Thursday, March 3, 2011

Music in the Middle East: Rapping the Revolution

One of our constant points of focus at the moment is, of course, the series of uprisings in the Middle East (read more here). We have just received a number of updates and links about the musical influence on these happenings from our contact in Cairo, Kristina Nelson.

 Crimson/ Jabulani R. Barber
We'll start off with a great article by Andy Morgan in the UK newspaper The Guardian portraying the explosion of music in the Middle East after the protests began. Under the previous governments in Egypt and Tunisia, music was harshly censored; any criticism or deviation from the norms of high art Arabic music or glitzy pop would be silenced or even punished. But the recent courageous actions of the protesters have released musicians from the metaphors they were using to disguise the truth. Music has become critical, direct, and explosive.

AP Photo/Ben Curtis
This article also features our Hip Deep producer, Mark LeVine. A prominent scholar of the Middle East and Islam, Mask is also a journalist and activist, not to mention a very adept musician. He'll be bringing his wealth of knowledge to Afropop for our forthcoming Hip Deep series on Egypt which we're very excited about. Keep reading here.

And of course, the music can tell its own story. Here are links to some of the best songs accompanying the protests:

Mustafa Said singing live in Tahir Square on February 9th, with translation of the lyrics in English:

El Général's outspoken 'Rais Le Bled' (President, Your Country). The power of El Général's words led to him being arrested and questioned by the Tunisian authorities. Translations of the lyrics accompany the video and can also be seen in full at the top of the comments.

Cairo band Arabian Knightz produced this song in the midst of the protests in Egypt: 'Rebel', feat. Lauren Hill.

Ramy Donjewan's 'Against the Government' has been adopted as the 'official' rap song of the protests. Again happily the chorus is translated in the comments below the video.

And musicians in the Arabic rap diaspora are also having their say. With the world becoming ever-closer through social media, artists from around the globe are joining together and voicing their support for the protesters. One group of rap artists who have produced a tribute song which has gone on to be a viral hit: '#Jan 25 Egypt'.

Yusuf Islam (formerly Cat Stevens) is also producing music of solidarity through innovative methods using social media. For his latest song, 'My People', Yusuf asked people to add their voice to a plea for freedom and peace by joining him in song. He uploaded the chorus to his website, and suggested that people email him mp3 tracks of them singing the harmonies. The resulting 'My People' is available to download for free:

Al Jazeera interviewed Yusuf Islam about the making of 'My People' and talked with him about the impact of music as an instrument of social change. Watch it here.

Out in the streets, people were coming up with their own protest songs. Despite their injuries, this group of protesters came up with a catchy satirical tune named "Expell Hosni Mubarak Song":

Clearly, recent events in the Middle East have been partially driven by the internet and social media – a  revolutionary way to organize protests and show solidarity. So the final word goes to the extensive documentation of events that has been made possible by these new technologies. Check out I Am Jan 25, an amazing website collecting together hundreds of videos and photos – a revolutionary library:

Keep checking on The Afropop Blog, where we'll keep documenting all these wonderful initiatives.
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