The birthplace of one of history’s greatest societies, Egypt has seen more than its share of dynamism, revolt and change. Throughout its eons of existence, from the creators of the pyramids to the militant rulers of today’s government, musicians and other fringe professionals have been telling their nation’s stories — the glorious and the ugly. Here are five Egyptian artists who are shaking things up.
Hany Mustafa’s resume reads like that of a Hamilton cast member’s: He fronted a Beatles cover band, as well as the group Egoz. He has performed in lead roles in the Arabic version of Les Miserables and in Elton John’s Aida. His solo work is like Nick Drake exchanging notes with Josh Groban. A skilled troubadour and a moving vocalist, HanyMust is a must when it comes to the Egyptian music scene. (Thank you to Cairo360for the recommendation.)
By now, you’re familiar with the stoner rock bred in the Southern California deserts. From Kyuss to Queens of the Stone Age, these arbiters of sludge might be the marquee names of the genre, but watch out for Panta Rhei from another mighty desert half a world away. Hailing from Sinai, guitarist Cavan, bassist Michael Gimmervert and drummer Alexander Fedek deliver that vast, winding sound so well honed by Josh Homme and friends. Panta Rhei’s self-titled two-song EP (at a drone-worthy 30-plus minutes) is out now at Bandcamp.
Amid the Arab Spring and Egypt’s own social uprising in 2011, artists such as El Hawary took to their instruments to comment on the situation. Five years later, she and her unwavering alto and accordion are demonstrating her frustration and faith in her country. She simultaneously sounds like a French coquette and a thoroughly modern Cairene, accompanied by Salam Yousry — a master of the saz, which is much like a lute.
Politically charged and poetically minded, Arabian Knightz are three MCs from Cairo who have been standing up for the oppressed since 2005. They were at the forefront of the Egyptian Revolution, with videos such as “Rebel” and “Not Your Prisoner” getting censored by the government for their depictions of police violence against protesters. The threesome also made a name for themselves with “Sisters,” a 2011 tracks celebrating the strength of Muslim women. (Cheers to Washington Post for the suggestion.)
Named one of the top 20 DJ teams by Mix Mag in 2012, Aly & Fila have scaled some incredible heights. They’ve spun for massive crowds in front of the Great Pyramids of Giza, and they run the Future Sounds of Egypt podcast — which boasts fans from Argentina, San Francisco and other happening locales. The duo’s brand of EDM incorporates timeless Arab ululations, multilingual lyrics (like the above, “Unbreakable”) and soaring choruses that could reanimate the pharaohs of old. (Lead image courtesy the artist.)
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