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Egypt Bans Popular Street Festival Music Due to 'Promiscuity and Immorality'

Egypt's Musicians' Syndicate has banned the popular street festival genre 'mahraganat'—a fusion of grime, rap and electro—for allegedly going against the conservative country's moral code.

Egypt's Musicians' Syndicate has recently issued a ban on 'mahraganat' music, according to Egyptian Streets.

The popular street festival genre is a fusion electro, grime and rap, and originated among Cairo's poor during the 2011 revolution which saw the ousting of then president Hosni Mubarak.

The ban comes shortly after a well-known mahraganat singer Hassan Shakoush performed a song whose lyrics were perceived to be "promoting promiscuity and immorality".


This past Valentine's Day, Shakoush performed at a concert held at the Cairo Stadium and attracted at least 100 000 attendees. Unfortunately for him, his lyrics "I drink alcohol and smoke hashish" enraged the Musicians' Syndicate which prides itself in enforcing the predominantly Muslim country's moral code.

Hany Shaker, the head of the union of musicians, commented on the matter saying, "This kind of music which is loaded with sexual innuendo and offensive language is completely unacceptable. That's why we have pulled the plug on it once and for all." In another interview, Shaker also added that, "There is semi-consensus among society's classes about the bad situation of art and public culture because of the so-called mahraganat songs, which combine tempos of zar [exorcism sessions] and suggestive, immoral lyrics."

Egypt Independent reports that the ban prohibits mahraganat singers from performing publicly including during concerts, at live shows, clubs, restaurants, tourist facilities and schools. This is a huge blow to the genre which after becoming mainstream, has been dominating the country's music charts and other platforms including SoundCloud and YouTube.

One Egyptian named Marwa Helmy commented on the ban saying, "I think they're policing people's tastes. And this will only drive the genre into a direction that could make it even more extreme." Helmy added that, "There's no point in banning it because it's supremely popular."

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This article was originally published on OkayAfrica in March, 2017. We're republishing it here for our Crossroads series.

It's 2000 something. I'm holed up in my bedroom searching for samples to chop up on Fruity Loops. While deep into the free-market jungle of Amazon's suggested music section, I stumble across a compilation of Ethiopian music with faded pictures of nine guys jamming in white suit jackets. I press play on the 30 second sample.

My mind races with the opportunities these breakbeats offered a budding beat maker. Catchy organs, swinging horns, funky guitar riffs, soulful melodies and grainy and pained vocalists swoon over love lost and gained. Sung in my mother tongue—Amharic—this was a far cry from the corny synthesizer music of the 1990s that my parents played on Saturday mornings. I could actually sample this shit.

The next day, I burn a CD and pop it into my dad's car. His eyes light up when the first notes ooze out of the speakers. “Where did you get this?" He asks puzzlingly. “The internet," I respond smiling.

In the 1970s my dad was one of thousands of high school students in Addis Ababa protesting the monarchy. The protests eventually created instability which lead to a coup d'état. The monarchy was overthrown and a Marxist styled military junta composed of low ranking officers called the Derg came to power. The new regime subsequently banned music they deemed to be counter revolutionary. When the Derg came into power, Amha Eshete, a pioneering record producer and founder of Ahma Records, fled to the US and the master recordings of his label's tracks somehow ended up in a warehouse in Greece.

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