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!
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.