top of page

Raqs Baladi - Egyptian Shaabi Dance

Introduction to Baladi (also beledi or balady), means my country or of the people in Arabic. And Raqs or Raqsat is dance. This is a term used by villagers who emigrated from rural communities into Egyptian cities. They referred to their culture and music as the music from their home, the villages in the countryside. Raqs baladi is usually danced socially, during celebrations and gatherings. Nowadays it is also performed on stage.

A typical Beledi can sometimes have three or four components that include a taqsim, question and answer (Tet or Awwadi) and Beledi (4/4 part in which the pace is picked up) and a drum solo (which may or may not be present). A Beledi can also be referred to as taqsim baladi or baladi awadi. Beledi is almost always improvised and not choreographed.

For dancers and musicians this is also known as one of the major rhythms. if you drop by my Zill page in my blog you will find more info on rhythms.


1 1 123 1 123 12


1 2 3&4 5 6&7 8&

Baladi Music

Traditionally, baladi music has a framework divided into sections, during which musicians as well as dancers improvise. Generally speaking, these are the main sections:

  1. Taqsim –melody without percussion, played originally on oud, more recently on accordion, sax or keyboard. The dancer dances on the spot with small and contained movements. Usually the dancer sways to long notes.

  2. Me-Attaa – the rhythm, played on tabla drum, is introduced gradually with a question and answer between the instrumentalist and the drummer. The dancer dances a bit faster but still conservatively. The rhythm gets faster gradually.

  3. Next comes the “tet” or “awwadi”, (awwadi means to repeat) the question and answer part that normally has sharp accents on the “one-and” counts and instrumental “answers” for the remainder of the four-beat bar. A variation of the tet/awwadi, which is found quite frequently in Egyptian music, is the magrour. This term actually means pulled or dragged along, a rather broken interplay between percussion and melodic instruments. (In Tunisian dance Awwada (Aouada) means a group of musicians)

  4. Maqsoum – uptempo rhythm.

  5. Tet – nostalgic rhythm played on mizmar.

  6. Another Me-Attaa, this time with fallahi rhythm.

  7. The music slows down gradually back to the initial awwady taqasim, until it stops.

Dance movements

In baladi style the dance movements are earthy and grounded, with simple step patterns (mostly on flat feet). The arms are generally held by the side with elbows slightly bent, rather than flowing around.

Darling Shaabi with Naima Bakkali


Dancers performing baladi style wear a galabeya or baladi dress (a full dress not baring the midriff). The most traditional type, preferred for folkloric performances, is loose and simple, and the dancer wears a hip scarf around her hips. The galabeya used for cabaret performances is fitted, made with stretchy and shiny material, heavily decorated with fringes and beads.

Shahravar Silver stripe Beledi dress

Shahravar & Amina wearing Beledi Dresses

Introduction and Origins of Shaabi

Shaabi, also 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 neighborhoods 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 color 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, again in Arabic means ‘of the people,’it is a popular genre of party music in Egypt. The songs are often light-hearted, with lyrics revolving around everyday life. The relaxed, casual feel of shaabi music translates directly into shaabi dance: As a dance genre, shaabi is a social dance that was brought onto stage by belly dancers who wanted to add the popular shaabi music to their shows. The performance version of shaabi dance is usually improvised and very open in terms of dance vocabulary. At the same time, there are many steps, styling, and variations of technique that are firmly associated with shaabi.

Zahirah in Folkloric Assuit Beledi dress with Zafat

Dance style

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 traveling 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 the style is Fifi Abdo. Her style was mainly baladi and oriental but the ‘fun/acting’ aspects of Fifi’s performance have elements of Shaabi.

Beledi can also be a part of a Raks Sharqi routine and although it is folkloric in character and music, it is definitely a dance in itself showing emotion, feeling and expression, thus why it is improvised. Raks Sharqi, evolved from Beledi, and is a more refined, sophisticated and choreographed version of the solo dance, performed to intricate musical arrangements. Beledi style music can also be used for Malaya Lef, another Egyptian folkloric dance from Alexandria.

Including a Meleya Leff Segment with the large shawl this video is a beautiful example of the amazing Fifi Abdo doing what she does best.

Music and Famous Artists.

Shaabi is played using traditional instruments well as modern electronic synthesizers 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.

This video from the 70's with two legends Ahmed Adaweya and Suheir Zaki. Just after the ney begins you can hear the classic Baladi rhythm and then through her solo along with a few rhythm changes. Her Green Assuit Beledi dress is beautiful.

Below I wanted to share an article in its entirety by Amina Goodyear who is well versed in modern Shaabi music.

The History of Shaabi Music

by Amina Goodyear © 2009

In the 1970's after the introduction and popularization of cassette tape recorders and their accompanying boom boxes, musicians and singers all over the world were able to sidestep the corporate world and self-produce and self-promote. There were several movements throughout the world that seemed to simultaneously create music in the genre called "cassette culture". Most notably this type of music was evident in England and the U.S. with punk music, in Jamaica with Reggae, in Algeria with Rai and in Egypt with Shaabi music. The literal origin of the word Shaabi (Sha’bi) in Egyptian Arabic is "of the common people". Here we will refer to it as music created by working class people, mainly of the younger generation.

Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt's president who gave Egypt back to the Egyptians died in 1970 and some of his nationalism died too.The policies of the government that followed opened the doors to the West. The working class people (Shaabi) with their rural roots were finally able to enjoy a little economic relief. Thanks to the newly oil rich Gulf Arabs hiring Egyptians and thanks to their tourism in Egypt, money flowed enough to make owning cassette players and boom boxes a staple in their homes. But in the 1970's Egypt also lost three of it's beloved singers - Farid al Atrache, Om Kalthoum and Abdel Halim Hafez. All this marked the end of Egypt's Golden Age and the era of pure love, unattainable love and repressed sexuality. It was time to move from fantasy and dreams to reality. The people needed to move on and were ready to declare war against the monied society and its conservative codes, the government, politics, corruption and just the general state of affairs in their miserable lives. True, there was a little more money flowing, but only enough to let them know that there really wasn't enough. With the readily available cassettes - commercially made, homemade and bootlegged - the Shaabi people were able to sustain a voice and it was no longer ruled by that Egyptian monopoly, RCA, the so-called " voice of the people".

The first well known Shaabi singer is undeniably Ahmed Adaweya. I like to call him the godfather of Shaabi music. He used his voice to sing songs of protest to various social injustices and veiled commentaries on the government and its policies and the cassettes he made spread the word. He was born in the mid 1940's in a working class (Shaabi) "hood" (hara) in the outskirts of Maadi, a district in the southern part of Cairo. He eventually moved to Mohamed Ali Street (also known as Shariaa al Fann -Street of the Artists) where he changed careers and gave up plumbing to work as a waiter in a café. There he was able to present folk songs and his popular mawaweel (pl. of mawal or vocal improvisations, usually heart-wrenching). By the end of the 1960’s he went from singing at mulids (religious festivals) and street weddings to high-class weddings in hotels. In the early 1970s he was singing regularly in the clubs on Shariaa al Haram (Pyramids Road) and his popularity and his new sound sold millions of cassettes. With his baladi roots, his shisha smokers' raspy voice, his memorable mawal and sometimes satirical lyrics, his combination of modern and traditional instruments, and just his general gruffness and way of life, he provided a template for the Shaabi singers who followed him.

Shaabi music is the sound and voice of the working class people. Many of these people are first and second generation from the countryside and they brought their baladi sounds with them to the city. They combined the Egyptian folk music and traditional instruments with the urban classic or art music and modern western instruments. Although it may seem that there is disregard for the traditional and cultural in their songs, quite the opposite is true. Their music is actually more versed in the Egyptian vernacular than the music and songs of the upper class modernized and westernized Egyptians. (Our beloved Mohamed Abdel Wahab's music was quite influenced by European and Russian composers. His music probably gave permission for others to follow along the same vein. Some of Farid al Atrache's songs are good examples.)

The singer's voice, besides being emotional almost to the point of tears, quite often has a low, raw and raspy almost gruff edge. The singer may begin many of the songs with a plaintive mawal. This vocal improvisation like much of the mawaweel of traditional Egyptian songs may sing of love, but often will be couched with references of disdain for the government, corruption and the establishment and other social issues.The mawal usually does not have a rhythm, but it may be accompanied or answered by the traditional nai, or the modern accordion, saxophone or keyboard.The mawal tells of the beliefs and feelings of the singer and sets the emotional stage for the actual song. Ahmed Adaweya, Hassan al Asmar and Shabaan were known for their mawaweel (pl) and many times their mawal would be the song. Following the mawal and preceding the actual song and melody is usually a fast upbeat tempo (such as maqsoum saeria- double time maqsoum) played by the tabla.The song, short and fast, can sometimes be shorter than the mawal and can broach many subjects. The lyrics are usually simple, contain slang or street talk and may complain of many things such as the use or non-use of drugs and alcohol, poverty, work and money, love and marriage, food (which is usually used as a metaphor for sex) and just the general hopelessness of living and life in general. More recently the state of economy has brought about even more depression and many of the songs also appeal to a greater power.

These songs, used as a popular form of resistance, using humor, irreverence and street talk to mask the true meanings, are often censored in the governmental supported media. Through the cassette culture cottage industry, they are passed on from person to kiosk, to taxi drivers and microbuses, and on to the general popular public. More recently Shaabi styled artists such as Hakim and Saad have been "discovered" and their music, although sometimes censored locally, has nevertheless been promoted worldwide as the music of the youth "in-crowd" or the "hood" - music like hip hop and reggae - slightly bad, so it's really in.The cassettes are a cheap and easy way to distribute the music. Even the stars such as Hakim and Saad don't seem to object to their music being bootlegged because the sales and thus, their popularity, can eventually lead to big gigs in large venues - and this translates to big money.

Another newer method of passing on the Shaabi music has been through the more modern tools that are virtually accessible to all. This is the mobile phone and the internet. In the late 1900's the saying was "telephone, telegraph, tell an Arab". Now in the 21st century that funny little joke is a reality as the mobile and the internet indeed quickly spread the lyrical word.

Also there is a slew of new Shaabi musicians using the nomenclature DJ Mulid and DJ Sufi. They hang out at mulids (religious festivals) and remix songs for the youth to dance to. Many of these Shaabi songs latch onto the rising conservatism of the times.The songs of love and money and the lack of both, seem to focus more on social injustice, poverty and giving up drugs and alcohol.The melodies and remixes can be hypnotic and trance-like (as in a dhikr -repetitious invocations) and often invoke the aid of a higher being.This new music is quite popular in Shaabi weddings as the repetitive rhythms and lyrics pull the audience in and are quite dance able.

This modern urban musical style with its rural roots combines a very eclectic range of instruments from the most classic and traditional such as the riq, cymbals, large and small (tura and sagat), the nai and the kanoun to the western violins, accordion, saxophone, trumpet, electric keyboard and now the digital sounds of the computer.

Since the turn of the 20th century Mohamed Ali Street was the main Shaabi center of these urbanized baladi artists - artists who had their roots in the country. Today, thanks or no thanks to the gentrification of the historic parts of Cairo and the economic necessities to move to the outskirts of Cairo such as to Faisal Street and Pyramids Road (southeast towards the pyramids and Giza), the new main Shaabi center for the baladi artists - the musicians and singers - is the mobile and the internet. The Shaabi neighborhoods are now linked - almost as in a virtual Shaabi center.


(Singers and Cassette information are approximate dates)

  • 1952 End of Monarchy (King Farouk) in Egypt by military coup.Gamal Abdel Nassser becomes president of the new republic.“Egypt for Egyptians!” finally.

  • 1956 Suez Crisis (with British). Suez Canal nationalized.

  • 1960's Aswan High Dam – Nubians relocated. Many moved to Cairo

  • 1967 Arab/Israeli war. Israel’s army defeats combined Arab forces and occupies West Bank, Sinai, Golan Heights.

  • 1970 Nasser dies, succeeded by Sadat – Sadat is pro-west

  • 1971 Ahmed Adaweya

  • 1973 Release of "Zahma Dunya Zahma" by Ahmed Adaweya in cassette format. October War by Egypt and Syria against Israel.

  • 1974 Kat Kut cassettes - Farid al Atrache dies

  • 1975 Om Kalsoum dies

  • 1977 Abdel Halim Hafez dies - Belly Dance clubs attacked in Cairo

  • 1979 Egypt and Israel sign peace treaty. Egypt banned from the Arab League

  • 1980’s Shabaan Abdel Rehim cassettes

  • 1981 Sadat is assassinated and succeeded by Hosni Mubarak

  • 1984 Belly Dance clubs torched

  • 1985 Hasan Al Asmar, Abdel Basit Hamouda cassettes

  • 1988 Hamdi Batshan cassette

  • 1990 Yallah! Cassette with Shabaan Abdel Rehim, Samy Aly, Hasan Al Asmar. (this is the mainstream of older "cottage industry" cassettes) - Hakim cassettes

  • 1991 Mohamed Abdel Wahab dies

  • 2001 DJ Mulid Shaabi music Shabaan Abdel Rehim makes Shaabi history with "Ana Bakra Israel"

  • 2004 Saad al Soghayar

  • 2005 Digital cassette "Immortal Records"

  • 2008 DJ computer mixes on cassettes includes mulid carnival sounds DJ compilations available free on internet - Film "Cabaret"with Mahmoud El Leithy DJ mulid song

  • 2009 Film "El Farah" with Abdel Baset Hamouda's "Ana Mush Arefni" and Mahmoud el Hosseny DJ mulid song

I highly recommend you read this interview with the Legendary Hossam Ramzy on Shira's website it is so insightful to hear from an Egyptian Musician of such renown.

Baladi by Hossam Ramzy A word that belly dancers often hear with respect to Egyptian-style dancing is baladi (which may also be spelled other ways, such as beledi, balady, etc.) Baladi isn't just a dance style, it's a culture. In January, 1997, well-known musician Hossam Ramzy posted a message to the med-dance list on the Internet with an Egyptian native's perspective on baladi. His message appears here in its entirety, posted with his permission. >>>here is the link<<<



Featured Posts
Check back soon
Once posts are published, you’ll see them here.
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
  • Twitter Basic Square
  • Google+ Basic Square
bottom of page