The Prince of Sha'abi

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The musical style shaabi, or the Egyptian street pop that concerns itself with the themes and language of common, everyday people, was brought to the international spotlight in 1999, after British group Transglobal Underground remixed a selection of songs by Hakim, a famous shaabi performer. Since then, the genre has grown in reputation around the world, interesting many listeners with its blend of Western dance beats and pop chords with Eastern keys and phrasing. Saad, a young Egyptian singer, follows in the tradition of Hakim with his U.S. debut, The Prince of Sha'abi. The most important and most prominent aspect of the record, both in the drums (real and programmed) and in the voice of Saad (and all of his background singers), is rhythm. It is lively and complex but it's not particularly fast (making it particularly well suited to belly dancing, an activity that often uses shaabi), and the instrumentation will often mimic the movement of the percussion, which, added to the intricate melodies, creates a mesmerizing effect. And Saad, like any good shaabi artist, is more than willing to incorporate Western pop influences into his work; there are plenty of elements within the album that will be recognized by listeners unfamiliar with Arabic music, from sweeping string arrangements to horn solos, to dance beats, to pop hooks. If anything, too much of the West is the drawback of the album. The musical accompaniment (much of it done by synthesizers) seems a little dated, almost like the kind of thing you'd except to find in the Egyptian equivalent of a 1980s roller rink. When Saad sticks to a more traditional sound, keeping the dancehall drums but cutting out the overdone keyboard, his voice rings truer, and the sights, sounds, and smells of contemporary Egypt are brought to life.

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