Andrew Simon

  • Fellowship Dates 2015-2015
  • Research Topic Sounding the Nation: Cassettes, Culture and Everyday Life in Modern Egypt, 1970-2010
  • Fellow or Grant Type Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs
  • Affiliation Pre-doctoral candidate Cornell University

In the 1970s, the blaring sounds of recorded cassette tapes became an integral component of Egypt’s complex soundscape. Unlike state-controlled radio, cassettes allowed millions of people to participate regularly in a dynamic culture molded by the masses. No longer simply listeners, ordinary Egyptians created, distributed, absorbed and performed an unprecedented array of auditory material – from popular music and colloquial poetry to religious sermons and political orations – that circumvented cultural gatekeepers, challenged the state’s monopoly on cultural production and contributed to changing notions of what it meant to be Egyptian. For the first time, independent artists, activists and anyone with access to a tape recorder could cheaply and effectively relay their message to a critical mass of consumers across the country and beyond its borders. Through an interdisciplinary analysis of the production, circulation and consumption of cassettes from 1970 through 2010, this research provides an embodied history of this overlooked medium and enriches the study of modern Egyptian society. It critically investigates cassette culture, attuned to institutions, individuals and discourses to reorient Egyptian historiography, currently characterized by excessive attention to the visual. The project engages prevailing discussions of Arab mass media and Egypt’s expressive culture, often limited to state-sanctioned musicians and Islam as an analytical lens. Additionally, it complicates elite narratives of Egyptian national identity that rely on the texts of society’s literati to explicate the making of the masses. The research question explores how Egypt’s cassette culture may serve as a springboard for writing a multi-sensory history of the modern nation-state and examines “high” and “low” culture, religious and profane content and sanctioned and censored voices.

TopicsArabic & Islamic & Near and Middle Eastern Studies, Media & Cinema, Music, Popular CultureThemePeople & SocietyHistoric PeriodModern


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