Salam City, a tough, poor neighborhood on the outskirts of Cairo, has become the breeding ground for an emerging music scene that is now making its way across the country. Mahraganat, which means ‘festivals’ in Arabic, first appeared on You Tube in late 2009, and really took hold following the 2011 revolution. Radio and TV stations did not give the new music airtime, and the musicians built their reputations beyond their own neighborhoods by circulating amateur home recordings via the internet. Soon the phenomenon had spread across the whole city.
In Mahraganat, local slang is infused with heavily auto-tuned beats and rhythms. The form keeps the anti-sentimental and ultra-local attitudes of shaabi (traditional ‘music of the people’), but electrifies it with imports like hip-hop and techno. The musicians sing about everything, with verses that exude pride and admiration for their neighborhoods—the men and women, the walls, streets and even the dirt. Mahraganat performers claim to have been the first to have sung for the revolution, in its early days, but they have not limited themselves to political verses and continue to express themselves freely, politically or not.