Peter Holslin is back in the USSR.
A few months ago I was sitting in a fancy cafe in Cairo’s Garden City neighborhood, showing an Egyptian acquaintance a video of a local keyboardist named Islam Chipsy. The clip was a couple minutes long—short and sweet—showing Chipsy throwing down during a wedding party on the streets of Imbaba, his arms flailing as he whips through his riffs to the accompaniment of two drummer.
I’ve always loved Arabic music, but this video hit me like a meteorite when I first saw it several years ago—chaotic perfection captured in two minutes. A sign of something new and fresh that I’d never heard or seen before. My Egyptian friend, however, was not impressed. “This is why you came to Egypt?,” he asked me as he watched the clip, his face a look of befuddled horror, like I’d just shown him a video of a circus animal balancing a ball on its nose.
In a country famed for “golden era” singers like Oum Kalthoum and Abdel Halim Hafez, the music of the streets and of the underground doesn’t always command the same level of respect. Purism is everywhere, of course, and often the bold and the new doesn’t get the credit it deserves. But Egypt is home to a thriving music scene, and it’s just one country in the Middle East and North Africa where alternative music has opened up new avenues for creation and collaboration.
I’ll be on the internet radio station Dublab on Saturday to talk more about this; my friend, LA electronic artist CALLIE, is hosting the show, which starts at 4 pm PST. Below is a quick sampling of some of the stuff I’ll play.