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Mahraganat: Egypt’s Musical Revolution

A look inside the country’s underground electro-rap uprising

Electro-shaabi in Cairo

Mosa'ab Elshamy

On the genesis of hip-hop, Def Jam co-founder Russell Simmons saw the genre as "from the underground, ideas from the underbelly, from people who have mostly been locked out, who have not been recognized." Mahraganat, informally known as electro chaabi, is an Egyptian socially-minded, electro-rap mash-up that echoes these hip-hop ideals, created by and for an uncertain youth in the wake of a tumultuous, post-Mubarak Egypt. Mirroring hip-hop's rise, in its home country mahraganat is still largely considered working-class, profane music, barred from the pop-centric radio, but the high energy and candid messages of politics, sex, and day-to-day life found in the music reflect an open channel for discussion unheard of elsewhere in Egyptian music today. Slowly but surely becoming a crossover success, mahraganat's popularity is only growing at home and abroad.

Photographer Mosa'ab Elshamy was on hand in Cairo and its surrounding cities to document mahraganet's rise, from the wedding halls that house its most popular shows to the humble cities that birthed its stars.

Electro-shaabi in Cairo

Mosa'ab Elshamy

In the Studio

Rising mahraganat stars Figo (L) and Sadat (R) work on a new track in a makeshift studio. Relying on basic tools, pirated software and limited resources, the artists have nevertheless found the means to produce, promote and share their increasingly popular music from within the underground.

Electro-shaabi in Cairo

Mosa'ab Elshamy

Social Media

Sadat checks on how his latest music, uploaded to YouTube, is faring. YouTube played an invaluable role in mahraganat, providing the sole outlet for the music at its inception, artist videos garnering millions of views in the process. Elsewhere on social media, Facebook and Instagram have also been used by artists looking to keep in touch with fans, provide show information and link to new releases.

Electro-shaabi in Cairo

Mosa'ab Elshamy

Driving Music

A tuk-tuk in Salam City cruises by. A popular form of transportation in the narrow city streets, tuk-tuks have also been a main source for hearing mahraganat, with working-class drivers blaring the music all through their shifts. Artists know they're doing well when they hear their new tracks playing from the mini-cabs.

Electro-shaabi in Cairo

Mosa'ab Elshamy

Keeping Up Appearances

Sadat walks the streets of his neighborhood in Salam City. Now an easily recognizable celebrity, he makes sure to always be seen in distinct, modern outfits, usually in stark contrast to his peers.

Electro-shaabi in Cairo

Mosa'ab Elshamy

Hometown Hero

A young fan passes Sadat on the street in Salam City. Quickly built by the military following the 1992 Cairo earthquake, in its first decade Salam City gained a reputation as a drugs and arms hub. These days, the city is outgrowing its old reputation, becoming more well known as the birthplace of mahraganat.

Electro-shaabi in Cairo

Mosa'ab Elshamy

With a Little Help

A friend greets and chats up Sadat in Salam City. Whether it's promoting a song via custom ringtones, appearing as background actors in video shoots or just lending a hand in the studio, peers are very involved in helping their friends in mahraganat.

Electro-shaabi in Cairo

Mosa'ab Elshamy

Home Sweet Home

Sadat enters his home in Salam City. Despite his success as a mahraganat artist, Sadat lives modestly, rooming alongside his parents in the same building he grew up in. As his fame grows, Sadat wishes to remain close to his roots. 

Electro-shaabi in Cairo

Mosa'ab Elshamy

Eclipse

Sadat reflects on the roof of his building. After playing countless weddings to make his name, his own wedding was only a few days away.

Electro-shaabi in Cairo

Mosa'ab Elshamy

Local Boy

Mahraganat star Alaa 50 Cent poses with neighborhood kids in Salam City. Younger people will constantly stop the musicians on the street for pictures, especially in their hometown. And if they can sing or dance well,  younger artists will find themselves being invited to perform with their mahraganat heroes.

Electro-shaabi in Cairo

Mosa'ab Elshamy

Human After All

Alaa patiently waits for a ride at a bus station in downtown Salam City. Despite his popular music and recognizability, Alaa and his fellow mahraganat artists rarely experience the celebrity lifestyle that young, successful Western artists have come to expect.

Electro-shaabi in Cairo

Mosa'ab Elshamy

Big Break

Sadat, seated, and Figo, behind the glass, re-record one of their tracks for a commercial in a professional music house, a first for the young duo and an even bigger first for mahraganat music. Taking note of the expensive equipment around them, usually reserved for the bigger pop stars of Egyptian music, the two are one step closer to mainstream stardom.

Electro-shaabi in Cairo

Mosa'ab Elshamy

A Warm Reception

At Sadat's wedding in Salam City, a massive crowd storms the dance floor to celebrate. After using Facebook to publicly invite fans both near and far, Sadat, like a true mahraganat artist, ended up providing the entertainment for his own wedding party.

Electro-shaabi in Cairo

Mosa'ab Elshamy

Man of the People

Fans gleefully help a crowd-surfing Sadat to the stage — it was the only way he could get through the enormous audience.

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