Traditional arts…”a shared experience that links [people] not to the undifferentiated mass audience that television courts, but to a particular, sharply delineated group of men and women who grew up in circumstances probably very much like their own, who respond to the [art] not just as entertainment but as a vital part of their lives”.
Peter Guralnick “Lost Highway”
Traditional Egyptian music is increasingly in danger of being relegated to the status of an exotic tourist curiosity, a showcase of national identity or a place on the shelves of academic archives, all of it far from the daily lives of its dwindling practitioners. A complex dynamic of increasing access to media music, video clips and advertising music serves to marginalize traditional music as, at best, exotic and nostalgic (to be resurrected once a year during Ramadan) and, at worst, backward and irrelevant to life in the prestigious fast lane.
Local religious vocal traditions are also increasingly marginalized by an expanding local sensibility that perceives the Saudi sound as more religiously pure and relevant. The many changes affecting post-revolutionary Egypt, such as successive post-revolution state policies in Egypt, the increasingly local and widespread use and access to the internet and to satellite media, as well as the increased polarization of religious and cultural identities and of global and regional politics, have significantly influenced Egyptians’ perceptions of cultural and national identity, their sense of community and their expectations of progress, modernity and participation in the global community. As in many societies striving to balance their history and traditions with their desire to join the world community, the impact of this on culture and, especially, on traditional cultural life in Egypt has led to the undervaluing of traditional culture.
Moreover, increased grassroots support for conservative movements and for their effective community and political agendas, the presence of local and international corporate business interests, changes in trade and agricultural patterns, emigration of Egyptian workers and the rise of the wealthy and young middle class all work at cross purposes to suppress cultural expression.
Folk art… is based on the aesthetic perception, expression and the appreciation of the community adventures of everyday life…
Whether this suppression is a response to local religious sentiment or to favour and imitate global media culture as an expression of progress, the result is that Egypt’s rich and diverse cultural heritage is at risk.
The government institutions in Egypt pay little attention to traditional arts, except if they serve a nostalgic and touristic public. In the field of musical arts, for example, the majority of troupes performing in official theatres, cultural centers, hotels and tourist boats and are self-consciously “folkloric”: the performers, dressed in colour-coordinated costumes, dress up the music and dance with showy effects. Local and traditional culture of any sort does not figure in any school curriculum: where there is a music curriculum, for example, it consists of memorizing childrens’ songs in preparation for the annual concert or of learning classical Western music notation and instruments. As a result, children learn to dismiss their own musical heritage in favour of Western music. This bias has been adopted by official institutions, as well as by the majority of the educated class.
As for the music industry, private commercial businesses are interested in light, profit-oriented works produced with the aim of selling as many and as cheaply-produced cassettes as possible. While the pop/media music industry may make use of traditional instruments, it is rarely a thoughtful appreciation of the particular qualities of a certain instrument or of its original cultural context.
The economic problems of the country are also counterproductive to the aims of establishing a vibrant cultural scene and of actively pursuing current intellectual and artistic issues and developments. Like the average citizen, the traditional artist faces increasing financial pressures over the past years making the transmission of tradition no longer economically viable.