Tuesday, December 3, 2019

That’s it for Shaaban Abdel Rahim aka Sha’bola “1957-2019” : More than an act

Earlier Tuesday , famous Egyptian folk pop singer Shaaban Abdel Rahim passed away in a Cairo hospital. The 62-years-old Abdel Rahim was suffering from some kind of lung disease as I have read recently.
Late Shaaban Abdel Rahim
Late Shaaban Abdel Rahim
Shaaban Abdel Rahim , commonly known as Sha’bola raised from local fame to international fame when his anti-Israel song “I hate Israel and I love Amre Moussa” in 2000.

It was released during the Al-Aqsa Intifada aka the second intifada in Palestine in 2000 and Amre Moussa was Egypt’s foreign minister during then.

With simple words written by the former teacher-turned-into-Shaabi pop lyricist Islam Khalil and the same music arrangement and music tune in all his song , Abdel Rahim sent a powerful political message from Cairo without realizing it would turn his life upside down.
“I hate Israel and I love Amre Moussa 
I will say that I hate Israel regardless
whether I get killed or go to jail”
Sha’bola declared it when protests rocked the Egyptian universities and people were glued in front of Al-Jazeera TV channel “it was its true golden age” watching Palestinians revolting against the Israeli occupation forces.

That song was more of a political solidarity from the Egyptian working low class to the Palestinians when Mubarak’s regime seemed not doing its best to stop the slaughter of the Palestinians. It was also a direct example of political freedoms in time of Mubarak in the popular working class mindset “If you say you hate to Israel , you will go to jail”.
It was the true year 2000 hit.
I owned that album which broke the charts in that year.

Amr Moussa was known to be vocal against Israel and its policies since the 1990s. His famous interview with Charlie Rose in 2000 along Israeli foreign minister then Ben-Ami made him earn popularity in the Egyptian street.

In May 2001 , Moussa moved to the Arab League in a move that many Egyptians considered a demotion. Word was heard that Hosni Mubarak feared from the popularity of that chief diplomat especially after Sha’bola song.Some believe so till our day.

In a class act , former foreign minister Amre Moussa mourned Sha’ban Abdel Rahim on Tuesday.
Needless to say , Shaaban supported Moussa’s presidential bid in 2012. It was expected but it was not enough to make Moussa earn the vote the popular working class vote.

Shaaban and the living room suit’s interview that made him mainstream

Shaaban Abdel Rahim’s true moment of fame when he escalated from the working class mainstream to the real Egyptian Nationwide mainstream did not come with the “I hate Israel” song.

His true moment to become household name was in 1999 actually , my generation remembers it.
In the hot TV season of Ramadan , popular TV channel 2 host Mona El-Husseiny hosted three Shaabi singers in her popular hit show “A very frank interview” to discuss their music “Shaabi” genre that was popular in slums but rejected in the radio and TV.

“Shaabi Music” means folk music and already there are many different Shaabi music based on location and background. In that time , we are speaking about the Shaabi music of the great slums of Cairo that is still being despised by the mainstream media.

Those three popular shaabi singers were late Shaaban Abdel Rahim ,Abdel Basset Hamouda and Magdy Talaat.
Provoking them as singers whom the mainstream media rejected , the three were defending themselves and their music shamelessly speaking about their humble backgrounds as millions of Egyptians watched.

Many were in dismay on how music in Egypt reached to that low level from Um Kalthoum and Mohamed Abdel Wahab to Hamouda and Abdel Rahim.

Then that moment came in the interview when Shaaban Abdel Rahim spoke Spontaneously about how he changed when he become a popular sing.

“I wear suits now that go well with living room sofa cover” He told El-Husseiny who laughed on camera. 

Egyptian TV host Mona El-Husseiny remembers that that episode very well till this day as it caused her a lot of problems then.
Minister of information Safwat El-Sherif called her to scold her on the telephone.

She was threatened to be fired because she hosted those trashy vulgar singers who defamed Egypt’s reputation as a leading beacon of arts in the Middle East.
Nevertheless the Maspero state mentality did not realize then it was probably the most viewed episode in that popular gossip celebrity interview show.

On the other hand, some voices of the media accused her of being arrogant and hosted those simple Egyptians to mock them on national TV.

In that famous interview with Mona El-Husseiny , Abdel Rahim demanded the Shaabi singers to have a special channel in Egypt.

Two decades later, Mona El-Husseiny’s daughter Lina Saleh is a radio host in Egypt’s No.1 Shaabi music state-owned radio station “Shaabi FM” which is specialized in the same genre of Sha’bola and company.

Before he was “ I hate Israel” singer , he was the “Living room sofa cover suits” guy and the media wanted him like that.

A street smart guy , he gave the media what they wanted the “Living room sofa cover suits” guy who sings “I hate Israel”. He was finally getting a recognition , fame and wealth too.He starred in films and plays as well as ad campaigns. He became a regular guests in TV shows across the Arab world. Little fame after a long time is not a bad thing at all.

On the other hand it was fair to say that he was treated like media oddity or jester , mocked by elite upper class that looked upon him like a living evidence on Egypt's cultural leadership's dismay.

He is mourned now but I can't recount on how he was attacked on social media or mainstream media before.

A forgotten king of Shaabi music

Those who truly know the story and the legend of Shaaban know very well that he could not be described as one hit singer or that he is the “singer” of “I hate Israel”only.

Born on 15 March 1957 in the heart of one of slum of Cairo’s Sharabia, Kassem Abdel Rahim did not receive any kind of formal education.He worked with his father in iron-clothing business.
Shaaban Abdel Rahim
Young Shaaban's first album in 1986

In Egypt, we got a service to iron you clothes. Back to Kassem and his father, their tiny shop did not depend on the modern Clothes iron but rather the old tradition-iron clothing by foot. Surprisingly , this business is still surviving.

Love to sing, our young man began his singing career in weddings and special occasions before he was spotted by a music producer who decided to produce him an album in 1986 for only LE 100.
He chose the name “Shaaban” as his artistic alias and later his official name.

In that first album ,he sang “Ahmed Helmi married Aida , Sheikh Ramadan officiated the marriage” and its was a hit among Cairo’s Micro-buses drivers because simply it was referring to the famous bus stations in Cairo; “Ahmed Helmi” bus station ,”Aida” bus station and  “Sheikh Ramadan” bus station in Cairo’s Shubra.

We are speaking about the mid-1980s, the Shaabi music scene led by Ahmed Adaweyah was still sending shock waves across the country with its simple dancing music and outrageous abstract lyrics with unfamiliar terms and words that did not give a damn to the state and social censorship.

Musically conservative people up till now blame late President Sadaat’s open market policies and the rise of the "nouveau riche" behind the rise of that sort of music.

It was actually subculture emerging for many different reasons with old roots and unfortunately it was being dealt as a bastard child up till now.

In the heart of that subculture , Shaaban Abdel Rahim had another hit “Khesha, you are liar !!” and that time its success went beyond micro-buses drivers with its catchy music.

It was a hit that the term “Khesha , you are a liar !!” entered Cairo’s unofficial social slang terminology dictionary.

Several generations in Cairo use the term "Khesha , you are a liar" to describe a person who frequently lies. In that song , you can hear Shaaban firing back at his critics who attacked him for his humble roots , he listed names of popular singers in the Shaabi scene who came from humble roots and worked as house painters and builders.

His song was covered by several singers including his idol Ahmed Adaweyah. There were no copyrights during then. His producer ripped him off for real the financial gains.

Then in the 1990s , he disappeared before his first ever appearance on Egypt's State-owned TV with Mona El-Husseiny in 1999.

In 2000 he released a new song that became the talk of town because of its lyrics and "look, it is the guy who appeared with Mona El-Husseiny".

The song is "I will quit smoking and I will be a new person" to start a new phase with lyricist Islam Khalil and his one music note that would go with him till the death.

Ironically Shaaban did not quit smoking and it would cost him his health.

As a listener , I believe Shaaban Abdel Rahim's songs in mid-1980s were better and their music was different and he did not end the song out of the blue giving an order to his band that "That's it" nor did he kept singing in the middle "heeeeeeeeeeh".

In that new phase with lyricist Islam Khalil , he sang more about social and political matters.He sang about the invasion of Iraq and the Danish cartoon crisis. Some of his songs were nice and catchy but in a way that remind me by the old social and political comic singing monologues of Ismail Yassin and Thoraya Helmy.

Shaaban Abdel Rahim and Islam Khalil revived that old art unintentionally. Comic singing monologues are truly beautiful art but unfortunately they are regarded trivial by music pundits and conservatives.

Final days of Sha’bola

The last song released by Shaaban Abdel Rahim was called “ Wael Ghonim has gone mad” where he makes fun from Wael Ghonim after his reemergence to public life recently.

I did not care to listen to it or read its lyrics as it was spread in pro-regime media. It made me angry actually because this is the kind of political and social bullying that has made Ghonim and his family suffer all those years.
Currently, Wael Ghonim who was once the poster boy of Tahrir square’s optimism and success says that he is getting out of this dark phase of his life in a new experience.
His brother is currently detained and he continues to vlog on a daily basis his new experience and his new version of Wael Ghonim who smokes pot and speaks live online about everything from politics to sex to his divorce and holds Facebook chats with anyone interested like whistleblower Mohamed Ali.

Ghonim says that he forgave what Sha’bola and he is not angry , in fact he likes the song.
As soon as he knew about his death, Ghonim shared on his official twitter a photo of him with Sha’bola prior 2011.

Needless to say , Sha’bola’s anti-Ghonim song failed a big time and flopped.
In fact all his pro-regime songs after 2011 and 2013 like the one he slammed former vice president and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Mohamed ElBaradei calling him jobless in 2016 were all flops.
They were all flops and they did not reach 0.5% of true success like “I hate Israel”.

As much as I felt angry when I read and heard those songs , I know that Shaaban did them because he believed that he was serving the best interest of Egypt.

I believe that he bought what was fed in the regime media about the 2011 protests and protesters from cosmic conspiracies in the mainstream media especially that many of the faces from Tahrir square or representing the 2011 January spoke in a difficult language than his. That was one of the times logic loses in front of populism.

In 2000, when his song “I hate Israel” hit the wires , he was quickly accused by some right wing bandits abroad of “Antisemitism” which is translated to Arabic”معاداة السامية” or “Mueadat Al Samia” ,the man who did not have any formal education simply said that he did not know a woman called “Samia” to be “her enemy “as the term “Semitism” in Arabic is “Al-Samia”. “Samia” is a popular woman’s name in the Arab world which means precious.
That was Sha’bola.

Ironically those 2011 Tahrir boys and girls were more open and welcoming to his kind of arts. They are not fans but they did not reject him. Already they are the generation that supported that new music genre of Mahraganat and made it mainstream.

They did not reject that kind of Sha’bola’s music like other conservative sectors of the society that rejected and mocked him throughout his life.
Those boys and girls who grow up to become men and women mourn him on Tuesday , they feel sad for him.
They also forgot all his Post-2011 songs and remembered only “I hate Israel” as well his old hits that made him a godfather of a long musical genre and subculture long treated a bastard child of Egyptian culture.
May God bless your soul ya Sha’bola as much you pleased the Egyptian people.
God bless you and in your words I will end this long post.

That’s it , folks”


  1. Thanks Zainab, that's informative and passionate blog, I enjoyed reading it.

  2. Nice post. Surprisingly long but well thought out.


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