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jason on 09/21/2010 at 06:50PM

Inspiration from Cairo --> Imagine A World with no "Big Pimpin" (mix)

Mazzika listening stationThis post & mix are inspired by a recent trip to Cairo, where a tip from Hicham Chadly -- who curated the Algerian Proto-Rai compilation for Sublime Frequencies -- led me to the Mazzika antique shop in Zamalek. The proprietor Hammouda helped me dig thru dusty stacks of records on every speed at the makeshift listening station pictured above, and I played a bunch of these 45s on the radio this morning, along with selections from this FMA mix.

A couple of these tracks were salvaged by a real crate digger: Jonathan Ward of Excavated Shellac (also an FMA curator). Excavated Shellac specializes in digitizing and restoring 78rpm records from all over the world, and both of these selections were recorded in Egypt, in an era before electricity:

Sheikh Sayed El-Safti (1875-1939) performs a qasida -- a classical Arabic poem -- whose title means "In the Path of God" (read more)

* "Munira al-Mahdiyya (1884-1965) is among the earliest female recording artists of Egypt. She was a celebrity during her day and appeared in films, much like Umm Kulthum" -Excavated Shellac (read more)

Speaking of Umm Kulthum, this Preggy Peggy tune is actually inspired by a piece that was originally performed by the legendary Egyptian singer (...though you'd never guess from its obscene song title, let alone the band name and album name). Umm Kulthum is widely regarded as the greatest female singer in Arab music history, propelled in part by the "Golden Age" of Egyptian cinema in the 40s, 50s and 60s.

The "Star of the East" was prominently featured in Transpacific Sound Paradise's special program on the Film Music of Egypt, with special guest Sami Abu Shumays of Zikrayat. Shumays studied Arabic musical culture in Cairo, and is the musical director for Zikrayat, a NY-based ensemble performing 'new sounds from the Golden Age of Arabic music and dance'. "Taheya" was recorded live at the 2009 Zlatne Uste Golden Festival, and while the song first appeared in Egypt during the aforementioned "Golden Era," its composer is unknown.

records at every speed gathering dust @ Mazzika in CairoThis issue of unknown artists is a deep one. Because the stacks of records I had the opportunity to dig through were just the tip of the iceberg compared to what's out there gathering dust.

Last week, a controversial article by Chief Boima compared what he's termed "the Scramble for Vinyl" to "Europe’s 19th Century Scramble for Africa, a mad-dash for rare African minerals". It's a provocative statement that incited some intense debate in the comments from some of the DJs and collectors (called out by name in the infographic) who've made crate digging in Africa a central part of their life's work. The key difference for me is that minerals can't be digitized. Music can. And now that we have the potential to archive all the world's music, what's stopping us?

Well, copyright, for one. And when somebody is seeking to profit off of somebody else's music, copyright is usually a good thing. But copyright goes too far in when it comes to nonprofit preservation efforts and the creation of new art. Which is why I included a couple tracks from Damscray in this mix. Go ahead and hit Play again on "Dancing Tiger"...

...Do you think that opening could be a sample? Maybe even from an Egyptian song? If it is I'd sure like to know! But under the shadow of the Law, sampling is illegal -- even for works distributed on a strictly noncommercial basis -- and so it isn't in an artists' best interest to reveal their source material. As a result, rather than shed new light on the source material, it remains confined in obscurity. It might as well not be a sample at all.

Intrigued by the unacknowledged proliferation of Egyptian music through sampling in hip-hop, I've been reading up on producer Timbaland's alleged 8-bar rip of the Golden Era classic “Khosara, Khosara” for Jay-Z's "Big Pimpin" (also feat the late Pimp C). At the time, Cairo's Al-Ahram Weekly asked "How did an extremely famous 40-year-old Egyptian tune manage to become the number one hit in America today, without anyone finding out?" The answer, as surmised by Wayneandwax, is "because of Timbaland’s unacknowledged borrowings." Even worse, "some journalists were projecting the distinctive sounds of Egypt onto other exotic spots in their musical imagination, calling the production 'a swaying, South-Seas flavoured groove that’s a happy musical marriage of Brooklyn and Bali,' say, or 'Bollywood-wigged NOLA bounce stutter-stepping.'"

On the other hand, if Timbaland had asked for permission, the rights-holder would have said "no", and "Big Pimpin'" as we know it would never have existed...



katya-oddio on 09/22/10 at 12:59AM
Congrats on your trip. Fantastic mix, show, writeup, and photo!

Good points about how copyright law can hinder the promotion of the original works when sampled. There are many artists I might have missed altogether were it not for the mention of their sample in liner notes.
jessibird on 09/22/10 at 01:21AM
I read that blog post too. There were a lot of judgments being thrown around. But I'm glad that some possible issues around record digging and collecting have been raised in public. As a stay-at-home music lover, I learned a lot from the discussion.

And I'm grateful to anyone rescuing music from obscurity.
raretist on 09/22/10 at 11:11AM
great post. very interesting issues a touched. thanks!
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