Egyptian mahraganat sensation Hassan Shakoush performed this week at a sell-out Valentine's Day concert at Cairo Stadium where he sang his hit song "The Girl Next Door" Image Credit: Social Media

Cairo: Egypt's music union has banned a nation wide popular street music genre, known as 'Mahraganat' blaming it for corrupting the public taste and spreading immoral lyrics.

The ban was slapped after Egyptian mahraganat sensation Hassan Shakoush performed last week at a sell-out Valentine's Day concert at the Cairo Stadium where he sang his hit song "The Girl Next Door" in which he stated "I drink alcohol and smoke hashish" which the music union considered depraving.

The banned genre, known as mahraganat music, the Arabic word for "festivals", originated in Cairo slums in the early 2000s.

It has since generated a huge following across the Egyptian society, mainly among youth, becoming a staple feature of wedding parties of the poor and high classes alike.

According to the ban, the street musicians are barred from performing across the country. They risk arrest in case of any violation.

Also, the union has notified nightclubs, tourist facilities, coffee shops and Nile boats of the decision and threatened to take legal action against violators.

"The Mahraganat singers express people's real problems and dreams, unlike the stuffy material of other singers"

- Ameen Jamal, Egyptian taxi driver

A little more information on 'Mahraganat'

Often known as "electro-shaabi" (or popular electro), is a genre that relies heavily on computer-generated and synthesised beats. It tackles youth-related themes using explicit lyrics, not addressed in mainstream music.

The new form of music has changed the music landscape in Egypt, this month the song "Bint Al Giran" (The girl next door) reached over 100 million views on YouTube and was the second most played hit on SoundCloud, the do-it-yourself streaming platform.

The controversial ban was announced on Sunday by Hany Shaker, a veteran singer and head of the country's Music Syndicate that licences entertainers to perform in Egypt.

"There is semi-consensus among society's classes about the bad situation of art and public culture because of the so-called mahraganat songs, which combine tempos of zar [exorcism sessions] and suggestive, immoral lyrics," said Shaker, famous for singing love songs.

"The Mahraganat performers are the legitimate father of artistic and moral decline," he added in media remarks.

Huge controversy

"I think they’re policing people’s tastes. And this will only drive the genre into a direction that could make it even more extreme. There’s no point in banning it because it’s supremely popular." said Marwa Helmy an Egyptian living in Dubai.

While Egyptian musician Helmy Bakr, in an interview with Egyptian newspaper Al Watan said  "We are living at the time of bullying in music. All the Mahraganat singers were originally butchers and tok-tok drivers. They lack any musical talent or education, banning the Mahraganat singers is a laudable move."

He also blamed the spread of street music for prompting many musicians to leave Egypt.

Also some Egyptian lawmakers have voiced backing for the ban.

"I contacted artist Hany Chaker and expressed to him my full support for all measures taken by the Music Syndicate to confront low standards, which are considered a very dangerous war undermining tastes of the great Egyptian people, with their youth in the heart," MP Salah Hassaballah, a spokesman for the parliament, said in a statement.

It is an Art of its own

While other public figures have criticised the ban, such as the celebrated TV host Basma Wahba, who said that Mahraganat has become an established popular part of the music scene in Egypt.

"There is a big category of people listening to it at weddings and [other]parties," Whaba said in an Instagram video. "Whether to refuse or accept it, is up to fans," she added.

Agreeing, Ameen Jamal, a 23-year-old driver, lashes out at the ban.

"The Mahraganat singers express people's real problems and dreams, unlike the stuffy material of other singers," he said. "This decision [ban] is unfair. It tells people what they should listen to or what they shouldn't listen to as if they were children in a classroom. People will continue to love Mahraganat and sing it in their cars and weddings. It's impossible to stop them," he told Gulf News.

Ismail El Naggar, a fan of the genre told Gulf News, "A syndicate should not have that kind of authority. I think it’s absolute madness. You cannot just decide to ban a whole genre. Mahraganat came a long way in the past 10 years, from being basement recorded beats shared by tuktuk drivers on USB sticks and played in Egypt’s alleys, to being the most played genre in the Arab world, by far. If it’s about the lyrics, even though it’s extremely hypocritical, then the ban/regulation should be on certain lyrics. If you don’t know how to do that, learn from other regulatory bodies all around the world.

But it’s really not about that, it’s yet another manifestation of the nauseating classism in the Egyptian society, where a genre of music is being discriminated against based on the social class of its artists and the majority of its listeners, who are being classified as uncultured, and not worthy of a genre of their own.

If you don’t like it, don’t listen to it. If you think it’s explicit, stick a ‘parental advisory’ label on it, or better yet, have some control over your children, and tell them not to listen. Or you can just go listen to Hany Shaker, maybe that way he can get 1/1000 of the views Hamo Bika gets."

Mohamed Zaki told Gulf News "For me, the Mahraganat genre is like a mood changer. Sure it might have inappropriate terms, however  English Rap, R&B and Hip Hop has worse language and alot more violations, yet the world still listens to it. I do enjoy 'Mahraganat' as the music itself makes you happy even if the words are sad and dramatic. Can't find one good reason for the ban. If its bad influence on younger generation, then everything in this world should be banned."

Hiba Hani an Egyptian living in Dubai said, “I understand the concerns from a sociological perspective, especially since morality is important in the Egyptian culture, but refusing to accept Mahraganat music as an important element in the fabric of this culture is like refusing to accept that Koshari is an Egyptian dish. It just doesnt make any sense."

Adding "Mahraganat is the Folk 'Sha'abi' music for the new generation, and depriving them of their creative direction is akin to silencing an entire generation.”