Taking the sounds of the streets and putting them on a CD, 100Copies and Retune Studio's efforts in highlighting underground talent has made for a diverse and current compilation. Eihab Boraie takes a listen.
In my hand is a CD with a simple white cover, featuring big, bold red letters, clearly stating that it is Retune #1, setting the tone for a courageous and unabashed musical offering within and beyond. The first in a series of compilations from the eponymous sub-label of the independent music pioneer, 100Copies, the album offers a sonic taste of the real sounds incubating in the underground music scene.
The eight tracks Retune #1 offers are a mixture of Hip-Hop, minimal Electro and the viral phenomenon known as Shaabi. The compilation begins deceptively, with an electronic offering by Cellardoor. The artist’s sound is dark, minimal, and atmospheric. His electronic assault is carefully planned and never bombards the listener with too many layers, making for the perfect introduction. It reminds me of a chilled out Zero 7 and is refreshing change from the constant House mixes that dominates the clubs of Cairo. Cellardoor appears more than once on the album and his subtlety is used effectively to add balance to an MC-driven compilation.
Track two brings in the Hip-Hop we were expecting to find on the compilation, having headed to a few gigs held by 100Copies previously. El-Kif by Rap Gunz delivers on all fronts. The beats by Gigi Force, coupled with the dynamic roster of MCs, give this track an early-90s West Coast (Think Dr. Dre and Snoop Dogg/ Lion) sound.
This is followed up by what, to my ears, sounds like the only Shaabi showcase on the CD. Something is Not Right by Madfageya is an excellent introduction into theShaabi world for those of you who have avoided it until now. To me, it sounds like a fusion of Hip-Hop over traditional, country-style percussion, complete with tablas, whistles and horns, and large dose of auto-tune. This is the sound that is currently dominating many working class Egyptian wedding dance floors, though it’s slowly creeping into the mainstream through media and advertising. It is utterly infectious and, with the interchanging MCs, each offering their own flow, it is hard to stand still when the track is on
One of the highlights of the album for me was MC Amin's Morsi in the Klub. Besides the fact that it is funny thinking of former president Morsi in any club, MC Amin’s flow is solid, conveying a lot of humour while sounding pretty slick. If Rap Gunz sound like the West Coast, then MC Amin has channelled the East Coast, proving that Egypt can develop its own dynamic Hip-Hop scene, with differentiable styles.
My favourite track on the album is the wonderful Everything Was For You, a collaboration between MC Tahoon and Cellardoor. The beat immediately had me hooked and MC Tahoon’s verses had me believing in his story; a street gangster with something to say. His flow also changes tempo throughout the track making it intriguing and addictive.
The last track of the album closes it much like it began, with an electro track by Raymond M named Medusa. It is fine piece of Electro, but was a little bit of a let-down as I would have preferred the Hip-Hop-infused compilation to close with a strong Hip-Hop track. Nevertheless, I get the concept of having bookends to an album and it works well.
As a whole, Retune #1 is very well produced and succeeds in proving that we have a diverse, vibrant music scene emerging in Cairo. This is in large part thanks to Retune Studio and 100Copies’ efforts in watering the seeds of non-commercial musical talent and, if this compilation is to mark the beginning of Retune, then Egypt is in for a bright musical future in all-too-often dark underground scene.
For more on Egypt's emerging Shaabi scene, stay tuned to an interview with 100Copies founder Mahmoud Refaat and artists MC Tahoon, Kaboos Nation and Madfegaaya, exclusively on CairoScene.