A new book by the American academic Andrew Simon documents the explosive effect of the arrival of the audiocassette on Egyptian society in the 1970s and ’80s.
Published by the Stanford University Press, “Media of the Masses: Cassette Culture in Modern Egypt” is primarily for academics and sociology students of Egypt. But the book comes into its own when discussing the class tensions the audiocassette inspired, particularly with the arrival of the popular sha’bi music.
Simon recounts how state-controlled radio and TV had been the arbiter of what music should be played. But with the arrival of the audiocassette: “Both ordinary and elite Egyptians, based in small apartments, in prominent recording labels and everywhere in between, engage in the making of Egyptian culture by way of cassette technology.”
This “enabled an unprecedented number of people to become cultural producers,” he writes. “… Working-class citizens, ranging from electricians to carpenters, used the money they earned from Sadat’s economic opening to become cassette producers.”