers in Egypt to emerge into global fame since the events at Tahrir in January-February 2011. Rolling Stone magazine has just published a set of his photos on Egypt's mahragan (AKA electro-shaabi) scene, and they are stunning. (There is text as well, unattributed.)

Mahragan in Rolling Stone? Yep, the genre is getting a level of international reputation and cred that is remarkable. It's a testimony both to the creativity and quality of the music as well as the interest that the so-called Arab Spring and its culture spawned in the West. 

I'm not sure I like this description of the phenom: "the country's underground electro-rap uprising." Why "uprising"? Was rap, which Rolling Stone compares it to, an "uprising"? What did it overthrow? This issue, moreover, begs the question, not addressed in the text that accompanies the photos -- what is the relation between mahragan and politics in Egypt today, ever since Rabaa massacre of August 2013, the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, the military coup, and the emergence of the Sisi phenomenon? What about the fact that, on the third anniversary of the launch of the January 25 (political) uprising, 21 people protestors were killed in al-Matariya, one of the strongholds of mahragan, the popular quarter of the Eight Percent crew (Wizza, Ortega and Oka)? 

Really, you'd think that at least some readers of the mag would want to know...

One more quibble: I keep insisting that the genre should be called mahragan (sing.) not mahraganat (plural). Someone please tell me why I'm wrong.

In any case, the photos are great, take a look. 

And you can see more of Mosa'ab Elshamy's photos on flickr, and follow him on twitter via @mosaaberizing.


Hammer said...

This music was created by mere chance around 2009 in a public celebration; which is what the word mahragan strictly means (singular), and cannot be used unless denoting a single 'festival', or this is how this style became known as in and around Cairo's poverty-striken districts.

As for mahraghanat, I think it is used more often to show more than one concert held by more than one DJ and mic-man (mayk man as the M.C. is called in Egypt). Again, this is also a plural-only word and most people use it to call this genre with 'Mosseqa Mahraghant', in addition to sometimes having sub-genres like moseeqah nigger, and crazy dance, among many more.

Note: I should bring to your attention a sensation that has started joining the DJs as a hype-man in 2011: He's a small-bodied, pot-bellied, half-bald man who goes by the nickname of 'Hamboullah'. You can check him here. Crazy, indeed.


Ted Swedenburg said...

Thanks, as ever, Hammer. When I've listened to interview with the stars, they talk about 'mahragan,' and the lyrics speak of 'mahragan,' too. But you've convinced me that I should start to use the term mahraganat and not be so stubborn.

'moseeqah nigger'!

Thanks for the Hamboullah tip! Sounds like a riff on Shamboullah.

Ted Swedenburg said...

I wrote Shamboullah but I meant Shabola, that is, Shaaban Abd el-Rahim.

Hammer said...

Hello, again Ted

Well, Hamboullah actually took his fame riding on how Saha'aboullah used to 'hype up' his crowd with weird shouts. His is a trademark "Aaaaaa!" that he begins by asking everybody "who loves the Prophet Mohammed" to raise their hands, and then say that shout.

Now, in Egypt, and not surprisingly so, nobody cares to give a listen to Sha'aban Abdelreheem anymore. The new 'it' music is el-mahraganat, and it's simply something that starts in an al-fresco wedding marquee, and ends up inside a lo-tech recording studio.

I see that you are amazed that people in Egypt (especially, rappers), use the N-word, but they do that in a non-racist way. You won't find any racism in most Arab countries, anyway. That subgenre is mainly, hip-hop artists parroting American rappers and hip-hoppers (i.e. one Egyptian famous mahraganat performer and mic-man is called Ala'a (3laa) Fifty Cent a.k.a. simply 'Fifty').

The 'mix-up' (or, el-a'akk as it's called in Egyptian slang), is stressed on the breakboy and hip-hop jitterbug-like dance combined with drug-induced sound and light 'festival' that mixes everything together like a leila in Egypt does, so much that these 'festivals' get literally ignited with fireballs, and dances are promoted all over the floor to be shared by everyone; from kids as young as 3-4, to old men and women.

Lastly, there was a film that has premiered earlier this year called 'El-Mahraghan' ('The Festival'), starring Saddat and Fifty as two kids who struggle in a world of underground crime, religious zealotry, media mockery and the ever-present premarital sex scandal. Here's the promo to that film: المهـــرجــان.