03 Dec 2014 23:00
FULLY PRODUCED VIDEO (07:21) -- TEXTLESS AND SUBTITLED VERSIONS AVAILABLE
Egyptian shaaby (pop) music phenomenon Islam Chipsy has begun taking the indie electronic music scene by storm. From the streets of Cairo to international stages, his take on Egyptian wedding-pop, known locally as ‘mahraganat,’ (festival music) combines Arab beats with hardcore drumming and phrenetic electro keyboard melodies that sound like someone's old Nintendo gaming system has been possessed by a flamboyant Egyptian groomsman. Chipsy, however, is a self-taught virtuoso keyboardist and a wonder to watch live.
In December, Islam Chipsy played in Beirut at the Beirut & Beyond International Music Festival while touring in the Middle East and Europe, making stops in France, Germany, Switzerland and in various Scandinavian cities. The global appeal of his music perhaps comes from its proclivity towards all-out partying, however, his stop in Beirut was special.
“People [here] are excited to see us; they have received us well,” he said. “Being in this country is like seeing your brother who wants to know how you are doing. So you feel that you speak with each other through music, not with words.”
Director of the Beirut & Beyond Festival Amani Semaan first heard the young Egyptian artist on YouTube.
“[Lebanese audiences] have heard about him and they know there is something special about him,” she said. “They want to watch him, especially since this kind of music does not exist in Beirut. Islam Chipsy started his career in weddings; he has performed professionally on stage only six or seven times. He only started his professional career effectively only now. Everyone is excited to see him, especially musicians. They are looking forward to discovering something new.”
Hailing from Imbaba, a section of Cairo known for outdoor wedding parties, and also for being very conservative, Chipsy and his two drummers Islam and Khalid have invented just that. Totally improvised, their music is largely the result of Islam Chipsy’s signature playing style, developed while playing in the wedding circuit.
“I started searching and experimenting for two years and without showing anyone what I was doing,” he said. “A friend of mine put me on stage to DJ. It was very weird to have a keyboard on stage without a band. I started this technique as a kind of joke. In weddings people were very crazy. They would take their clothes off and dance. So I went along and used my technique. They responded very well and were on fire. I had a lot of work offers and I started to develop my technique, which became famous.”
However, Islam Chipsy doesn’t chalk up his music to where he and his bandmates come from. Early on, while still playing alongside wedding DJs and beginning to discover just how open people were to new music styles, he was propelled by a wish to see the world.
“Whenever I was asked ‘Why do you do this kind of work?’ I would say that I wish to travel around the world,” he adds. “I didn’t have any papers or anything else but it was a dream that I tried to realize and I succeeded, thanks be to God. When Islam and Khalid participated in this, this gave me more strength and energy and my music was renovated. We were able to create a lot of new music together.”
With two drummers playing loud, full drum sets on stage, and Chipsy in the middle practically beating up his keyboard, the live experience is loud, high-energy, and yet totally danceable. Taking their act from the streets of Imbaba to the stage was a risk for the group, but one that paid off.
“It was rather unusual,” Chipsy said. “Any band needs to have one set of drums, while the rest of the instruments would be tablah or tambourine if it was an oriental band, or you could have a guitar. But to have a keyboard and two sets of drums and be able to accomplish something that a large band cannot was something very difficult. It was a dream but we were able to realize it.”