Sunday, 1 May 2011

Revolution Rock: North African protest music

Musicians oil the wheels of change in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya

 The news in 2011 has been dominated by regimes teetering over like disturbed dominos across North Africa. Brutal fighting between anti-government rebels and the strong arm of the ruling classes has already seen despots deposed in Tunisia and Egypt. Meanwhile, the prospect of a Benghazi bloodbath in Libya musicians. Mariah Carey’s platinum product wafting out of the palacial halls of a Gaddafi-clan outpost in the Carribean this ain’t... provoked a global response, with our own fair nation ever reliable in her eagerness to facilitate the removal of an international bedfellow no longer bringing tea and toast in the morning. While the touchpapers of revolution were lit by political and social dissent from the put-upon masses, fanning the flames have been the nations’ indigenous musicians. Mariah Carey’s platinum product wafting out of the palacial halls of a Gaddafi-clan outpost in the Carribean this ain’t... 

*This article, for the PoliticsSlashMusic column, can be found on page 20 of this month's Notion magazine.

Hamada Ben-Amor – President, Your People Are Dying
22-year-old Tunisian rapper Hamada Ben-Amor squarely blamed the incumbent government of President Zine al-Abidine Ben Ali for the shortage of jobs and restrictions of public freedoms in this Arabic-rap diatribe, released amidst the violent outpouring of dissent which precipitated his removal. For Ben-Amor’s troubles, he was arrested by “some 30 plainclothes policemen” and thrown in the slammers. Musically, think the brooding menace of Coolio’s ‘Gangster’s Paradise’ decorated with the stilted piano of Outkast’s ‘Ms Jackson’. But far more pissed off. 

Wust el-Balad – Sout Al Horeya
Roughly translated as ‘Sound of Freedom’, this soft-rock singalong features lyrics such as “we will re-write history, join us and don’t stop us from fulfilling our dream”, and was a big viral hit, clocking up over a million views on YouTube alone. That it sounds like Egypt’s equivalent of the Fray, or, if we’re being (very) unkind, David Hasselhoff, is neither here nor there. If only Tahrir Square had a wall upon which to stage the televised freedom celebrations.

Khaled M. – They Can’t Take Our Freedom
Such is the desperate ongoing crisis in Libya, their rallying cry has come courtesy of Libyan-American rapper Khaled M. Don’t think he’s cashing in from his ivory tower though – Khaled’s father was a former political prisoner of the Gaddafi regime before escaping with his family, including the young rapper himself. ‘They Can’t Take Our Freedom’ has a contemporary rap-hop vibe to it, but when was the last time Eminem had something as propitious to say as: “But if the people if Egypt and Tunis [sic] can do this and decide their fate, then why wouldn’t we?” 

The past masters...
This isn’t year zero for African protest music. Back in 1987, trumpeter Hugh Masekela fought apartheid with a sunkissed slice of Afro-jazz (‘Bring Back Nelson Mandela’), while the scathing genius of Afrobeat trailblazer Fela Kuti’s attack on the Nigerian military junta in 1978 (‘Zombie’) ultimately led to the murder of his mother. Ivorian reggae star Alpha Blondy (‘Mal en pis’) inspired rebels to take up arms to fight Laurent Gbagbo’s government some eight years ago – one suspects the Ivory Coast could do with a voice of freedom again.


holla said...

the songs aren't great, but this is an interesting piece. what about syria?

The Popscener said...

thanks holla. apparently the syrians have some protest music on the go too:

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