Lebanon marks a milestone in the rise of rap and hip-hop in the Mena region

The usually quiet Beirut hippodrome came alive last weekend as crowds gathered at sunset for the Midane Arab rap and hip-hop concert, celebrating the 15th anniversary of the Arab Fund for arts and culture.

The outdoor concert brought together emerging talent from Morocco, Tunisia, Egypt, Lebanon, Palestine and the Gulf, representing the diversity of this burgeoning music scene across the region, with genres ranging from trap merged with mahraganat, pop and electro represented on stage. .

“We wanted to celebrate our 15th anniversary and we chose rap and hip-hop because it has become a very popular genre of music and we wanted to reach a younger and new audience,” said the deputy director of the Arab Fund for arts and culture, Maral Mikirditsian. , recount The National. “Rap has always been the language of dissatisfaction with oppression and we believe it was the right time for such an occasion.

“Afac has also come to represent that through arts and culture, artists express their opinions or tackle issues that are highly relevant hot topics, which may or may not be taboo things. habits that we see in the arts.”

Although this genre of music did not originate in the Arab world, the rap and hip-hop scene sweeping across Mena has developed its own flavor and blended with regional sounds and styles, becoming its own subgenre.

“The scene we have in the region is very well rooted; the topics that are covered in these songs and the sounds are very local and they don’t imitate western sounds,” says Mikirditsian. “That’s what we want to encourage. There is of course a huge historical, political and cultural baggage in our region and we want to encourage young people to work with what we have and to stay really rooted in our region.

Founded in 2007, the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture has acted as a support system for young creators in the Mena region, spanning film, photography, visual and performing arts, music, artistic research and cultural entrepreneurship through nine grant programs, as well as capacity-building projects.

We always encourage the members of the jury to take risks too; you don’t always bet on the winning horses

Maral Mikirditsian, deputy director of the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture

Through a rotating roster of independent jurors, projects are chosen to receive financial assistance, technical support, and mentorship for the creation of timely new productions, to name a few.

During the worst of 2020’s pandemic lockdowns, the nonprofit supported many artists struggling to make a living as concerts, theater productions and art exhibits were cancelled.

“Since 2007, we have supported just under 2,000 projects,” says Mikirditsian. “With the exception of a few countries that have government support for the arts and culture sector, such as Morocco and Tunisia, other countries such as Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Libya have no state support for the sector.

“Afac has become one of the main support systems for the arts and culture sector, and not just financially,” she says. “We have seen the gradual development and growth of the artistic and cultural scene in the Arab region, in the various countries where Afac has operated, whether supporting existing scenes or encouraging/contributing to the development of new trends. . We always encourage the members of the jury to take risks too; we don’t always bet on winning horses.

Most of the concerts last week featured musicians who have benefited from the support of the Arab Fund for Arts and Culture at one time or another. The Egyptian Kareem Gaber, alias El Waili, is an example.

Although he only started his career two years ago, the music producer has quickly gained a following and likes to combine different styles of music, such as Egyptian mahraganat and shaabi with classical or trap themes.

“I’ve always loved listening to music, so when I decided to compose something and learned how to use FL Studio, I decided to go to college and study music and production,” explains Gaber. “I never expected to be a professional music producer, but it happened.

“I think the wave didn’t come because people accepted rap, it’s because rap evolved,” he says. “It wasn’t like that 10 years ago. I didn’t listen to rap 10 years ago. It’s more international now, people are experimenting with it and coming up with new things.

His next project, Min Mantaqa, supported by the fund, will see him travel to various cities in Egypt – such as Aswan, Tanta and Ismailia – and record raw sound from cafes, streets and other public spaces. He then intends to create pieces of music for each city, using these recordings and capturing the mood of each location.

At the anniversary concert, he collaborated with Egyptian singer Donia Waell, who hopes to challenge stereotypes by being a rap and hip-hop singer. In Egypt, she says, some people still find the idea of ​​a woman performing at concerts and rapping an oddity thanks to conservative mentalities. However, she is determined not to be intimidated by this and has already released her first EP.

“There are a lot of challenges as a woman in Egypt and there are limits, some topics I can’t talk about, so I have to be careful with my words,” she says. “I think perceptions have started to change and I think social media has helped a lot. People can support you online, people have started discussing things online that they normally wouldn’t, and art and music have become a tool to express so much.

“I want when people listen to my music, they have the impression that they are not alone, that we are going through the same situations in our generation.”

The fund intends to use this 15-year milestone as a chance to review its strategy going forward and look for gaps or issues it would like to address, such as staying in touch with the younger generation of creatives.

“The next generation will be the ones in charge, so we are very interested in expanding access to crops,” says Mikirditsian. “One of the pillars of our new strategy is how to reach communities where access to culture is not given? How to decentralize the cultural offer, so that it does not only take place in the cities, but in remote areas on the outskirts? »

Ultimately, they want to “start cultivating and nurturing everything that exists.”

Updated: July 21, 2022, 08:01

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