After Umm Kulthūm : pop music, postcolonial modernity, and gendered national subjectivity in Cairo



Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



I argue that the ways in which members of the youth generation in Cairo, Egypt consume Arabic-language popular music, and the aesthetic criteria by which they evaluate the worth of various songs and singers, constitute a key component, along with corresponding criteria of political, racial, gendered, and cultural authenticity of Egyptian subjectivity, of a new form of Egyptian gendered national subjectivity in postcolonial modernity. These aesthetic and authenticating criteria are fundamentally interrelated, as one’s consumer preferences within genres of Egyptian popular music are often taken as indicative of the nature of one’s Egyptian subjectivity. For previous generations in postcolonial Egypt, discriminating taste for high modernist aesthetics in popular music, especially the singer Umm Kulthūm, comprised an aspect of desirable cultural modernity and authenticity. This aesthetic has been superseded among contemporary youth by an emphasis on direct emotional evocation as an index of authenticity. Correspondingly, youth in Cairo have come to judge the authenticity of their Egyptian subjectivity against the political subjectivity of their elders’ generations, and the authenticity of their gendered, racial, and cultural subjectivities against those of the West and those of other Arab countries, most particularly Lebanon.