// Islamic hip hop, or a load of hype?
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« on: May 13, 2009 05:55 AM »

Sounds interesting to me... I wouldn't mind a channel that played Sami Yusuf and Native Deen requests all day........

Islamic hip hop, or a load of hype?

BBC News, Cairo

A satellite channel has launched in Egypt claiming to be the first Islamic MTV.

The studio presenter takes viewers' phone calls and interviews artists in baggy jeans, while music videos are played. But the similarities to the global music channel stop there.

4Shbab aims to promote traditional Islamic values through hip hop, rap and pop music, using new and established artists whose lyrics and visuals address Islamic themes.

The arrival of the channel has been described as a novel idea by some parts of the western press, seeing it as yet another example of contemporary Muslim culture becoming more conservative. But is it really so unusual and is it sustainable?

Ahmed Abu Heiba, 4Shbab's Executive Director, came up with the idea because of what he saw as as a contradiction between the videos young Muslims watch - often featuring scantily clad female dancers - and their desires to practise Islam in their day-to-day to lives.

"The main thing is how to think about God when you are working and playing," Mr Abu Heiba explains.

"The singer himself can go and make his recordings and speak about God and then go outside to any bar and drink. My singers are not like that. I make sure they feel it in on the inside."

Not up to scratch

Satellite TV has become a mass medium in the Middle East and it is now a crowded market.

There are approximately 800 satellite channels and more than 55 of these are music channels. As access costs have reduced, viewership has jumped into the tens of millions.

But with so much competition, 4Shbab may find itself going against the tide of viewer expectations.

Egyptian girls Habiba and Nouran watching 4Shbab
Young Egyptians appeared less than impressed by 4Shbab's internet offering

And although the channel's founder has embarked upon a heavy marketing campaign among the western media, few people in Cairo have heard of it.

The channel is difficult to access as its narrow band width means reception is jagged and it only broadcasts for two hours at a time. Its website is not live although clips are available on video sharing websites.

In a popular cafe in central Cairo, most of the young people had never heard of it.

But some thought it would only appeal to a gap in the market if it offered high quality production values and original programming.

"We only watch western music. Arabic music is the same, it just copies it. They are wannabee Britney Spears and Pussycat Dolls. I would rather just watch the real Britney Spears," said Nouran, 16.

"For Islamic pop music to appeal the singers should look like us," said Habiba, 16.

"They shouldn't (just) be kneeling and praying. That is not realistic. We are diverse."

Cultural schizophrenia

Some dismiss the channel, which is funded by Saudi businessmen, as nothing more than a clever bit of marketing.

But Said Sadek, Professor of Sociology at the American University of Cairo, worries that the arrival of 4Shbab shows an the increasing conservatism of parts of the media and believes it causes an internal conflict amongst its young audience.

4Shbab studio
The operation and output of 4Shbab seems to be an entirely male preserve

"The heavy dosage of religion through the media and the spread of intolerant views is not helping the youth," he said.

"Mixing modern music genres with Islamic content confuses young Muslim's identity and creates a schizophrenia inside them."

The day we visited 4Shbab at its basic rented studio, its entire production staff were male, as were the presenter and his interviewee.

All the video clips had male lead singers. A viewer rang in to complain after a woman appeared in a video and the channel ended its broadcast with a tease for an upcoming future programme which would discuss conservative female dress.

Ahmed Abu Haiba says the visible lack of women reflects a society where women do not put themselves forward in the entertainment business and he believes his audience is not ready to see a woman presenter.

Dr Sadek argues that not involving women in the production is as worrying and detrimental to society as seeing them barely clothed.

"Exposing and hiding women are the same thing. It is not acceptable to expose or hide them. There should be a balance," he said.

There are some recent examples of creative and interesting new ways of presenting current issues in the media in the Middle East.

An independent TV channel recently broadcast a live show to raise awareness about the situation in Gaza, which caused a great deal of debate, not just on blogs and among media watchers but across the Middle East.

This suggests that original programming rather than tried and tested formats will be more sustainable.
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