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It might be almost impossible to pinpoint the most popular or successful music productions of the year, as is success really measurable? Should we follow the charts or count the views on YouTube or SoundCloud? Can success within a smaller community be dismissed? The Egyptian music scene is too rich to limit ourselves to the shiniest of colours.
Let’s begin with Egyptian pop music, which includes a few stars, such as Amr Diab, Mohamed Hamaki, Mahmoud El Esseily, Hamza Namira, among others, whose fame takes them to frequent performances at regional festivals.
1. Amr Diab, a megastar dubbed by his fans ‘El Hadaba’ (which loosely translates to ‘the mountain’) and referred to as ‘father of Mediterranean music’, has always topped the charts since the 1980s. After all, it is Diab who managed to redefine local pop music by creating an appealing marriage between Oriental Pop and Latin music. With over 30 albums under his belt, one of his latest, Sahran (2020), was among the top 10 most-streamed albums on Spotify Egypt in 2021.
2. Diab’s much younger pop counterpart, Mohamed Hamaki, has found himself at position 9 of the most streamed artists, with his two albums – Ya Fatenny released in 2021 and Kol Yom Men Dah (2019) – scooping 9th and 10th position, respectively.
3. Hamza Namira’s latest album, Mawloud Sanat 80 (Born in 1980), was a huge success in 2021, placing him within the category of most streamed albums on Spotify, while his music videos reached tens of millions of views on YouTube. For example, ‘Fady Shewaya’ (Are you free), released on 30 Dec 2020, has scored 190 million views to date.
4. The younger Mahmoud el-Esseily did not make it to the Spotify top 10 this year. However, his new music videos had their important moments throughout 2021. After all, Esseily never lets down his fans through his combination of sweet light pop and lyrics that speak about happiness and the pains of romantic relationships. Esseily’s music video ‘Hob ghalat’ (Wrong Love), released in January, was among his best hits, while ‘Baaet Maaya’ reached 10th place on the trending list of YouTube Egypt, shortly after its release in March.
Looking at numbers released by Spotify Egypt, one immediately notices how the heavyweights of Egypt’s pop are increasingly challenged by the younger generation of artists, who over the past few years have made their presence more felt in the musical scene.
Wegz, Marwan Pablo, Marwan Moussa, Abyusif are among the forefront performers shaping the local hip-hop, rap and trap music. The packaging offered by those musicians includes catchy rhythmic structures and lyrics that touch on the most mundane issues and often reflect on the daily joys and worries.
5. 23-year-old rapper Ahmed Ali, professionally known as Wegz, has been the most streamed artist for the second consecutive year, while four of his songs – ‘Asyad el Soot’ (released with LZHYMR), ‘3afareet el Asphalt’, ‘Msh Fair‘ and ‘Hustla‘ – were among the top 10 most streamed songs.
6. Marwan Pablo is one of the artists behind ‘Ghaba’ (Jungle), the most streamed song of 2021 and in the Egyptian rap scene, he is taking the youth by storm.
7. Mohamed Ramadan, Egypt’s star actor, began rapping two years ago and signed a contract with Rotana label in 2019. His songs released in 2021 – ‘Thabet’, ‘Versace Baby‘, ‘Alla Allah‘ – have reached 30 million views on YouTube.
Mahraganat: ‘low culture’
Another highly popular trend is mahraganat music. Mahraganat (festivals) is rhythmic electronic music, a descendant of shaabi music (music of the masses), which entered cities through the working class of the 1970s. Unlike shaabi music, however, mahraganat music crosses the class boundaries and is now played in popular coffee shops and social gatherings, at beach parties and weddings, as well as in microbuses and tuk tuks that run across the cities and villages.
Classified by many as ‘low culture’ and frowned upon by middle- and upper-class, mahraganat musicians are also angering the Music Professions Syndicate that has tried to silence their presence, citing improper lyrics and behaviours of the artists. The ‘defenders of morals’ accuse these highly popular artists of ‘pushing an entire generation in the wrong direction’.
Whether one likes or dislikes mahraganat music, it is one of the most important and authentic products of the Egyptian young people, with no aim of imitating other cultures. Its popularity soars with many songs exceeding 100 million views on YouTube as well as big names, such as Hamo Bika, Hassan Shakosh, Amr Haha, Alaa Fifty, and many other representatives of the genre, who have already become immune to the ongoing controversy surrounding their presence.
8. Hassan Shakosh’s music video ‘Habebty’ (My Beloved) featuring multi-award winning Egyptian actress Yasmin Raeis was released in May 2021 and has reached over 120 million views to date.
Jazz & Soul
2021 saw a surge of musicians willing to dedicate their time to jazz and soul music, with the Tarek Raouf Ensemble, Soul Trains, and Mohamed Abu Zekry’s sextet taking brave steps towards their professional revival. This year saw the birth of JJ Quartet (Just Jazz Quartet), a remarkable homegrown jazz phenomenon, which features one of Egypt’s most important jazz pianists Rashad Fahim, alongside Amr Wagih, Karim Adnan Kotb and Ahmed Moustafa-Riad.
9. In their single ‘Sauce el-Macarona’ (Pasta Sauce) released in March, Sharmoofers, a popular band, express hope that the pandemic will end soon. With the lyrics ‘Let’s bake, let’s make pasta… Why this dark mood? Chill!’, Sharmoofers’ satirical call of desperation has reached 1.4 million listeners.
10. Dina el-Wedidi, a singer and composer whose style took her to the top of the independent scene, remained active in the past months releasing a number of music videos, such as Ya Badr that garnered 750 thousand views, followed by another single titled ‘Elkoun’.
11. Meanwhile, Nouran Abutaleb’s blissful vocals infused warmth to the lyrics of ‘Walla ma Talaat Shams walla Gharubat’ (Neither Did the Sun Rise Nor Set). Drawn from poetry by the late Persian mystic and sung to the music by Omar Khairat, the music video that was released in April brought Abutaleb over 1.1 million views.
12. The remake of ‘Bahlam Maak’ (I dream with you), a duet with Ahmad A. El Haggar, son of renowned singer Ali El Haggar, was also a success. The original song was by Najat al Saghira.
13. Nesma Mahgoub, winner of the 8th season of Star Academy – MENA in 2011, emerged from the lockdown with a single titled ‘Kefaya’ (Enough) featuring Amir Hedayah.
14 – Last but not least, 2021 also saw the unique success of ‘Atshan Ya Zeina’ (I’m Yearning, Zeina), when this 2015 song by the Egyptian independent band Gawy made it to the soundtrack of the American sci-fi action film Black Widow (2021).
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