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Egypt's Pop-Music Clashes and the “World-Crossing” Destinies of Muhammad Ali Street Musicians

Abstract : The “suq al-Musiqiyyin”, the musicians' market, in Cairo refers to the social space of non academic music and especially of music played at weddings. This is a vernacular notion that covers everything at the same time, musical training, social affiliations and professional practice of non-academic music. This practice is linked most of the time to family events and especially wedding celebrations – but there is also private evenings and celebrations of mûlid (saint's festival). So we can call them “wedding musicians” in the same way Howard Becker speaks of “dance musicians” about jazzmen in Chicago [1997 (1963), 79-120].
These wedding musicians have developed a specific urban subculture. They are located in Mohamed Ali Street that was the old prestigious centre of Egyptian music during the golden age of this artistic movement in the twentieth century. But they are now quite stigmatized by the rest of townsmen as a group of outsiders carrying on a very social low job. Indeed, nowadays, these popular musicians are promoting a non-academic music style. This artistic form is linked to an old urban culture that takes place in the “plebeian Cairo”, the dense neighborhoods of the old town and the informal suburban districts.
In order to describe the public sphere of culture in Cairo and its social issues, I will start with these shaàbî musicians, their “subculture” and their relationship to the rest of the Cairene inhabitants. Then I will develop the emergence of the music they promote thanks to the booming cassette industry thirty years ago and the problems it raises in the public sphere of culture. The music field represents a good example to study the dynamics of urban society in Cairo in a context of social differentiation and spatial coexistence; as music can be seen as a window to social organization.
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Contributor : Nicolas Puig Connect in order to contact the contributor
Submitted on : Wednesday, June 8, 2005 - 4:07:21 PM
Last modification on : Thursday, August 4, 2022 - 4:54:14 PM
Long-term archiving on: : Tuesday, September 11, 2012 - 12:10:35 PM


  • HAL Id : halshs-00003952, version 1
  • IRD : PAR00003023


Nicolas Puig. Egypt's Pop-Music Clashes and the “World-Crossing” Destinies of Muhammad Ali Street Musicians. Cairo Cosmopolitan: Politics, Culture, and Urban Space in the New Middle East, American University of Cairo, pp.513-536, 2006. ⟨halshs-00003952⟩



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