Today our guest writer and Sha3bi Queen, Aasiyah, dancer and owner of Sehraya Entertainment tells us about this popular genre of Egyptian music, its most famous and influential artists and what to consider when performing to it
Sha3bi: More Than Just "Popular"
Let us discuss something that is very popular in the belly dancing world. It is all over Instagram and YouTube. Everyone dances to it. The music is one of my absolute favorites and I annoy my husband almost daily by playing it ad nauseam.
I am talking, of course, about shaabi. More often than not, when many teachers (western and non-western alike) are asked to explain shaabi, they simply say that shaabi is music that is popular at a certain point in time or that it is pop music. This explanation is oversimplified and misleading.
The word shaabi (شعبي, or sha3bi if read phonetically) translates to “my people” but in the context of musical genres, sha3bi would best be translated as ‘folky’ or ‘popular’. And it should come as no surprise that sha3bi music is housed under the umbrella of pop music.
Adaweya, King of Sha3bi
Watch Adaweya in Action
In this vintage video (1970's?), Ahmed Adaweya sings his popular song Zahma
Beyond Ahmed Adaweya
Long before Adaweya, neighborhoods used to have their local sha3bi guy entertain at parties and street weddings, and singers like Mohamed Roushdy, Mohamed Abd el Motileb, and Mohamed al 3ezaby were recording sha3bi music long before Adaweya. Nevertheless, Adaweya was a revolutionary in the genre, and is the king of the modern sha3bi we love today.
While sha3bi music is of course popular, pop music and sha3bi are not the same. Amr Diab is a pop singer, but he never sings sha3bi. Hakim IS a sha3bi singer who is also sometimes a pop singer. Emad Ba3ror is only a sha3bi singer.
Music style and composition as well as use of language and voice are what distinguish a sha3bi singer from a pop singer.
Sha3bi Music Today
Recently, like all art, sha3bi music has gone through quite a revolution since the glory days of Adaweya. Current sha3bi has been marked by songs like Sigara Bunni (Brown Cigarette) by Mahmoud al Husseni, arguably one of the most iconic sha3bi songs of the past two decades.
Most sha3bi singers now utilize a synthesizer or electronic band over a full band or orchestra (Hakim is a major exception, his band is huge and fantastic!) and many singers are incorporating rap and/or other western style music into their production.
Sha3bi music can cover many things--love, politics, life, marriage, fruit, etc--and can also be full of double entendre. Sha3bi singers often talk about controversial and taboo topics such as drugs and sex, as is common for example for popular hip hop artists here in the US.
Singers like Ahmed Sheba, Abd el Basset Hamouda, and Shaabola are known for their heavy and politically laced songs while Mahmoud el Lithy, Bosy, and Saad el Soghayar generally keep things light and fun.
Some of my favorite sha3bi singers are Ahmed Sheba, Emad Ba3roor, Abd el Basset Hamouda, and Reda el Bahrawy. I also really recommend checking out a truly fantastic sha3bi keyboardist, Abd el Salam.
Watch this video translation of Sigara Bunni:
but ONLY if you're 18 or older ;)
and ready for a laugh
Dancing to Sha3bi Music
As a dancer, it is important to remember that sha3bi is a form of lyricism and music; it is not a dance style. When performing to sha3bi music, the dance form appropriate to use is raqs baladi (baladi dance). Raqs baladi is very similar to raqs sharqi (Oriental dance, more commonly known as "belly dance") in movement, but differs in the delivery and intent.
Most sha3bi tells a story of some kind and it always adds an extra element to a performance when the dancer can add to that story. Many dancers, myself included, prefer to wear a dress or galabeya when performing to a sha3bi piece; however, it is fine to wear a bedlah or cabaret costume when incorporating a sha3bi piece into a full set.
Movement is earthy, raw, and sometimes lazy. It is important to know the song lyrics not only to avoid potential embarrassment, but to be able to communicate the story in the song. At its heart, sha3bi music is expressive and fun. Even when the singer is lamenting about the rage of poverty and inequality in the world, everyone loves sha3bi!
About Today's Author
Aasiyah is a professional Raqs Sharqi performer, instructor, and artistic company director who specializes in modern Egyptian technique.
Known for fusing masculine and feminine performance elements, her authentic style has been developed from years of dedicated study of Egyptian dance, culture, and language.
While appreciative of the classic styles of the past, Aasiyah is constantly pushing to stay relevant of modern Cairo life and the influences it has on the dance.
You can find out more about Aasiyah and follow her work by visiting her website, https://www.aasiyahdance.com/ or her instagram pages, @Aasiyah_Dance and @Sehraya_Entertainment.
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Learn About the Genre of Egyptian Music and Dance that Gives Belly Dance Much of Its Essence
Baladi (بلدي, alternatively spelled beledi or balady) means "from the country, "of the country," or depending on the context, "my country," and while in Arabic it can refer to any country or anything from a given country,
when belly dancers talk about it, we are usually referring to the Egyptian folkloric music and social dance styles that evolved when people from Egypt's rural areas started migrating to the cities.
In the larger cities, the folkloric music that originally came from Egypt's rural areas and was played with traditional Middle Eastern instruments such as the ney or mizmar gained influence from the music of Western countries (Egypt was colonized by both the French and the British at different points in its history), and Western instruments such as the accordion, saxophone, keyboard, and others were adopted.
A common style of baladi music called baladi taqsim or baladi progression usually follows a loose pattern in which a melodic instrument such as an accordion, saxophone or ney ebbs and flows as the primary instrument, while the tabla (drum) keeps a steady rhythm in the background.
The music goes through distinct sections: a solo by the primary melodic instrument without any rhythm, a call and response section between drums and melody, a section with slow melody and steady rhythm, and a section where the melody gets faster and is accompanied by faster drums, which eventually build up to a climax or a drum solo.
This structure, of course, is not always followed in this order and not all of these sections are found in every song. The structure varies from song to song. Baladi music is usually improvised, and therefore baladi dancing is usually improvised on top of improvised music!
Watch Fifi Abdo Dance to a Baladi Progression
It's no wonder Fifi has been dubbed "Queen of Baladi"!
Raqs baladi (baladi dance) is, essentially, the social form of raqs sharqi (Oriental dance, more commonly known as "belly dance"). When belly dance was adapted for the stage from the social dances of Egypt and other Middle Eastern countries, and as it has subsequently evolved, elements such as a wider use of space and spacial patterns, arm movements and frames with extended lines, and complex footwork and weight shifts were adopted in order to make it more interesting and visible from a distance, and more appealing to Western eyes and tastes. The two-piece costume that is commonly associated with belly dance was also adopted around that time.
But at its root, belly dance comes from Middle Eastern dances that focus on the movement of the hips, such as baladi, which has a very heavy, earthy and grounded look and feeling. In a way, baladi is like the heart of belly dance... and for that reason, it holds a special place in most belly dancers' hearts <3
Belly dancers study baladi not only because raqs sharqi is so influenced by raqs baladi, but also because often, we perform baladi as part of our performances. It comes up often as sections within the music we use, or sometimes we perform to a whole baladi song by itself, or as part of our longer performance sets that include a variety of musical genres.
When performing baladi on its own, dancers will usually wear a galabeya, the traditional garment worn in Egypt which looks like a long "dress" with long sleeves, like the one Fifi Abdo is wearing in the video above. Or sometimes a more form-fitting, colorful and sparkly galabeya will be worn instead. Or, if the dancer is performing baladi as a part of a full belly dance performance set with multiple songs, the dancer might be wearing the more standard two-piece costume instead.
To truly do justice to our art form, we must understand our music, where it comes from, how to dance to different genres of Middle Eastern music, and how to dress appropriately.
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If you are drawn to belly dance for its flowing, poetic elegance more than for its rhythmic shaking of the hips, you will absolutely love muwashah dance!
Muwashahat (also spelled muwashshahat) is the plural of muwashah (also spelled muwashshah), which is a genre of Arabic poetry in musical form that dates back to 10th century Moorish Spain (Al-Andalus)! Today, these traditions are still popular in Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria, Syria and Lebanon.
There is no reference for how people danced to this type of music back then, but in the 1970's the famous Egyptian choreographer Mahmoud Reda presented the muwashah as a dance spectacle on a stage for the first time in modern history. He invented this new genre of dance by imagining how the rhythmic patterns and lyrics in this type of music should be expressed, while adhering to Middle Eastern aesthetics and cultural norms.
Watch this video of one of Reda's famous muwashah choreographies (performed by Nesma Al-Andalus Company in 2011) to get a sense for what this type of music and dance sounds and looks like:
Mahmoud Reda has been one of the most influential figures in Middle Eastern dance, famous for his stage adaptations of various Arab folkloric and social dances. The dance steps, traditions and methodologies he created are still popular among belly dance performers, teachers and choreographers today!
When you watch this video, do you notice similar steps and movements to those seen in belly dance? What are some elements and characteristics that are different, and unique to this dance?
If you'd like to learn more about muwashah poetry, music and dance, be sure to check out the references below!
Yamê is a Brazilian-American belly dancer based out of New Jersey, USA.