Commonly associated with Cairo’s working class, ša‘bī (شعبى ) is a politically charged musical genre with a long history of bawdy humor and trenchant social critique. While the cultural elite may see the term as an index of the backwardness of the uneducated masses, for many Egyptians ša‘bī evokes a sense of identity, tradition, and heritage.
One of contemporary ša‘bī’s foremost practitioners of social commentary and political dissent, Ša‘bān ‘Abd al-Raḥīm (شعبان عبد الرحيم, above), stormed into popular culture in the early 21st century by mobilizing the genre’s potential to tap into the pulse of the Egyptian-Arab street. By 2002 ‘Abd al-Raḥīm’s brazen sociopolitical commentary had turned him into the unlikely hero of millions of Egyptians and Arabs.
This according to “‘I’ll tell you why we hate you!’ Ša‘bān ‘Abd al-Raḥīm and Middle Eastern reactions to 9/11” by James R. Grippo, an essay included in Music in the post-9/11 world (New York: Routledge, 2007, pp. 255–75).
Below, ‘Abd al-Raḥīm’s Obama, which excoriates George W. Bush while poking fun at the notion that the newly elected Barack Obama will save the Arab world like Saladin.
The virtuoso Egyptian singer Umm Kulṯūm (أم كلثوم) has been acclaimed as representing the voices of the people throughout the Arab world.
Following a long historical tradition of well-known, respectable female singers, Umm Kulṯūm’s repertoire revolved around Arabic poems with historic themes and colloquial Egyptian Arabic songs. Performed during a time of rejection of all things colonial in favor of all things Egyptian, her songs, both textually and melodically, reflected this emphasis.
The role of listeners is crucial in constructing the identity of her voice and their usage of live and recorded performances for their own purposes. Songs from Umm Kulṯūm’s repertory illustrate how social identity may be embedded in music using specific musical cues understood by the performer and her audience.
This according to “Voices of the people: Umm Kulthūm” by Virginia Danielson, an essay included in Women’s voices across musical worlds (Boston: Northeastern University, 2004, pp. 147–165).
Today is Umm Kulṯūm’s 110th birthday! Below, Baeed anak (Away from you) at the Olympia Théâtre in Paris, November 1967.