Copyright ©2011 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.


And finally, this hour, we know the Arab Spring brought remarkable change to Egypt. It led to the ouster of longtime president, Hosni Mubarak, but it also had an enormous impact on the country's culture.

Banning Eyre wondered what this new Egypt sounds like, so he spent a month there, exploring the music scene for the public radio program, Afropop Worldwide. He sent us this story about Egypt's musical revolution.

BANNING EYRE: Get into a taxi or turn on a radio in Cairo and you're apt to hear one of three things. The first is melodious recitation of the Quran, a ubiquitous sound in this city of 22 million, or you might hear a voice from the golden age of Egyptian music, the mid-20th century, like the iconic diva, Umm Kulthum.

UMM KULTHUM: (Singing in foreign language).

EYRE: Or you could hear a crooning pop singer like Amr Diab with a slick mix of Arabic vocal angst and dated Western production value.

AMR DIAB: (Singing in foreign language).

EYRE: But all these sounds are old news in Egypt. The country is looking for new music to go with its new politics. Nobody seems to agree on what that might sound like, but plenty will tell you that today's popular music is stale, out of ideas.

FATHY SALAMA: Either imitate the West or imitate the past. And not as good.

EYRE: That's Grammy-winning Egyptian composer and arranger, Fathy Salama, and he's not alone in his feeling that Hosni Mubarak's 30 year regime stifled artistic creativity with its banal media product and education policies that discouraged innovation.

For Salama, the most interesting new sounds in Egypt don't come from trained musicians at all, but rather rough hewn wedding performers in downscale Cairo neighborhoods.


EYRE: This is a DJ called Islam Chipsy cutting loose at a Cairo street wedding. Music like this is never heard on Egyptian radio or television, let alone in clubs or concert halls.

ISLAM CHIPSY: I think it's just guys from poor neighborhoods who also listen to DJs from the West and they made their own version of - you can call it different names, but definitely there's nothing like it. It is an Egyptian rhythm, finally. It's not a Western rhythm.


EYRE: Sometimes, it's just a guy with a keyboard. There might be a drummer, an MC or a singer. If the music gets recorded at all, it goes on homemade CDs or cassettes or on the Internet. The common thread is a strong Egyptian identity and a rejection of the tired love themes that purveyed mainstream Egyptian pop.

This song by DJ Haha is a huge hit with Cairo youth.


MAHMOUD REFAT: It's the most exciting thing that's happening in music in Egypt. It's not in (unintelligible).

EYRE: Music producer and experimental composer, Mahmoud Refat, another serious musician with a soft spot for the street music of Cairo's poorest districts.

REFAT: This is very original stuff. It has everything. It has the Egyptian culture, it has the aggression of hip-hop music. It has the dynamics of dance music. It's a new form for me.

EYRE: Lately, even some religious singers are making their way into this brave new world of street music. One singer huge on the internet and the local wedding scene is Mahmoud El Leithy.


EYRE: Debbie Smith, an American living in Cairo and a savvy consumer of local music, is a huge fan.

DEBBIE SMITH: I first heard him at a wedding and he was amazing. Like, when he was singing and dancing, people stopped and they were just, like, rapt.


EYRE: This song has the rhythm and vocal characteristics of a Sufi saint celebration - a cross between a carnival, a gospel revival and a rave. But there's also a techno-pop feel that was never part of Sufi music until just the past five years.


EYRE: Even young rappers are taking notice. The new CD by Arabian Knightz, probably Egypt's top hip-hop act, features cameos by both Mahmoud El Leithy and another Sufi singer, L. Fashny.


REFAT: So if all the kids are into this music, I can see the future. It can go somewhere.

EYRE: Like Egypt's January revolution, the music of Cairo street weddings is bubbling up from the bottom with no help from authorities or institutions. And if keen observers like Mahmound Refat are right, this blend of youth, technology and the courage to challenge old ideas will reshape Egypt's music as surely as it is reshaping the politics.

For NPR News, I'm Banning Eyre.


BLOCK: And you can hear more of Banning's reports from Egypt at

Copyright © 2011 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.



Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the Community rules and Terms of Use. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.