Listening to Music in Mubarak's Egypt
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I’m squashed along the back seat of a taxi with four other friends some evening around 2008. Typically, its an old car from the ‘70s, upholstery peeling off the seats, the window handle fallen off, a crackly radio blearing out either an Arabic music station – Amr Diab, Nancy Ajram etc – or Koranic verse on tape depending on the driver. It costs about the equivalent of two English pounds to reach the intended destination. This is a club on the edge of the Nile. We’re all obviously under 21, but no one much cares for I.D. (made buying alcohol and cigarettes surprisingly easy considering this is essentially a conservative Muslim country), and we’d been going there since the age of about 15. Everyone would sit around on low tables and beanbags, everyone would smoke (shisha, cigarettes, both), some people would drink. The music they played was your standard Middle-Eastern pop. As with any chart music, some of it was good, some of it less so.
When Egypt exploded a few weeks back one of my friends I’d been at school with, and who is now studying at Oxford, called me up. After telling me about her panic over seeing a tank driving outside her apartment building on Al Jazeera, calling her mother and hearing gunshots in the background, she informed me that this place we used to occasionally spend our weekend evenings had been burnt down in the riots. “They burnt it down! Isn’t that weird?” she says from her Oxford dorm, “I know the whole thing is weird, and that relatively it's not that weird compared to what else is happening. But it’s still weird right?” We shrug and get back to counting off the people we know over there that we have and haven’t heard from.
“He’s not going to step down,” says my dad over the phone. Yesterday, late afternoon, and it has just been announced that Mubarak is to speak on National television that night. Expectations of him leaving are high. The CIA reckon he’s off. I’m sat in a flat in Fulham with my mother and sister, speaking to my dad who is still over in Cairo. Things are tense over there. There’s a lot of expectation. General consensus seems to be that this is it. Which makes my dad’s opinion that he’s going nowhere a little surprising. “Really? You think so? But why would he be giving a speech otherwise? I doesn’t make sense in any way unless he has actually going to leave.” I reply. My dad laughs. “They don’t care. Making sense? They don’t think like that.” He’s right, as it turns out. From what I can tell from people I know over there, tempers and tensions seemed to have spiraled right up again. The massive distance between public opinion (from all sectors of society, all backgrounds, ages) and the government, is something that has always been apparent. It’s interesting that people aren’t taking oppression and corruption as simply the norm you have to work within. I didn’t properly comprehend how normalized it had become until I’d moved away and started talking about it to people elsewhere in the world.
As far as music of the sort this website is concerned with, Cairo was pretty void of it. Or at least I never came across it. It’s a population of nearly 17 million. London feels almost cosy in comparison. I never stumbled across any particularly exciting ‘scene’, so consequently finding out about new music was an internet-based activity. As far as buying music, there was a small corner shop near my school that sold bootleg tapes and CDs of whatever made the billboard charts, so Ciara, Cassie, Justin Timberlake, Beyoncé and all.