Al-Ahram Weekly Online   29 December 2011 - 4 January 2012
Issue No. 1078
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Songs of revival

The January Revolution has had a dramatic influence on Egyptian musicians and songwriters this year. Amira El-Noshokaty reviews a handful of revolution-inspired bands, while Sara Mourad asks people in Tahrir Square what they really feel about the new genre

So how did the new revolutionary songs boost the energy and enthusiasm of the protesters?

Music has always been a revealing way of showing what is going on in society, especially at important times such as that currently being experienced in Tahrir Square.`

Many musicians in the country were inspired by the 25 January Revolution, and the events that followed, to create music that would encourage people and keep the revolutionary spirit alive. Bands like Eskenderalla, Tanboura, Wust Al-Balad, Cairokee, Rami Essam, among others.

The more heightened the events, the more the enthusiasm among the revolutionaries.

Ever since the troubled events of 19 November in Tahrir Square -- troubles that are still ongoing -- the revolutionary spirit has been boosted by the help of such songs and poems, the sound which has grown louder and stronger as time has gone by.

People in Tahrir wake up to the sound of Sayed Darwish's "Baladi" ("My Country"), the Egyptian national anthem, among songs by other musicians, to boost the revolutionary spirit.

They even organised competitions in poetry reading and singing, and all for one main purpose: to ignite enthusiasm among the protesters and give them hope for the future.

Ahmed Kamel, a 28-year-old engineer, told Al-Ahram Weekly that whenever he needed a lift he played "songs of the revolution", as he labelled them.

"I listen to different kinds of songs, some that were released even before 25 January; but songs by artists who have been -- and still are -- with us in Tahrir, these always have a different taste. There's a sense of affinity and an almost personal connection to them; it feels as though we were personally part of the creation of those songs," he said.

"When you listen to these songs, what mainly comes in mind is how much the old regime deprived us of such true patriotic expression," says pharmacist and teacher Dina Farid, 27. "People, and musicians too, were without hope, to the extent that they were unable to create true art and taste it. The old regime tried to kill in us the sense of belonging." Farid believes that before the revolution she never really cared about such songs, and that they did not move her. This has changed. "The music of Eskenderalla, for instance, completes the picture of Tahrir for me."

Everyone in Tahrir agreed that this was not only a place to revolt; it was a place where one could experience a sense of completion and inspiration politically, socially, and artistically as well.

What is so curious is that the old songs of Sayed Darwish, Sheikh Imam, Abdel-Halim Hafez and others are no longer the only preferable source of inspirational and revolutionary music for young people.

Most patriotic songs about Egypt of the past 10 to 20 years -- those usually written for certain occasions such the 6 October anniversary or for the Egyptian National Football team -- have not been seen as so influential and moving as the old songs. By comparison, they were "dead and odourless", as described by some. Probably much like everything else in the country.

Songs released since 25 January, however, have come precisely out of the heart of Tahrir Square , written by musicians who have been sitting in the Square and been part of the revolution. These have been greatly accepted and admired by the people and have had a strong affect on them. Eskendrella, for example, has been described by many revolutionaries as "the official band of the revolution".

The main reason why people have taken the band's music to their hearts is because they themselves are part of Tahrir, and this is enough for the people to believe in. One of the band's best songs is "Freedom From Martyrs", which was especially written to commemorate in song the fatal clashes in Maspero on 9 October. Another is "Al-Dabadib", which they recently performed in front of the Cabinet building.

The members of Cairokee, led by Amir Eid -- now famoous for its revolutionary song "Sout al-Horreya" and for "Matloub Zaeem" -- are among those musicians who are highly praised by the Tahrir protesters. Their latest song "Ya Al Medan", released only a week ago, is a huge hit with revolutionaries and has been described by protesters as inspirational. "A song that explains our feelings for Tahrir Square, and what it means to us, perfectly and very simply," Shaimaa Taher, one of the protesters, said on Twitter. When Cairokee first released the song on their Facebook page, they added these words as their caption: "We dedicate this song to our neighbour and childhood friend Ahmed Harara." Ahmed Harara, a dentist and activist, lost his right eye when he shot directly by police on 28 January. He lost his left eye on 19 November by the same cause. Despite this, he is still defending the revolution and has been back in Tahrir.

These performers have been on the music scene for years, yet their productions post-25 January have surely secured a new beginning for their career.

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