Egypt's Musicians Syndicate: 'We did not campaign for Hassan Shakosh's show at World Cup'

The syndicate has had a contentious relationship with Egypt's mahraganat performers

Hassan Shakosh will be performing at this year’s Fifa World Cup in Doha
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Egypt’s Musicians Syndicate is proud that Hassan Shakosh will be performing at this year’s Fifa World Cup in Doha.

Not because it supports the singer’s contentious mahraganat style, the syndicate’s official spokesman Tarek Mortada told The National, but because he is an Egyptian citizen and it’s “a great achievement to have Egypt represented at such an important global event”.

Shakosh will be joining other Egyptian megastars such as Tamer Hosny, Amr Diab and Mohamed Hamaki, who will all be performing concerts during the 28-day World Cup tournament, which starts on Sunday.

However, Shakosh was named in a recent complaint filed to Egypt's prosecutor-general. It called on the authorities to halt the singer’s World Cup show, citing criticism about the singer and claims his mahraganat style is an unseemly representation of Egyptian culture on the world stage.

The complaint, which was filed by Ashraf El Semary, the legal representative of International PR, a local company, cited a “national responsibility to protect our country and the safety of its people from anything that offends its venerable customs and traditions”.

Mortada said the syndicate had nothing to do with Shakosh being chosen to perform in Doha.

“We did not campaign from our side to have Hassan Shakosh perform at the World Cup,” Mortada told The National. “All the decisions were made by Fifa or the event companies that organised the concerts happening on the sidelines. But we are proud that an Egyptian has gained enough popularity to be chosen to perform at such an important event.”

Controversial music style

The syndicate had, until recently, shared the same critical view of mahraganat (and indeed of Shakosh) because of the genre’s use of lyrics it viewed as inappropriate.

Former syndicate president Hany Shaker famously cracked down on mahraganat and issued performance bans on Shakosh, among others, within Egypt. However, his efforts were to no avail, as other artistes of the genre continued to release music online for millions of adoring fans. Many also continued to perform at concerts abroad.

Since its rise in popularity over the past decade, mahraganat has become an antithesis of sorts to older popular music styles in Egypt, which were dominated by love songs, both upbeat and morose, and nationalistic or pan-Arabist anthems.

However, in October, the syndicate, under the leadership of its new president Mostafa Kamel — a popular singer and lyricist — appeared to take a more tolerant approach to mahraganat and said that the syndicate had created a separate division to represent its performers.

Under a set of new regulations, which included changing the syndicate division's name from mahraganat to “vocal performance”, a few performers, including Shakosh, were granted memberships.

The memberships afforded the singers the right to perform at any syndicate-controlled venue in Egypt (the majority are) and to sign record deals and release music. In exchange, the syndicate would receive a percentage of their earnings.

Because of mahraganat’s monumental popularity in Egypt, concerts usually generate large revenues for the singers, which, under the new agreement, would now also be contributing to the syndicate’s coffers. Since reaching the agreement in October, the syndicate has increased its member benefits, including health care and pensions, a move which many have praised the new president Kamel for.

The syndicate’s stance on the genre had been continuously criticised by several Egyptian musicians, many of whom feel that new musical styles should be allowed to organically flourish without outside intervention.

The National talked to Rima Sharkawy, a Sudanese-Lebanese soul singer living in Cairo, who said that having Shakosh perform alongside other, less controversial, singers at the World Cup, should be seen as a win for representation, as his story is one of millions of poor Egyptians, many of whom feel a deep love and affinity for him.

She says that classism is one of the main driving forces behind the harsh criticisms against Shakosh and against mahraganat as a genre.

FILE - In this Thursday, March 5, 2015 file photo, youth dance at a local wedding in Salam City, a suburb on the outskirts of Cairo. Since the 2011 uprising, the music of "Mahraganat," Arabic for "festivals," has emerged from and spread through impoverished communities, where local musicians play, especially during weddings, their auto-tuned beats and songs that tackle social, political and cultural issues. (AP Photo/Mosa'ab Elshamy, File)

“The refusal to accept mahraganat performers and the culture they bring to the table is a sort of cultural erasure by conservatives who don’t want to shine a light on Egypt’s poverty or the experience of its lower classes. They think it’s unseemly or inappropriate but the reality is that millions live and express in this way and they should be given a seat at the table,” Sharkawy said.

After having a song featured on the soundtrack of the Marvel Studios' television series Moon Knight, which blended ancient Egyptian culture into a modern superhero story, Shakosh reached new levels of fame. Sharkawy thinks that the success of the series’s soundtrack, which also included a song by another mahraganat artist, 3enaba, was probably a contributing factor in why he was invited to perform at the World Cup.

For many of his fans, the World Cup performance constitutes a full circle for the singer, aged 35, who was a professional footballer for years before moving to singing. He played for a number of Egyptian clubs, perhaps most prominently Al Ismaily.

Shakosh, who was born into a working-class family in Cairo’s Bulaq Dakrur district and spent his early years working manual labour jobs, including being a cobbler and furniture-maker, has said that he decided to leave football because of the low financial gains.

Although there were rumours that Shakosh was performing at the World Cup’s opening ceremony, according to Fifa's official website, he is actually performing on December 12 as part of “more than 90 special events set to take place on the sidelines of the tournament”.

Egypt’s prosecutor-general has yet to respond to the complaint against the singer.

Updated: November 20, 2022, 7:36 AM