EEK feat. Islam Chipsy — Live at the Cairo High Cinema Institute

EEK fet. Islam Chipsy - Live at the Cairo High Cinema Institute

EEK fet. Islam Chipsy – Live at the Cairo High Cinema Institute

As a Westerner, an American, that is, an outsider, how do I make sense of EEK & Islam Chipsy’s Live at the Cairo High Cinema Institute? It would seem natural, to me at least, to put this music in the context of the recent political unrest in Egypt (a renaissance of grassroots, working-class music after the stagnant conservatism during Mubarak’s military regime), or perhaps as part of the late import of native musics from the Arab world packaged for a Western audience (Omar Souleyman remaining the most prominent artists in this trend). But neither strategy would crack the nut that is, to my ears, this album. Indeed, this album is far to vibrant, exuberant, visceral and immediate to be yolked to any narrative. It exists insistently as itself, and it’s simply damn fun to listen to. However, some background may still be due. This is the first release by Egyptian artists from the Algerian/Egyptian label Nashazphone, which has mostly been an outlet for Western noise groups up to this point. Islam Chipsy is fairly prominent within Chaabi circles, Chaabi being a traditional urban musical form used in many celebrations, e.g. weddings. However, Chipsy is far from traditional, using a keyboard and making music that feels fresh and forward-oriented. He is accompanied by two live drummers,  Khaled Mando and Islam Tata, aka EEK. As the rather dryly descriptive title suggests, the album is a live recording of these three in action. The drums are untiringly kinetic and keep pushing the already breakneck BPM even faster. Over these Chipsy makes his maximalist attacks on the keyboards, sometimes running up and down in a melodic section, sometimes insisting the repetition of only a few notes. The music never stops or slows, not even a little, and the only dynamics are LOUD or LOUDER. It’s brilliant: completely different, yet instantly catchy. Dancing is the only answer to this barrage. You can’t help but feel the energy of the synths and drums flow through your body, and indeed we hear the cheering of the crowd and the equally enthusiastic Chipsy calling back. It makes you wish you were there. The recording quality could best be described as shitty, which leaves me with mixed feelings. On the one hand, the blown-out quality of the lo-fi recording adds to the visceral, loud nature of the music itself; it seems fitting. Yet the rapid-fire synth stabs and double-drumming beg for a clear treatment, not a muddy one. Yet, what would be lost in a sterile studio environment? Nevertheless, this album left a strong impression on me. Whatever its context, it is alive, addictive and simply a pleasure. Can’t ask for more than that.

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