Dutch DJ brings Egypt's 'electro-shaabi' street music to Europe

Wed Aug 21, 2013 9:17am EDT
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By Helena Williams

LONDON (Reuters) - A Dutch DJ is bringing underground Egyptian street music to Western night clubs with the hope that it will paint the troubled North African country in a better light.

Music producer and DJ Joost Heijthuijsen, 35, from Tilburg in the Netherlands, does not speak Arabic and only visited Egypt for the first time last April.

But he is the founder and one-third of "Cairo Liberation Front", a Dutch DJ set dedicated to "mahragan" music, derived from the Arabic word for festival.

Also known as "electro-shaabi", it is an unrelenting torrent of synthesizers, chanting and rapping about street culture - touching on sex, drugs and poverty - infused with traditional Arabic rhythms and Egyptian humor.

It is low-budget music for the masses. Typically, self-taught DJs circulate their home recordings on their laptops via downloadable files and YouTube.

The new sound has flooded Cairo's underground music scene since Egypt's 2011 revolution. But it is spreading across the country and transcending its urban working-class roots even as turmoil grips the nation in the wake of the July 3 military ouster of Egypt's first freely elected leader, Mohamed Mursi.

"I thought if we started promoting it in the West, it might get more attention, and might be seen as an art form rather than just some stuff local kids do on their computers," Heijthuijsen told Reuters during a telephone interview.

"The regular things you see in Western media about the Arab world for the past 10 years has mostly been about fighting people, but it's such a beautiful culture, with a lot of exciting, positive stuff happening."   Continued...