Wael Alaa takes a walk through the neighborhood of Bulaq to show the world what Sha3bi is all about.
Sha3bi music, on the surface, seems to be one of the most polarizing genres of music to ever crawl out of Egypt; we’ve all heard our fair share of Mahraganat regardless of whether or not we actually intended to (thank you, public transportation), but if you think I’m going to be cynically bashful of it throughout this little piece, then you’re not-so-sadly mistaken.
Though I’m not an avid listener (and I doubt you are either), I appreciate it for what it is, how it sounds and what it does, and apparently so does award winning electronic musician and newfound director Wael Alaa - more widely known to the public by his stage name and moniker, NEOBYRD. In his new short documentary ‘Bulaq’, Wael found himself diving into one of Cairo’s most infamous and unique ghettos, the veritable epicenter of Mahraganat as we know them today.
Bulaq briefly takes viewers on an exquisitely well-made ride through the world of Mahraganat, narrated by the film’s focal character, Soska the Inventor (Soska El Mo5tare3), as he educates folks about the Egyptian ghetto, the power of a Mahragan as an art form and the soul underneath it all, “I want to make the kind of music where you might not get how it’s made,” says Soska in the short film, “but its power and soul will take you to another planet; another world.”
I as well as many others can attest to the power of a good Mahragan; it bypasses whatever reservations you have about “good music” and shakes up your limbic system, making you want to just move to its erratic rhythm and beats; it flows through your ears and puts you in a state of uninhibited primal enjoyment, and if you care enough to listen to the lyrics behind it, you’d be surprised at how deep or profound some of it can be.
“Mahraganat could possibly be the only original thing happening in this country right now,” Wael told me, “coming across this group of artists wasn’t planned during my visit to Bulaq, it was just a coincidence, and during the next whole month, I visited them and invited them to my studio. I was keen on building a solid relationship with the group, so that when the film is out, it would seem as if one of them shot it.”
“I think the film is more about the ghettos more than it is about the music,” Wael further added about the core of the film, “this new music genre hasn't only blown up in Egypt, but spread across the world, and barely anyone knows anything about its culture. My documentary shows the world a side of Mahraganat they have never seen before, and probably didn't know existed."
True to his craft, Soska and his talented team managed to create a pretty good score for the short film; having only received a brief from Wael, they made the entire thing without Wael participating in the process, “I wanted to make something that sounds like how the film should look in the end, something along the familiar but in a more modern or maybe futuristic approach to Mahraganat.”
No matter what anyone tells you, Mahraganat are a true form of art; born in the ghetto, perfected by its denizens and celebrated by many, domestically and abroad and you'll hardly ever find a social class that doesn't enjoy a good Mahragan.