Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Egypt's Newest Music Style: Mahragan

There is a new underground music style quickly gaining popularity in Egypt, especially around the suburbs of Cairo. It's known as mahragan, or also referred to as mahraganat (the plural form), which literally translates as "festival music".  Sometimes it's also just referred to as techno or electronic sha'abi.  As the last name implies, this new style of music is rooted in Egypt's sha'abi music (sha'abi meaning "music of the people"). 

Mahragan music can typically be recognized by its distinctive sha'abi beats that are overlaid with an electronic melody which is commonly improvised by the DJ, and singing that is frequently closer to U.S. style rap. As far as the production of the music, it is almost entirely digital, with a DJ on a computer and mixer, occasionally a keyboard, and the singer's voice often distorted by synthesized autotuning. And what the singers are singing about is definitely new as well. The lyrics range from humor to sex to religion to political rants, and oftentimes include slang and vulgarity.  Something typically taboo and unprecedented in Egypt's conservative musical and cultural past. 

Like most belly dancers, I've been familiar with sha'abi, and sha'abi songs been a frequent staple in my classes for many years now, but mahragan itself only recently crossed my path. While this new genre of music has roots that can be traced back as far as 2007, it really only started to become popular shortly after the Egyptian revolution in 2011.  And for myself, I was first introduced to this style of music a short while ago during Seattle's International Film Festival while watching the documentary Electric Shaabi, which documented the music of some of the rising stars in this genre.   The documentary showed glimpses into the lives of the artists, including exhibiting the poverty-ridden neighborhoods encircling Cairo that most of them came from, neighborhoods such as Salam City, Matareya, Sabteya, and Amareya. Here's the trailer of the documentary:

The movie also highlighted how this style of music has become popular at weddings and street festivals in these neighborhoods.  As highlighted in the documentary and on YouTube video clips, these street festivals have a rave-like atmosphere, with large groups of people gathering to particpate in wild and aggressive late-night dancing, almost always by men only.  If any women are in attendance, such as at a wedding, they are segregated into their section or even behind curtains or screens, with the genders never dancing together. 

Embracing this form of entertainment in these suburban neighborhoods is becoming increasing popular with younger generations, and not to mention, frequently also cheaper. Or at least it was until many of these fore-running artists started making names for themselves.  And in fact, in many instances, where once a traditional band with a belly dancer would have been hired for a community event, such as a wedding, it is becoming more popular for Egyptians in these suburban neighborhoods to now hire these young men to DJ and sing.  As the genre and artists have gained popularity, it appears that the trend may even be slowly catching on in urban and upscale weddings as well, evidenced by a YouTube clip of two of these popular artists, Oka and Ortega, singing at what appears to be the wedding of famous Egyptian singer and film star, Tamer Hosny. 

So who are the artists producing this music?  It's likely safe to say the most popular and well-known are the aforementioned Oka and Ortega, who have been able to penetrate the mainstream with television and movie appearances, and have gained international fame outside of Egypt.  They are now frequently booked for events throughout parts of the Middle East and Europe.  Other artists on the rise are Shehta, MC Sadat, Wezza (or sometimes spelled Wiza), DJ Figo, Amr Haha, and Islam Chipsy. Oka, Ortega, and Shehta also collaborate together in a band called Tamanya Fil Meya, or "Eight Percent". My understanding is that Wezza used to be the third member of Tamanya Fil Meya, but was later replaced by Shehta.

Well, I don't think you can talk about music without actually listening to it, so let me share a couple of clips I found online.

This first video is Oka, Ortega and Wezza's hit song Ana Aslan Gamed.

This second clip is from MC Sadat's own wedding.  Can you imagine this being your wedding reception?!

A third clip is from a street festival of Islam Chipsy playing the keyboard. The video and sound quality is not that great, but watch at least the first 30 seconds to notice the crazy and unique technique he has for playing the keyboard.  It's like an adaption of how a DJ would scratch and mix with a record. I have never seen anything like it! There are some better quality videos of him on YouTube, but this one gives you the up close and personal of his hands.

And a final clip of Oka and Ortega, with a third performer, who appears to be Shehta, also intermixed with some shots of DJ Figo (at 2:15 in the video) wherein you can get an idea of the street-style feel of the music, complete with crazy stage climber. The performance starts at about 1:30. Since I'm not an Arabic-speaker, I can't tell you what they are talking about at the beginning of the video.

Personally, I like the music.  I like it a lot in fact.  While I've grown to like classical Egyptian songs over the years that I've been immersed in belly dancing, it wasn't love at first listen.  But with mahragan, I like the upbeat, make-you-want-to-dance, raw and fresh sounds of these artists and their music.  I like that they are pushing boundaries and voicing their own opinions during a time of political and cultural upheaval in Egypt. Although, a word of advice to dancers, I would exercise caution before including these songs in your performance sets, as songs could contain cursing or other lyrics that may be offensive to some listeners.  Be sure you know your song and your audience before including.

Being relatively new, there isn't a huge amount of material on the Internet, at least in English, available for researching, so I'm definitely interested in hearing from readers. What do you think? Do you like this new style of music? What else do you know about it? Please share in the comments!

Picture Credit (Top): Movie still from Electro Chaabi, directed by Hind Meddeb

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

The Belly Dance Makeup Kit by Mellilah

I'm excited to present a special featured post this month. The lovely belly dancer and guest blogger, Mellilah, has crafted a post on putting together the perfect makeup kit for belly dancers.

As a belly dancer, you need to dress the part, which includes your face. The makeup you wear is just as important as your costuming and dancing skills. The right makeup will create that professional and/or polished look; while makeup applied wrongly or the lack of sufficient makeup can distract the audience, taking away from your performance. As a performer, the spotlight is on you, so dazzle them! 

Before learning how to apply makeup for shows, you’ll need to start with the essential tools and products. Below are my essentials for building your personal makeup collection or “makeup kit.” I’ve also included advice on when it pays to spend more money on professional brands and when to save money shop by shopping at your local drug store. There are some differences between the products you’ll need for stage shows vs. gigs (private parties and restaurants), and these are noted below.

The “Makeup Kit”:

·        Lube and Vaseline - Lube is great for applying glitter to lips and eyes. Vaseline is used on the teeth to keep the lips from sticking to the teeth when the adrenaline flows and your mouth gets dry.

·        Brushes - The brushes you use are very important. I recommend professional brushes which can be costly, so I’ve narrowed it down to the top 5 brushes that will give you the biggest bang for your buck. You can supplement cheaper brushes for other needs and eventually add more to this collection. Visit your nearby MAC store and purchase these 5 basic brushes: (Alternatively, find similar brushes from a comparable company.)
                   Angled Brow Brush – A must for darkening eyebrows
                   Flat Definer Brush – Great for adding lines of compact color
                   Pencil Brush – A must for applying contour to the lid and packing on color
                   Small Contour Brush – Used to add definition or contour to the face
                   Foundation Brush – Used to apply foundation for a smooth, even finish 

·        Glitter - You’ll want to start collecting different colors of glitter to match various costumes. I like to use “Eye Kandy” as their products are recommended for the eyes. MAC has great glitter but the company warns against using on the eyes. Although it may not be safe for eyes, I have found great glitter at Claire’s; use at your own risk. You’ll also want to purchase body glitter or shimmer. I recommend glitter for stage and gigs!

·        Primer - Primer prepares the skin by calming and smoothing and improves the application of makeup. I recommend “Prep + Prime Skin” by MAC or Sephora’s “Smoothing Primer.”

·        Foundation (Base Makeup) - Foundation covers flaws and evens out skin tone, creating a blank canvas for your face for which to apply color and create contour. It is absolutely essential. For the stage, I recommend using professional products that were created for the stage. So, you’ll need to spend some money here. Look for products that are long wearing, sweat-proof and that provide medium to full coverage. I recommend MAC makeup as it was created for the stage. I use MAC’s “Studio Sculpt SPF 15 Foundation” for stage shows. For gigs, I mix “Studio Sculpt” with my lighter day-to-day foundation. FYI: I only use MAC for belly dance shows, as it is full of chemicals and often too heavy for street wear, in my opinion. If you have sensitive skin, then do some research but find a product that will provide medium to full coverage.

·        Concealer - This will be used under your eyes and used to cover facial blemishes. I recommend spending money here and not buying the drug store brands. MAC makes some of the best concealers, and they are heavy enough for stage and gig use. I like to use “Select Moisturecover” by MAC, but they have other products that may work well, too.

·        Brow Liner - There are lots of fancy products to line your brows, but most importantly, you just want your brows to be at least a shade darker than your hair. You may be able to save money here and buy a really dark brown eye shadow from your local drug store. For the stage, you’ll want your brows to really pop, as they will disappear under the bright lights. When applied correctly for the stage, they should look somewhat artificial, especially if you’re blonde, and you will need to give yourself time to get used to the look. For the greatest control, I use a dark brown eye shadow applied with MAC’s angled brow brush.

·        White Eye Pencil or Powder - You’ll want to purchase a white eye liner and/or white eye shadow which you will use to highlight your eyes, helping the eyes and brows pop. I like MAC’s “Eye Kohl” in the “Fascinating” shade.

·         Eye Shadows - Minimally, you’ll need two eye shadows, a neutral shade (like a soft beige or copper) and a dark contouring shade (a color that will give you more intensity). I use the same shadows for both stage and gigs, applying it more heavily for stage shows. For the darker contouring shade, I recommend buying MAC as it is made with lots of pigment and truly the best for this purpose. Many of the over-the-counter brands just don’t get dark enough, even if applying in layers. I use and highly recommend MAC’s purple “Shadowy Lady” and very, dark blue “Plumage” as contouring shadows.

·        Eye Liner and Mascara - You’ll need the blackest black eye liner and mascara. I find the liquid eye liners give me more control and intensity than the pencils do. I don’t use MAC for this, as I don’t want all those chemicals so close to my eyes. I use Zuzu Luxe by Gabriel Cosmetics which is a safer, mineral based product. I like their mascara in the color “Onyx” and their liquid eyeliner in the color “Raven.” These work well for stage and gigs.

·        Lip Liner - This is an essential and a good quality lip liner is generally worth the price. The cheap ones may break easily or may become worthless once you sharpen. I like to use “MAC Lip Pencils” as they sharpen well or the “MAC Creamstick Liner” that doesn’t require sharpening. You’ll need 2 in shades that are darker than the basic two lipsticks that you choose below. I find that I often gravitate towards my “MAC Creamstick Liners” in the colors “Portside,” a dark brownish red, and “Red Enriched” which has more red in it.

·        Lip Stick- Most drug store brands will work just fine. You’ll want to get at least two colors, one for the stage and one for gigs. As a rule: stick to shades with depth/intensity in the reddish-purple-brown family. Generally, stay away from beiges, pinks, light frosts, and odd colors. For stage, it isn’t as important that it matches your skin tone. You’ll want a really dark color for stage that looks “over-the-top” up close. Reds usually look great on stage. For gigs, the color doesn’t need to be quite as dark and you can find a color that better matches your skin tone. I often use “MAC Red” and “Diva” by MAC. Avoid lip gloss as it can get pretty sticky and you might find that your hair will stick to your lips.

·        Lashes and Glue - I’ve heard that false eyelashes can cause thinning of the lashes overtime; therefore, I only use them for stage shows. You’ll want them to be dark, thick and long, especially for the stage! I would save money and buy them at your local drug store. However, the only glue that I would recommend is DUO adhesive, which I know is sold by MAC.

·        Facial Powders or Creams - You’ll need 3 different powders or creams. 1. Blush- A reddish, pinkish, and/or coral-like blush or one that matches your skin tone to use on your cheeks for gigs. For stage, go with brighter pinks. 2. Contouring Powder or Cream- A dark powder or bronzer for adding contour to the face. It should be a couple of shades darker than your skin tone. 3. A Setting or Finishing Powder- Used to smooth out and set makeup. Use a matte powder for gigs and a shimmering powder that reflects light for the stage. I absolutely love Mac’s Iridescent Powder. I use the color “silver dusk,” which could also be used as a highlighter.

·        Highlighter - This is used strategically to brighten the face, bringing out specific features on the face. For example, it can be used to accentuate the cheekbones and/or to bring attention to understated facial features. To save money, use a loose white, silvery, or ivory colored eye shadow or a light golden shimmery shadow for dark skin tones. For better quality, you might try NARS “Cult Cream Stick Highlighter” in silver.

·        Wet Facial Towelettes - These are essential! I use these after applying my eye shadow to clean up the excess powder that falls onto my cheeks and under my eyes. Applying makeup, lashes, etc… can get messy, and you’ll be glad to have these around. I like to use “Yes to Cucumbers” (hypoallergenic and chemical free) facial towelettes. Hint: To save money, I tear them the long way into fourths.

·        Setting Spray - Setting spray will keep your makeup in place and help you avoid a makeup meltdown. This is especially useful if you know it’s going to be a long night. Save money and try Ben Nye “Final Seal” usually sold at costume supply stores. Be forewarned, it can feel like you’re straying your face with hairspray!

·        Eye Makeup Remover - As you’ll be wearing more makeup then you’re used to, maybe even false eyelashes, you’ll need to wipe your eyes with an eye makeup remover before washing your face.  I have found “Sea Fennel Gentle Eye Makeup Remover” by Gabriel Organics to be great for removing stage makeup, and it’s organic and chemical free.

I hope these makeup tips and essentials are helpful for you and wish you the best on your dance journey. Should you have a question or comment, please leave it below. Also, please stay tuned for my follow-up article, “Makeup Technique for Belly Dancers” by Mellilah which will be published on my blog.

Mellilah is a professional belly dancer teaching and performing in the Greater Seattle area. She is the author of Everything Belly Dance Blog:Essential Information for Belly Dancers. She can also be found at www.Mellilah.com.