Al Shaab Yurid Khamsa Guinea Raseed الشعب يريد خمسة جنيه رصيد (The People Want Five Pounds Phone Credit) Sadat & Alaa Fifty Cent

This is the first translation we’re publishing of a song in an emerging genre in Egypt known as mahraganat. Literally meaning “festivals,” mahraganat is a style of music that emerged out of music played at street weddings and other celebrations in Cairo’s lower-class neighborhoods. Featuring aggressive beats, shaabi-style keyboard licks, and raw lyrics chanted through auto-tune, it captured the frenetic bustle and in-your-face chaos of Cairo’s popular neighborhoods in a way that the slick Arab pop of Amr Diab and Tamer Hosny never could.

For a while in the early 2010s, mahraganat music was paradoxically everywhere and nowhere in Egypt. Blaring from what seemed like half the taxis, microbuses, motorcycles and tok toks in the country, it was fast becoming the soundtrack to Egypt’s pulsing urban life. At the same time, however, it was banned from the airwaves and denied official recognition due to its perceived vulgarity, and only circulated on USB drives and bootleg CDs. Although in recent years Egypt’s music and film industries have begun to co-opt and cash in on this musical trend, it still retains underground associations and is somewhat less than fully respectable.

Given the fact that mahraganat first came on the scene in the years right before Egypt’s Arab Spring revolution and represented a lower-class aesthetic and perspective that the governing elites preferred to sweep under the rug, there has been a lot of speculation about the political valences of this musical phenomenon. In reality, though, very few mahraganat songs comment on politics at all, and the genre’s major stars have mostly steered clear from political affiliations.

The song we’ve translated here is a partial exception. Adapting the slogan of Egypt’s 2011 Revolution (al-shaab yurid isqat al-nizam – “the people want to topple the regime”), the mahragan “Al Shaab Yurid Khamsa Guinea Raseed” expresses an altogether more quotidian demand: “the people want five Egyptian pounds of phone credit.” Although this titular line brings a certain irreverence to the theme, the song as a whole shares in the optimism of the post-revolution period and exhorts its audience to help build a better future for the country. At the same time, it expresses its aspirations only in general terms, and does not align itself with any specific political platform.

The people want something new الشعب يريد موضوع جديد
The people want five pounds phone credit الشعب يريد خمسة جنيه رصيد
And gas in the tank والبنزين في التانك
I wake up in the morning وأنا صاحي الصبحية
In time for my shift في معاد الدورية
I try to start the car بدوّر في العربية
But it doesn’t want to run, guys مش عايزة يا ناس تدور
It’s causing me trouble and my head is confused عملالي مشكلة ودماغي مبرجلة
I’m in the middle of the road and going slow وأنا في وسط الطريق وماشي على البطيء
The people want five pounds phone credit الشعب يريد خمسة جنيه رصيد
Five pounds per person, and that’s in addition to the offer خمسة جنيه للفرد دا غير يا ناس العرض
We will fight for the pounds, no matter what هنحارب على الجنيه لو حتى هيحصل ايه
Oh girl, what will we do? يا ستي هنعمل ايه
We will do what we have to, and the rest we’ll fix اللي علينا هنعمله والباقي هنعدله
We’ll start on a new path هنجيب طريق من أوله
Wake up, guys, see what happened — the people prevailed اصحو يا بشر شوفوا اللي حصل الشعب انتصر
The people want to topple the regime الشعب يريد إسقاط النظام
The people are fed up. There’s been enough wickedness, everyone الشعب تعب بقى يا عالم كفاية شر
The people have had their say الشعب قال كلمته
And Tahrir Square shows their wisdom والتحرير حكمته
Whatever the media say مهما الإعلام قال
We’re not going back on our word في كلامنا مش راجعين
We’re standing our ground على الأرض مجندين
For as long as we live طول ما احنا عايشين
This is my country where I grew up هي ديه بلدي اللي اتربيت أنا فيها
I will live and die here هأعيش وأموت أنا فيها
It’s got to take first place, and that’s the final word لازم تكون قدام، وهو دا الكلام
I’ll never be able to give [my country] as much as it gives me ومش هأقدر أديها قد اللي بتدهولي
I’d like to give it my eyes, and even that wouldn’t be enough أنا نفسي أديها عيوني، ومش هأقدر أكفيها
You have to see how I prevail لازم تشوفوا نصري
Muslim, Christian, Egyptian مسلم مسيحي مصري
We’ll join our hands with yours أيديكو وأيدينا عليها
We will live and build هنعيش ونبني فيها
And my children will grow up there وولادي يتربوا فيها
The people want to topple the regime الشعب يريد إسقاط النظام