Shaabi, also spelt sha’abi, is a style of music and dance that has ancient roots in the folkloric traditions of rural Egypt, but which developed in the urban working class neighbourhoods of Egypt. Shaabi (meaning of the people) is the music of the working class in Egypt and the lyrics of shaabi songs are usually about politics, personal life or love (often quite explicit). Sometimes lyrics can even be total nonsense, such as the colour of grapes or loosing glasses; in one instance a Viagra type company used it for an advert and nowadays the emphasis is on DJ mixes. Shaabi is often danced in Egyptian nightclubs, like our western pop music is danced socially in the west.
Shaabi is played using traditional instruments well as modern electronic synthesisers and its tone is quite playful. The urban variety of shaabi became largely popular in the 70s with Ahmed Adawiya (also transliterated as Adawiyah, Adeweia or Adeweya). Ahmed Adawiya started his career as a cafe waiter, but soon became a popular shaabi singer. In his songs he uses the language of the streets of Cairo and, like may shaabi singers, he specialises in vocal improvisation. Other popular shaabi singers include Hakim, Shaban Abdul Raheem, Sami Ali, Sahar Hamdy, Magdy Talaat and Magdy Shabin.
Dancewise, Egyptian Shaabi style is playful and flirtatious, a bit ‘cheeky’, with a strong folkloric influence. The movements are earthier than in raqs sharki, without so many spins nor big travelling steps; steps are mostly on flat feet rather than on tip toes. Shaabi style is not elegant but funky. The movements are relatively simple but full of feeling. A dancer who can be used as an example of shaaby style is Fifi Abdo. Her style was mainly baladi and oriental but the ‘fun/acting’ aspects of Fifi’s performance had elements of Shaabi.