EEK Kahraba

[Nashazphone/Cargo; 2015]

Styles: electro Chaabi, techno, hardcore, monomaniacal chiptune
Others: Sadat, DJ Sardena, Oka & Ortega, Alaa Fifty Cent

Sometimes, it’s the supposedly “alien” culture that teaches us the most about our own. Whether we’re focusing on marriage rites, fashion trends, or on music, observing our own practices in an exotic or extravagant form often provides us with a strikingly vivid angle on their underlying function. Similarly, when we’re in a position to view a society at a distance, our detachment and disinterestedness allow us to detect the kinds of peculiarities we conveniently miss when viewing a society that’s a little too close to home.

It’s therefore with great relish that we should embrace EEK’s Kahraba. Not only does Islam Chipsy’s debut album offer a breathtaking ride through Egypt and its flourishing Shaabi scene, but its manic, unrelenting, and downright senseless energy stands as an exotic mirror of our own wanton societies.

Opener “Trinity” is awash with this energy, conveyed in the form of apoplectic 8-bit keyboards and ever-rolling drums. Once the track hits its stride — after a mere 30 seconds — it never lets up. Chipsy’s casual virtuosity goads it on and on in a delirious frenzy of trills and double stops, while the stamina of EEK’s two drummers (Islam Ta’ta’ and Khaled Mando) prevents it from collapsing in exhaustion. Their four years spent playing live in and around Cairo is evident throughout the song’s epic 10 minutes, which see them move effortlessly from one frenetic riff to the next in an unblinking and seemingly unending series of transitions. Listening to their high-pitched athleticism, it becomes all-too easy to imagine the riotous exuberance of the weddings, gigs, and gatherings at which they’ve made their name in Egypt, as well as the vibrant if not volatile atmosphere they must bring to the cities in which they perform.

Yet it’s the unhinged exhilaration of sprints like “Trinty” that proves to be Kahraba’s undoing. As rapturous as the album’s flurries of Arabic scales, Egyptian standards, and lo-fi keys truly are, their unchanging and implacable zeal becomes a touch monotonous after a while. For example, the procession of bleeps and whistles in “Mouled El Ghoul” is so incessant and inordinate as to quickly descend into something akin to meaninglessness. None of its parts do enough to differentiate themselves from each other in tone, tempo, texture, and intensity, with this lack of development entailing that nothing is really articulated (i.e., said) over the course of its seven-plus minutes. Because its melodies and flourishes do not react to each other in any appreciable way, nothing significant really happens from its start to its finish. The song is like the musical equivalent of the hysterical child, obliviously continuing to wail long after the initial cause of his or her excitement has disappeared.

Put differently, it’s almost as if Kahraba fails to reflect the flux and dynamism of the world it’s allegedly reflecting. Given that this world is centered around Egypt and the recent turmoils that constitute it, there’s something unfortunate about such a failure of representation. Moreover, even though the unflagging sirens and rattles of an “El Bawaba” are occasionally thrilling in the right context, there’s something about the romp’s constant animation that gives credence to the old bigoted view that the Middle East is an inherently bellicose, excitable, and irrational corner of the world, one that will remain agitated and unstable regardless of what might be done to help or reason with it.

Perhaps this is why EEK and Islam Chipsy have proven so popular outside of their storied region. Aside from the high fun quotient, it’s possible that their aural extravaganzas might serve some as a comforting corroboration of various Arabic stereotypes. The raving fanatic, the insatiable sensualist, the loudmouthed hedonist, the immovable dogmatist: all of these caricatures are evoked by a track like “Kahraba,” which raves insatiably as it makes its loudmouthed and dogmatically unwavering charge via a torrent of unstoppable notes.

But rather than take Kahraba and its grandstanding as an opportunity to confirm our presumed cultural superiority, it’s much more constructive to regard the album’s one-note, route-one, one-dimensional velocity as a representation of human societies in general, and not just Egypt or the Middle East in particular. This is perhaps a reason why its appeal extends beyond regional borders, since the mindless fervor that American or European listeners hear in “Trinity” or the title track is our own mindless fervor, corroborated and validated from a refreshingly unexpected source. We hear our own unwillingness to stop for just one second to notice the richness as well as the suffering of the world around us, and rather than snapping out of our decadent reverie, we follow the reinforcement of EEK’s fixated, orgiastic convulsions into a half-crazed oblivion.

Or maybe we hear nothing more than good music. This is no less plausible, since Kahrabi is unusual enough in its mind-boggling excess to distinguish itself from the pack of other Shaabi and mahraganat performers. It’s played with remarkable finesse, remarkable glee, and enough energy to fuel an entire nation for a month. Whether it’s meaningful or not is another question entirely of course, yet it’s possible that its gratuitous pleasure-seeking may be the only form of protest available in a conservative, military-ruled nation where all other forms are tantamount to suicide. If so, here’s hoping that EEK continue refining their giddy hardcore until Egypt rediscovers itself. If nothing else, it will remind us of how endearingly and unshakably vapid we all truly are.

Links: EEK - Nashazphone/Cargo

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