Shereen Abdo | Vocalist, Composer | Cairo, Egypt

This essay is taken from ONEBEAT ZINE Vol. 1: The Golden Record

Digging through Egyptian song archives, I discovered that the indie music scene in Egypt is much older than I had realized, but sadly as male-dominated as I might have expected. Here, the masses have often resisted change, and judges have buried historical records, so documentation of Egyptian indie music is very spotty. But I was able to find records of great Sayed Darwish, who started the Young Renewal musical movement in the 1900s, and materials from 70s indie groups Salah Ragab Jazz Trio and Teeba Asdeqa’s “Les Petit Chat.”

Nonku Phiri, South Africa | Photo: Alexia Webster, 2017

The mainstream scene neglected these indie bands, barring them from major labels. This, along with the country’s violent economic changes, led to a stagnant period for the Egyptian indie scene that lasted from mid-80s until almost late-90s. At that point things bounced back, once internet technology and globalization took hold. I grew up before this revival, when local and international pop music were the only options, since there were no radio stations or venues for independent music.

In the late-90s, bands like Sahra, Wust El Bald, and Eskendrella reopened the indie scene. Note, that like their predecessors, they are all-male bands. They were produced outside of mainstream studios and offered alternative content. With the rise of private cultural venues, there were finally spaces for music education and performance. This in turn led to the proliferation of more indie bands, and created a truly active alternative scene that was further energized by the revolution in 2011. This state of relative liberty allowed anyone to perform in the streets and in a growing number of open venues. The major media outlets found useful material in the bands, who in turn found new channels for exposure. In the years since the revolution, the scene has continued to be active, while vulnerable as an industry, as the general Egyptian economy has suffered.

OneBeat at Brooklyn Navy Yards, 2018 | Photo: Alexia Webster

Despite these improvements, I want to highlight the continued barriers to women’s participation in this scene. Within macho societies, and especially Arab ones, women’s daily struggles to build a life in the arts is double what men face. While it’s already a difficult profession for men, women also face continued stereotyping and exclusion. We need women’s empowerment at all levels, and culture should not be a neglected element of this empowerment. Free arts schools for girls in poor neighborhoods should be initiated. Courses and scholarships here and abroad should be made available for females especially.

I believe that every societal movement starts with women. Imagine, if future generations are raised in houses with a minimum of one female musician performer, how do you think the society as a whole will treat women?