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Anthems of the Arab Spring

Oct, 11, 2011 - Sarah Nardone

Raising and expressing youth political consciousness through music - review of some of the artists who made social change possible

If the role of the internet and social media in the Arab spring has been fundamental, it’s because it enabled the voices and interests of people to be heard in countries where human rights and freedom of speech are endangered. The people who made this social and political change possible are the ones who mobilized and proposed alternatives to the current model of society. At the heart of this change, Youth are finally gaining a deserved visibility, their ongoing initiatives are no longer hidden and the biased perception of youth’s apathy is dissolving, leaving us to wonder whether the stereotype of apathetic youth is more accurately a reflection of the establishment. What the increased media coverage revealed is the multitude of youth leaders turning social frustration into political activism, conscious of their rights and responsibilities as the generation building tomorrow’s society.  
2011 is Youth’s year, from Greece and Tunisia to India and Palestine, young people have succeeded in provoking a global movement of societies’ self-criticism and social and economic change that embraces local interests and individual and community identities, based on youth’s unwavering determination, never-ending creativity and collaborative and integrative powers.

Music is one such power, thanks to its ability to bring people together, express ideas and concerns in a peaceful exchange and raise political and social consciousness. Not only has Music been able to amplify the voices of millions of young people, it has also facilitated the integration of marginalized people in a new possible socio-economic model relying on creative industries and innovative minds. In urban areas all around the world from Africa to Middle-East through South America, young people have encouraged their generation through music to reintegrate the  space of expression and appropriate spaces for personal development that they lacked access to for decades. The music anthems of the Arab Spring made streets thrive, transcending the walls that repressed people’s voices from reaching the streets. Hip hop songs in Tunisia, Egypt and Middle East took over public spaces and returning to these their initial role of serving as an interactive and participative forum where ideas, self-expression and dialogue create the values and society of tomorrow.

Let’s hope this is the music of a generation!

Here are some of the songs that supported the movement in North Africa and Middle - East:

Rais Lebled, El General, Tunisia
In December 2010, a few days before Mohamed Bouazizi set himself on fire without knowing he will fire a generation, 21 years old Hamada Ben Amor launched his song Rais Lebled, a rap twist for Rais-el-bled meaning head of state, a political song directly addressed to the president of the state at the time, Ben Ali, to protest against corruption and his people’s everyday suffering and struggle.  Censored and prohibited because of his powerful strength to transform youth frustration into political consciousness and will for action, El General‘s song became the anthem of the Jasmine Revolution, the voice that resonated in the streets of Tunis giving people the energy to stand up for their rights. El General has been the voice that spread in the Middle East and beyond, driving numerous young artists from other countries to peaceful revolt aimed at improving their futures.

Masrah Deeb, Mohamed-el-Deeb, Egypt
Egyptian rapper Mohamed-el-Deeb has been one of the most prominent voices of the Tahrir square and quickly became a strong symbol of the Egyptian revolution in particular with his song Masrah Deeb. Deeb’s music has shown that hip hop in the Arab world is not just a western appropriation but has been embraced as an appropriate form to transmit local music, poetry and expression. Hip hop is indeed one of the most localized forms of global music, with lyrics and rhythms adapted to local culture and people’s situations while keeping its powerful capacity to testify one’s condition and make people stand for change. Indeed, Deeb’s music has given people strength to keep asserting their rights. While he was performing on Tahrir Square during the protests, a boy from the crowd just held back a group of Salafi asking them no to interrupt his singing, proving again how music can fuel strength.


January 25th, a collaborative song
This collaborative song addresses the January 25th protests in Egypt against president Hosni Mubarak and points out the important role of the Diaspora to local Arabic movements by raising awareness worldwide of the social, political and identity links between them. Even when young generations have never lived in their parents’ country, the dual identity and attachment to the roots is still omnipresent. This song has been spearheaded by Syrian-American Omar Offendum (Omar Chakaki) and Iraqi-Canadian The Narcicyst, produced by Palestinian-American Sami Matar with appearances by Palestinian-Canadian singer Ayah, MC Freeway and Amir Sulaiman.




Other voices of youth in MENA (among many others):
Khaled M A Libyan-American hip-hop artist, son of a Gaddafi’s dissident
Can’t Take Our Freedom feat Iraqi/British rapper Lowkey

DAM A Palestinian hip-hop band based in Israel
Mali Huriye (I Don't Have Freedom)

Soltana A female Moroccan MC
Swat Nssa

Hich-Kas An Iranian underground rapper
Bunch of soldiers

To know more  about the soundtrack of the Arab Spring and hip hop in MENA

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