High classical music, folk tradition, iconic popEgypt has it all as the epicenter of the Middle East's music industry. From its gramophone recordings in the 1920s to its flourishing film industry in the 1950s, Cairo was the place to become a superstar, for classical artists and pop singers alike. But this vibrant county has plenty of musical allures outside its capital as well; the musical legacy of the cosmopolitan city of Alexandria and the villages of Upper Egypt (the country's southernmost and most culturally Nubian areas) continue to hold sway on the imagination.
While classical Arab music was developed across the regionand, unlike other "high" or art-music traditions, is widely enjoyed by people of all social classes, ages and backgroundsEgypt is a real locus point, claiming artists and composers like Umm Kalthum, Mohammed Abd el-Wahaab, Abd el-Halim Hafez and Sayed Darweesh as its offspring.
On the religious front, Koranic recitation (which, technically, is not considered "music" at all by the observant) and Sufi ritual music belong to Islam, while liturgical music sung in the ancient Copt language is the legacy of the country's now small, but still extant Coptic Christian population. And while these groups have all but vanished from Egypt now, the country's urban musical heritage also resonates with the sounds of the country's once sizeable population of Greeks, Jews, Armenians and other ethnic groups who called Egypt home until the 1950s and 1960s.
Egyptian folk music is stunningly varied. From the saiyidi music of the upper Nile valley to the sawahili tradition from along the Mediterranean coast to the desert sounds of the Bedouin people, there are as many folk styles as there are kinds of Egyptian landscapes.
Contemporary pop music can be divided into two basic styles. One is brash, fast shaabi, which is traditionally associated with the working class but now has been slicked down and cleaned up by such stars as Hakim and Amr Diab. The other, al-jil ("generation"), is even smoother and lighter than shaabi, mixing elements of more traditional Arab pop with production-heavy techno. Anastasia Tsioulcas