Rolling Stone Magazine ME article for ‘Voice of the Streets’ event

This was my event review in Rolling Stone Magazine ME of the “Voice of the Streets” show on November 4. The event was shutdown by the Egyptian Interior Ministry only to be revived at an art space *Darb 17 18* in Old Cairo that same night! Stay tuned for the long format version of this piece on World Hip Hop Market that will be re-posted here.  There’s more of the story that needs to be told!

Photo Credit: Shadi Rahimi — Members of the Egypt mega-crew Arabian Knightz. Rush (left), E-Money, Sphinx (w/the Keffiyeh), and MC Amin (far right)
Live: Voice of the Streets

By Jackson Allers
November 05, 2011

CAIRO – Last month, 12 of the re­gion’s best-known Arab rappers were set to per­form together at a public youth center in the swanky central Cairo district of Zamalek. Or­ganizers billed the Voice of the Streets event as a concert to re­mind people about the contin­ued struggle for freedom of ex­pression in the wake of the Arab uprisings. But the event was prematurely shut down by the Interior Ministry, who ordered organizers to shut the gates of the municipal youth club where it was set to take place.

Hundreds of b-boys and b-girls, col­lege students, activists and others were wait­ing to be let in, many having been lured to the venue by impromp­tu guerrilla rap perfor­mances in the streets of Cairo two days prior to the event.

One organizer from the Jordan-based arts and entertainment company Immortal Entertainment said he had in­vited protestors injured during the revolution to the event, but when they showed up, the Inte­rior Ministry said the event was no longer a hip-hop event and new permits were required. The event was officially canceled.

What happened next will go down as a defining moment for the Arab hip-hop movement, as frantic calls went out to re­suscitate Voice of the Streets. A local arts and culture center, Darb 17 18, assumed responsi­bility and word went out online and by phone. After a hercule­an effort to get the sound and space ready for an ad-hoc con­cert that had taken two months of planning, the MC’s played to a crowd of some 300 to 400 people who faithfully migrated to Old Cairo.

MC Amin opened the show with his street anthems “Rap 5aleni Abuqueda,” “Madinat al Khataya (Sin City)” and “The Arabs are the Roots Part 3,” showing why he is widely re­garded as the future of Egyp­tian rap with his direct connec­tions to the Egyptian street – his philosophical turns of slang punctuating condemnations of the government.

Lebanon’s Malikah then took the stage and joined Amin on an unnamed collaboration track. Malikah continued her solo set – lyrical guns blazing – proving to the audience that there are female MCs living in the Arab world who can hold it down in a sea of male energy.

And in perhaps the most fun collaboration of the evening, Malikah was joined on the stage by Edd and MC Amin for the tentatively titled song “Hip-Hop” that included a rousing crowd-pleasing call-and-re­sponse of “Cairo City.”

After the trio left the stage it was Beirut-based MC Edd’s turn to show just how good the Lebanese hip-hop scene is. His flow, laid-back but vibrant, was perhaps the most unique vocal style of the evening. In a nod to the Egyptian revolu­tion, he performed “Alam­na Marfou3” – a track that had burned up internet airwaves with Arab hip-hop fans – with Egyptian MC, Mohammed El Deeb, a.k.a. Deeb, formerly of the Egyptian crew Asfalt.

“When the people in Egypt heard it, they got the sense that all Arabs were fac­ing the same problems – un­employment, corruption, lack of social and cultural aware­ness – and were in a constant battle to remember a past be­fore Mubarak” Deeb explained.

The Egyptian rapper’s song “Masrah Deeb” (Deeb’s Stage) was a crowd favorite, not least because of the B.B. King guitar sample that frames the backing tracks. Recorded in the weeks before the January 25th call to protest, the track prophetical­ly talked about the need for peo­ple to wake up to the situation in Egypt.

The Jordanian rap contingent proved why they were on the bill, with MC’s Khotta B and Tarek Abu Kwaik (a.k.a. El Far3i) cut­ting through a gruff, hard-hit­ting set of political tracks from their up-coming solo albums that are sure to put Jordan on the Arab hip-hop map.

The most polished perfor­mance of the night came from Boikutt, representing Ramal­lah. Having played the Shatil­la Palestinian refugee camp in Beirut a month earlier, Boi­kutt’s set was also political­ly charged. The liquid clari­ty of his mic control set the bar for the night as the slight-of-frame Palestinian proved a master at getting his lyrical content through to the audi­ence with a sound system that was pushed to its max through­out the night.

Rounding out the night were local crowd favorites, and Arab hip-hop legends, Arabi­an Knightz. A crew that rolls around 15-deep at its periphery had all three of its core mem­bers on stage – Rush, E-Money and Sphinx, recently back from his stint with U.S. Immigration Services in California justify­ing his life as a rapper in Egypt.

Their songs “Rebel” with Palestinian singer and rap­per Shadia Mansour and “Not Your Prisoner” were the hip-hop soundtrack of the Egyptian revolution. Preparing for the release of their debut LP Un­knighted State of Arabia, they performed to a sadly thinned-out, but still hyped, crowd at around two in the morning.

The Arab hip-hop movement has often seemed more hypoth­esis than cultural fact. In Cairo last month, Voice of the Streets made it tangible.

Egyptian MC Mohammed el Deeb aka Deeb (right) flowin’ for the Shebab in the swanky district of Zamalek – Laith Majali (Immortal Entertainment) on the lens in the background alongside the DJ for the event Sotusura (Photo: Edouard Abbas)

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