Shaabi, which means “of the common people” in Arabic, is a popular genre of Egyptian party music. Dancers have brought this music to the stage, creating a relaxed and playful dance style that reflects the humour in shaabi music. On stage, shaabi is usually improvised, using a wide range of classic belly dance movements with a distinct shaabi stylisation.
In the 1970s, Egypt went through a societal change as a result of the death of Egypt’s president at the time, the opening of the country to the west, and a little economic growth. It was time to move on from conservative rules, marking an end to the era of unattainable love and repressed sexuality.
During this period, many country folk made their way to the city, bringing with them their baladi music. These traditional sounds then became fused with modern western instruments, forming a new genre of music—Shaabi.
Characteristics of Shaabi Music
The singer’s voice is usually low, raspy, and emotional. The mawwal, or a traditional genre of vocal music, may be presented in Egyptian Arabic before the actual song begins to set the mood.
Lyrics are generally simple, revolving around everyday life. Often slang and humor is used to voice their disdain for the government, corruption and other social issues, such as drug and alcohol-use, poverty, work, and relationships.
Traditional instruments such as the nai, violin, kanun, oud, riq, cymbals and tabla, are blended with western instruments such as violins, accordion, saxophone, trumpet, electric keyboard, and the digital computer sounds.
Ahmed is the first well known shaabi singer. He started his career by performing folk songs and vocal improvisations at the café where he worked. Soon after he was singing at religious festivals, weddings, and the clubs on Shariaa al Haram. His raspy voice and memorable lyrics were extremely popular and paved the way for future shaabi singers.
Mohamed Abdel Wahab
Best known for his romantic patriotic songs, Mohamed Abdel Wahab’s music was influenced by many European and Russian composers.
Hassan al Asmar and Shabaan Abdel Rehim were particularly well-known for their mawaweel.
Other shaabi singers include Hakim, Saad al Soghayer, Mahmoud el Husseini, Abdel Basit Hamouda, and Mahmoud el Leithy.
Shaabi Music Today
Shaabi music is constantly changing with the times. Particularly since the January 25 revolution, new shaabi music uses more rap, hip hop and electronic sounds, and is not closely connected to it’s rural balady roots. Although the singing and instrumentation are radically different than the shaabi music of the 1970s, there is a commonality—both strive to deliver a socially relevant message.
Some new Shaabi musicians include DJ Mulid, DJ Sufi and DJ Karkar.
The relaxed, playful feel, and humour of shaabi music translates directly into shaabi dance. Many of these steps are variations of classic belly dance moves styled to look casual, natural, and sassy.
Examples of how to stylise raqs sharqi moves for a shaabi song:
Hip accents- The feet are a little wider than normal, with the hips outside of the shoulder line.
Hip Drops- Make your hip drops big and exaggerated by moving through both hips, and bending/straightening your knees.
Hip Bounce- Push your hip up and casually, relax back down.
Chest drops- Create a more exaggerated, juicy chest drop by bending your knees on the chest down and straightening on the up.
Circles- Move your hips move down and outside the shoulder line in a exaggerated hip circle by bending and straightening the knees.
In general, when dancing shaabi, tune into the emotional message of the song, and use your dance to interact with the melody and lyrics. It is also common to walk around and interact with the audience.