Egypt's Underground Wakes Up : The Record The music that people have been listening to since last year's uprisings rewrote the rules.

Egypt's Underground Wakes Up

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


This month, our own Steve Inskeep is driving across North Africa, from Carthage to Cairo, where he'll be tomorrow. His Revolutionary Road Trip is revisiting some of the sites of massive uprisings during the Arab Spring. Today we're going to hear about cultural change that's afoot, some of the music that's percolating up from the underground. We asked NPR's social media guru, Andy Carvin, to tap his networks of contacts in the region and find us DJs and musicians to give us a feel for what's hot these days. Our music team mixed more than 100 songs into a stream that you can hear at And we spoke with musician and activist Noor Noor in Cairo. He started by talking to us about a band in Egypt called Cairokee.


CAIROKEE: (Singing in foreign language)

GREENE: Egyptian music, I mean is it representative of music across North Africa broadly and across the Arab world, or is there something very distinctive about it?

NOOR NOOR: You know, historically speaking, Egypt has played a very important cultural role in the North African and Middle Eastern regions. And we constantly be exporting different types of music throughout the years. And same also applies to Lebanon and to Tunis. They have also exported some really, really good music - not just to the Arab world but to Europe and to North America.


CAIROKEE: (Singing in foreign language)

GREENE: Who is listening to a song like this from Cairokee? Where would you hear it?

NOOR: You know, two years ago you usually hear Cairokee in underground concerts, occasionally in the slightly bigger music festivals. However, now this type of song is being streamed on satellite television.


WUST EL BALAD: (Singing in foreign language)

GREENE: Tell us about this, what we're listening to here.

NOOR: The band that we're hearing now is Wust El Balad. And the main reason why Wust El Balad stand out is they were one of the few acts that, I guess, you know, began earlier this decade. And it was shifting the attention from the front man or from the singer, as we're used to seeing with regular pop music, and it was shifting attention to the band as a whole.

GREENE: More of a collaborative experience in music and not just focusing on one person.

NOOR: Exactly. And also Wust El Balad, they were using both Western instruments as well as Middle Eastern instruments, hence the whole fusing music together led to a certain musical product that many people found appealing.

GREENE: Well, my colleague, Steve Inskeep, has been sending us samples of music he's been listening to it as he's been on this trip. And when he gets to Cairo, I know he's going to be very excited to hear many new styles that are out there. And electro-sha'bi, that's one of the new styles that you're hearing in Cairo?

NOOR: Yes, electro-sha'bi - I found it very, very difficult to define this genre of music.


DJ AMR HA HA AND SADAT: (Singing in foreign language)

GREENE: And we should say the musicians we're listening to here is Amr Ha Ha and Sadat.

NOOR: Sadat, yes.


SADAT: (singing in foreign language)

NOOR: It actually started off in underprivileged areas of Cairo, many of which are slums or squatter settlements. And the fact that they managed to find their way into the radio and into even some nightclubs in Egypt, that in itself was a significant change. So I'm not really sure why this specific sound came out of these areas, but I definitely understand why. They have become popular with many different Egyptians from different social backgrounds.

GREENE: Noor Noor, thank you so much for talking to us.

NOOR: It was my pleasure. Thank you for having me.

GREENE: Noor Noor is a musician in Cairo. Our stream of music that's popular in North Africa has quite a variety. You'll hear Rihanna, Kenny Rogers, Justin Bieber. It's all at and also on the NPR Music app.


SADAT: (singing in foreign language)

GREENE: This is NPR News.

Copyright © 2012 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.