Thursday, December 1, 2022

Watch this: Shafika , Egypt’s underground folk music Queen

First time I knew that there was a very famous Egyptian folk singer that most people in Cairo never heard before was through social media.

Yes, you may be surprised but social media opened a door for us the people of Great Cairo province who got no roots in the Nile Delta or Upper Egypt to know and listen to different styles or genres of Egyptian folk music.

The social media presented Shafika to me after 2011 when some tweeps began to speak about her and their memories with her cassette albums in Nile Delta while they were teens. When I searched online for her name, I found a photo of a heavily make-upped woman with 1980s style-blonde dyed hair.

Shafika in the 1980s
Shafika in the 1980s 

To be honest, I do not remember if I listened to her, but all I knew about her was that she was a famous underground folk music singer whose luck and talent did not lead her to be recognized in the mainstream in Cairo.

Time passes and this week, I was properly introduced to Shafika as Egyptian underground folk music Queen and I was reminded again that Egypt is too big and diverse to be constrained by the borders of Great Cairo.

The introduction was through that simple and short documentary about her: Shafika.

Available with English subtitles, it was written and directed by Zakirah Ibrahim.

The documentary was produced by El-Mastaba Center for Folk Music. Despite its modest production, it does its job perfectly and Shafika got some of the long-awaited recognition she deserved.

Shafika was indeed born into an artistic family.

Aside from her elder sister who was also a singer, her father was an accordionist who used to play also in the local weddings in Nile Delta. That would explain why her family did not for instance rejected her work or her sister’s work in showbiz.

The 1952 born did not reportedly pass the famous test of the singers at the Egyptian State Radio aka to be accredited by the Egyptian Radio service like famous Egyptian singers.

Late Shafika in the 1990s
Late Shafika in the 1990s 

It is the first and vital step to be acknowledged by the mainstream media and mainstream music scene. Singers are to be tested by a panel of musicians including academics at Egypt’s famous Conservatory Institute. “That panel consists mostly of Classical Arabic music pundits who want a singer to have a proper voice capability as well as knowledge including reading music notes.,, etc.”

Folk singers outside Cairo actually start from local weddings and Moulids since the time of God knows when!! It is not a secret that actually music legends like Um Kulthum and Mohamed Fawzy started like that.

The local and public weddings have not stopped in Egypt, on the contrary, they continue unlike what is said in the documentary and they are still a bit wild with singers and belly dancers in very tight jeans and heavy makeup surrounded by thugs.

There are even fake weddings

I do understand how mainstream media especially the Press ignored Shafika all that time when she had this very strong fanbase.

I am not fond of the style of folk music Shafika presented despite I can see how strong her voice was after listening to a couple of her songs, I wonder how that voice would be if it was tamed and received proper training and musical education.

While watching that documentary, I remembered how Egypt has many singers that are to be featured in Netflix’s ReMastered Documentary series with very interesting tales that reflect their society, culture, history and art.

Here are Shafika’s profiles on Spotify ( She got another profile using different spelling) and on Apple Music.

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