Arab Spring was a revolution of the arts as well as the politics of many Middle Eastern countries. One form of artistic expression that became integral to the demonstrations on Cairo’s Tahrir Square and elsewhere in the region was music. Witness the rise of Ramy Essam, an architecture student in Mansoura who grabbed his guitar and traveled south to join the Cairo demonstrations. He quickly became the “Singer of the Revolution.”
“To call the artistic reverberations of the Arab world a renaissance may be a bit of a misnomer,” writes music editor Safa Samiezade’-Yazd on the web site of Aslan Media, “because the cultural movement is not powered by enlightenment, but by affirmation.”
As censorship fears began to dissolve along with the governments that enforced them, new voices began to emerge in the arts - Safa Samiezade’-Yazd
Samiezade’-Yazd also selected these five bands – two from Egypt, two from the Palestinian Territories and one from Tunisia – to make the point that this music is now new, but was nurtured for many years in the cultural underground of Middle Eastern police states. Essam had been struggling in the music industry for eight years by the time the political revolution began.
“As censorship fears began to dissolve along with the governments that enforced them, new voices began to emerge in the arts,” writes Samiezade’-Yazd.
Here are her five popular music picks for these politically engaging times:
Arabian Knightz, Egypt
Arabian Knightz is one of the hottest and most talked about hip-hop bands in Egypt. “Not Your Prisoner” was written four years ago but not released until the revolution. It was the first song to come out of Egypt after the January 25 revolution.
Da Arab MC’s (DAM), Palestinian Territories
The trio is based in Israel and raps in Arabic, English and Hebrew lyrics. France’s Le Monde called them “the spokesmen of a new generation” because their songs address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and poverty from a youth perspective.
Emel Mathlouthi, Tunisia
Emel Mathlouthi is a writer, composer and guitarist who usually sings in a Tunisian dialect and mixes traditional Middle Eastern melodies with flamenco, Celtic, Gnawa and Ragga, Bob Dylan and Joan Baez.
Ramy Essam, Egypt
Ramy Essam began writing political songs two years before the Egyptian Revolution, joined protests in Mansoura then Cairo to take part in the occupation in Tahrir Square. He wrote “Irhal” after listening to the chants in Tahrir Square. The song became a YouTube hit. Egyptian military forces arrested, beat, and tortured him after he played a concert in Cairo.
Shadia Mansour, Palestinian Territories
Samiezade’-Yazd says Shadia Mansour is the first lady of Arabic Hip Hop. Success came when she released the single, “El Kofeyye 3arabeyye” (“The Keffiyeh is Arab”), which protested an American clothing company’s manufacture of blue-and-white versions of the Arabic scarf with stars of David on it.
David Arnold coordinates the Syria Witness project at Middle East Voices and reports on Middle East and North Africa affairs for both Voice of America and MEV. The Syria Witness project publishes on-the-ground citizen reporting, giving Syrians the opportunity to offer to a global audience their first-person narratives of life on the streets of their war-torn country.