Electro Cha3bi is way more than just a new take on traditional Egyptian chaabi music. It’s the sound of a youth movement trying to change the demographics of raving in Cairo. Here’s an insight by the hand of Tilburg’s Cairo Liberation Front.
If you haven’t heard of electro cha3bi before you should take another look over past lineups of Netherland’s Incubate (I’d tell you to check Milhões de Festa lineup for 2015 as well, but, hey, I work with those guys. It’s not ethical at all. But do check it). It’s no wonder the name Cairo Liberation Front got your attention. The Tilburg-based act has been responsible for some of the most memorable raves throughout Europe9 thanks to nothing else but the new wave of chaabi artists changing the way rave culture expresses itself in Egypt.
Hold on, before bursting out and closing the tab allow me and Cairo Liberation Front (CLF) to tell you why this is exciting. “Electro-cha3bi is not only a wild music genre; it’s also a rebellious youth culture, with their own kind of sound, clothing, haircuts, drugs and slang”, said Yannick Verhoeven CLF’s DJ and producer. More precisely, this is the sound of a youth eager to embrace either globalization and their roots, creating something new in its entirety, both musically and socially. The club culture in Cairo was something only the upper class had access to. The artists behind this movement set out to defy the social rules of partying hard: “these youngsters started their own parties at weddings. It started kind of similar to the soundsystem culture of Jamaica, but in a short time the parties turned into actual raves; those raves became an outlet for the youth.”
This is actually why the traditional media, according to the dutchman, doesn’t care about the electro-cha3bi scene — “cause it’s the soundtrack of the lower society” (in all fairness, it is not easy to google something written mostly in arabic, but that hasn’t stop CLF, neither shall it stop you). That’s what initially drove those guys to throw their parties on the streets, bringing in the most incredible performers, from phenomenal key players to the craziest two drummers rhythmic sections. You can actually browse some of these parties on YouTube if you search for “this is cairo not the screamers”. Get ready for it, though, it will redefine what you think partying is about. We’re talking about having good times with some psyched out frenetic chaabi tunes, dancing with snakes and getting in trance-like states standing in chairs.
Of course, that’s the outcome of listening to something completely different. Their sound goes beyond the traditional chaabi music from Egypt. Yannick, who discovered the scene through The Quietus’ editor in chief John Doran, recalls the first time he ever came across Islam Chipsy, the star name for the electro-cha3bi movement: “John Doran showed us this clip of Chipsy smashing his fists on this Arabic tuned Casio. It was one of the best things we saw in years. It reminded us of the early days of rave culture and at the same time it also sounded really punk.” Which comes as no surprise, having in mind Chipsy and his co-conspirators brought new and western influences to the old and romantic chaabi music, much like a reaction to the previous generation’s culture. For Yannick, it’s something “similar to the punk culture in the 70s this youth culture” — a kind of movement against the established social relations.
Combining “traditional Arab rhythms and instruments, mixed with sounds from Western music genres as hip-hop, electro & r’n’b” they redefined both the sound that made Cairo’s heart pulse, and the “blood” running in the streets, i.e., the demographics of partying. You can take their freedom in Egypt, but things will probably get out of hand if you take away electro-cha3bi. Cairo Liberation Front, of course, are sympathetic with this: “we decided to start with Cairo Liberation Front [because] we thought this was one of the coolest music ever and it should be heard at Western clubs and dance/indie festivals.” They went as far as to throwing a party simultaneously in Tilburg and in Cairo, connected via Skype, with the help from Incubate festival, with whom they work closely and whose programming is up to date with new and cutting edge sounds.
CLF has its own take on electro-cha3bi. It’s as new as what’s happening in Cairo, but as valid: “we’re not based in Cairo, we definitely got a different approach to this music genre, cause we’re outsiders we look different to these complete scene. Also, we’re white, don’t speak Arabic and are middle-class, so of course it’s different. But we embrace that”. That makes what they’re doing even more interesting, the fact they come from a different cultural background, listening to all kinds of different stuff and bringing it to electro-cha3bi. All fired up thanks to the humble will to “get this movement even further and more well-known in the Western world”, while embracing the miscommunications that come along with it.
On and off to the mixtape, here’s what you got to know:
Here you’ll find “some of the finest new hits we found from Egypt! ‘Cause most of the ID3 is Arabic we often don’t know what we’re listening to, and actually we don’t mind. It’s more of a naïve way of listening to music, [where you] don’t judge the artists because of his imago or genre etc, but just listen to song [and decide wether it] is good or not. Which reminds us of when when were young. When we were kids we didn’t knew what Kurt Cobain was singing about. We didn’t give a fuck, it just sounded cool in our ears.” Well, this sick mixtape does sound good to me. Whatever the fuck I’m listening to.
By the way, if you do live in Portugal and got yourself thinking “why is this douche writing in english?”: o Islam Chipsy, meio homem, meio fenómeno, 100% incrível, actua nos Maus Hábitos do Porto e na ZDB de Lisboa a 13 e 14 de Outubro.