Electro Shaabi (London Film Festival 2013) Review
I don’t see many music documentaries I dislike. For better or worse, I find much of the appeal in the music itself. I thought Shane Meadows wasted his material on The Stone Roses, yet, through its many faults, I enjoyed Made of Stone purely for the high quality live footage. Electro Shaabi is another matter. The eponymous genre, an Egyptian pop culture phenomenon, can be described as clapping along to a keyboard preset while shouting bad poetry on top. Of course, the music itself is irrelevant. Director Hind Meddeb is really aiming to pinpoint the movement’s role in free speech; an outlet for the dissatisfied youth to express their political anger without fear of retribution. However, the lyrics rarely touch the subject (and never with any depth). Largely, the amateur rappers, who are all male, sing about life in abstract terms – apart from the subject of girls, where they get weirdly specific. They claim their words have meaning, but I couldn’t find any, and neither does the documentary. The rough footage doesn’t help, especially with subtitles littered with spelling errors that rather annoyingly end with full stops on every line. There are extremely brief moments of intrigue, all of which have nothing to do with the music. One musician speaks of the frustration with the night scene, whether men and women party separately on the dancefloor; after one comment, it’s never mentioned again. In ten years time, all I’ll remember about the film is how horrified I was that the main rapper feeds cold cut meat to his pet chicken. At one point, a subtitling error brings up an unspoken lyric: “Give me something new/ I am fed up.” It’s rather apt. Electro Shaabi is part of the London Film Festival’s “Sonic” strand. Screening information can be found here.