Music has been a major part of Egyptian culture for thousands of years. Music has been an equally important element of Arabian culture in general. In the last 50 years icons like Umm Koulthoum, Abdel-Wahab abd Abdel-Halim became engrained in the Egyptian and Arab psyche.
Umm Koulthoum particularly held a very unique place amongst all Arabs and was dubbed the "Planet of the East" and "Lady of Arabic Singing". At a time when television was not accessible, her concerts were aired on radio once a month and were an epic event across the Arab world. Her vocal range was unique: and microphones were placed away from her due to the power of her voice. Umm Kolthoum was admired internationally as well by the likes of Bob Dylan, Maria Callas and Charles De Gaulle to name a few. Her enduring career and character led to a funeral attended by millions and music that is constantly being remixed.
Songs by these icons and other classical music, featured traditional instruments such as the oud, the qanoon, tabla and nai. Classical hits have been remixed locally and internationally for decades. For example, the American song Big Pimpin' by Jay Z borrowed from Abdel- Halim's Khosara while the Israeli Eshtar Alabina covered the song sawah by Abdel-Halim.
In fact, classical music by Umm Kalthoum and Abdel-Halim has become a backdrop for Egypt and features in films about Egypt by Egyptians and non-Egyptians alike. A recent example is the film called Cairo Time by the Canadian director Ruba Nadda released in 2009.
Lebanese and Gulf singers previously limited to their borders appeared on the regional scene in the 90s with many flocking to Cairo to build their careers. The nineties also saw the explosion of Algerian "rai music" pioneered of course by Cheb Khaled's mega hit Didi. Algerian music was greatly welcomed across the region and is extremely popular in Egypt as it introduced unique beats and contributed further depth to Arabic music overall.
Featured with permission, are music videos by Cairokee and Zap Tharwat. Cairokee and Zap were part of the Egyptian underground music scene before gaining mainstream success. Click on captions for the subtitles when available on the YouTube Clip. You can also scroll down and click on the Sing Along button where I have added some lyrics.
Also featured below is an instrumental solo and orchestral performance by Australian-Iraqi musician Nawres Alfreh. In this solo Nawres plays the Joza (or Kamancheh) which was developed for him by an Australian instrument maker called Peter Biffin. The Joza is similar to the Upper Egyptian Rababah. Nawres also featured at the Al-Mutannabi Poetry reading we held at the University of Queensland in 2015.
Some contemporary musicians
Amr Diab is arguably the biggest Egyptian pop export and has dominated the Arab music charts. Active since the eighties, he has been dubbed the "Father of Mediterranean Music", having created his unique blend of Egyptian and Mediterranean beats. He is the best selling Arab artist of all time and has won the World Music Awards for best-selling Middle Eastern Artist four times. His songs have been translated into many languages. He featured in Pepsi Advertisements with Beyonce and starred in a few Egyptian films.
Mohamed Mounir is dubbed "the king" and has commanded the heart of the Egyptian youth for three decades. His songs have constantly peaked on the charts thanks to the uniqueness of his voice and the political nature of his songs that always struck a cord with the oppressed generation, such as An Egyptian Tale, Switch off the lights, The Lemon Trees and more recently How? . Mounir starred in TV series, films and plays collaborating only with the best of directors and artists. In 2001 he released Maddad ya Rassoul Allah to remind the world of the real message of Islam.
CairoKee who present a unique and modern blend of Arabic beats and rock music are seen as the voice of the Egyptian youth and their revolution. They have captured the hearts of many with their meaningful lyrics. Songs like The Square and Hold your Ground are an interesting mix of the past and present culturally and instrumentally.
Zap Tharwat was part of the underground rap movement and has found his place in mainstream music since he started in 2009. His songs have become extremely popular because of his socially and politically relevant lyrics and passionate delivery. He has collaborated with many artists like CairoKee and Cherine Amr.
Cheb Khaled hails from Oran in Algeria. He began his singing career as teenager and has become the best known Algerian singer of all time and dubbed the "king of Rai". His hits Didi and Aicha made him a huge cross-over star and his success paved the way for other "rai" artist like Rachid Taha and Cheb Mami. He has collaborated with Diab, Mounir and Magic System.
Cheb Mami is another notable Algerian Singer. One of his notable songs is Le Rai C'est Chic. His collaboration with Sting on Desert Rose made him popular. He also collaborated with other Arab singers like Samira Said on hits like Youm Wara Youm.
Kadim Al Sahir, hails from Mosul in Iraq. He is a singer, composer, and poet. He has been dubbed the "Caesar of Arabic Song", and "Iraq's Ambassador to the world". He has has established himself as one of the most successful singers in the Arab World. His songs range from big romantic ballads to more political work, from pop to Arab classical music. He is known for singing many songs in Standard Arabic and has sung a number of Standard Arabic poems by the famous Syrian poet Nizaar Qabbani.
Omar Khairat, Amar El-Sherei (blind) and Yasser Abdel-Rahman all hail from Egypt and are considered the most notable contemporary composers. Their music involves using modern instruments and techniques to reproduce the most authentic and traditional Egyptian sounds.