Banning Eyre

Banning Eyre is an author, guitarist, radio producer, journalist, and Senior Editor at afropop.org. His work with the public radio series Afropop Worldwide has taken him to over a dozen African countries to research local music, especially guitar styles. He comments on world music for NPR’s All Things Considered. He is now editing a cultural biography about Thomas Mapfumo and the history of Zimbabwe.



"Cairo Soundscape: Revolution and Cultural Renaissance"

By the mid-20th century, Cairo was one of the world’s most productive and fervent cultural melting pots. Its cosmopolitan, multi-national creators turned out the best films and best loved music of the Middle East, a deep blend of Western and Eastern influences and impulses. Since Nasser’s rise in 1952, the city has become more conservative, more religious, more mono-ethnic, and less and less important as a laboratory for new media, including music. That stagnation parallels the political stagnation that set the stage for Egypt’s 2011 revolution.

Based on a month of research in Cairo in the summer of 2011, and extensive interviews, Banning Eyre looks at the city’s musical life today, a world in which media organizations are largely seen as corrupt and creatively burned out, and the big pop singers they have invested in so heavily seem culturally obsolete. He critiques the celebrated music of Egypt’s recent revolution, and finds it largely bland and derivative, more often a pale imitation of foreign sounds, rather than a shrewd appropriation of them. But he finds hope at the margins, in alternative scenes: electronic music, hip hop, home-made sounds, and especially, the wedding music of poor urban neighborhoods, where deejays and singers are creating a decidedly local fusion of electronica, Sufi religious singing, and sha’bi—the plain-speaking sound of the street that has proven the strongest voice of popular sentiments since the 1970s. This is a portrait of one of the world’s greatest cities in a chaotic moment of introspection and reinvention.