Last week, Richard Cohen, Washington Post columnist, wrote an editorial called Democracies Don’t Happen Overnight about the events occurring in Egypt. In it he noted, “the only revolutionary element missing was a rousing song”. On that point he was absolutely wrong. Music is something incredibly important to Egyptians and has been since the days of the Pharaohs. There’s no way any major event here – much less a full-out revolution – could occur without music.
From the spontaneous singing breaking out all over Tahrir Square to the gut-wrenching images accompanied by nationalistic lyrics and sweeping melodies to an angry piece written by a group of Arab-American rappers & musicians in solidarity with the demonstrators, the past two weeks were replete with “rousing songs” – the anthems of Egypt’s revolution. Some are sung in English, others are subtitled, but many are only in Arabic. Some are very professional and others amateurish but heartfelt. Forget the fact that you might not be able to understand the words and just immerse yourself in the moment.
The first song that came to my attention was in one of the spontaneous events mentioned above – it happened on the Friday after the terrible Wednesday/Thursday when the protesters were attacked with horses, camels, whips, sticks, stones, tear gas and Molotov cocktails. The atmosphere in the crowd was festive and celebratory. Nothing fancy here – just a few guitar chords and the slogans used by the demonstrators all that week – but it’s a catchy little tune that you won’t be able to get out of your head easily. [Updated: learned on Feb 28 that the singer's name is Ramy Essam. He's from Mansoura Egypt and what I called the 'slogan song' is actually entitled "Leave".]
This rap song by a group of Arab-American rappers and musicians was “inspired by the resilience of Egyptian people during their recent uprising” and one of the artists – Omar Offendum (offend ‘em – get it? It’s also a play on words of a Turkish word adopted by Egyptians during the Ottoman rule – effendum – which is a polite and formal way of saying “mister” or “sir”) had several TV interviews to express their support for the protesters.
Fun and informal things that came out of the crowds in Tahrir Square included:
- Singing a Sheikh Imam revolutionist song from the 1970s, accompanied by one of my favorite instruments – the oud (and if you had any doubt left that this was a revolution of the people – all people – take a look at the faces of the children, young adults, middle aged, the elderly, men, women, city dwellers, suburbanites and farmers)
- Ahlaf b’smaha wi turabha (I swear with the sky and the soil) – a nationalistic song from 1956 – being played over the loudspeakers
- OST Revolt Song with singing and dancing
- Laugh with the Revolution – the same guy from the ‘slogan’ song [Updated: learned on Feb 28 that his name is Ramy Essam. He's from Mansoura Egypt and what I called the 'slogan song' is actually entitled "Leave"] sings “laugh o revolution (i-sawra)” and the crowd shouts back “Ha, Ha, Ha!”
- El Tanbura (folk music troupe) in Tahrir Square, calling for the people to join them in protest and celebration
From Egypt, but not directly from Tahrir Square:
- From a singer so famous they call him “The Voice of Egypt,” Mohamed Mounir’s Ezzay (How?)
- Another of Egypt’s very famous singers, Amr Diab, recently released Masr A’Let (Egypt Said), in tribute to the revolution’s martyrs (click on “Interactive Transcript” below the video to see English lyrics)
- This rap song by Ramy Danjewan – Egypt’s Revolution Song Against the Government – has some very interesting kanoun instrumentals in the background, but also contains a few graphic images (no worse than what’s been shown on Al Jazeera but definitely more graphic than a US TV station would show)
- Kareem Abd El-Wahab’s original electronic music, interspersed with protesters chanting – with clever stop-motion video of some revolution scenes that weren’t commonly shown on TV
- (Nile) Delta Monsters
- The Man Behind Omar Suleiman (referring to a “mystery man” who was standing behind Vice President Omar Suleiman during his February 11 announcement that Hosni Mubarak had resigned). Despite many calls to know his identity, no one has stepped forward.
- The Birth of a New Egypt
- Egyptian Revolution Theme Song (one of many called by this name)
- A tribute to the revolution’s martyrs
- And another tribute to the martyrs
- This was a popular anti-government rap song
- Not Your Prisoner has a few parts that sound like “The Chipmunks sing the Egyptian Revolution” but morphs into another angry rap number
- Dream with Me (Ehlam Ma’aya) – simply beautiful – English subtitles (it was not written specifically for the revolution but was juxtaposed with images from the protests) – the song is by Hamza Namira
- Sabry/Digla’s Tamam Ya Fandim (sic – Tamam ya’efendum – Yes Sir) is dedicated to the heroes of the Egyptian revolution
- Egyptian actor, Ahmed Mekky, teams with Mohamed Mohsen to rap 25th January about humiliation and injustice vs. dignity
- From the Mado Acoustic project comes Alo Magnoon Gadeeda (Hello New Crazy) addressing the cynics of the Egyptian revolution…”they call him crazy/he who thinks this country could one day change” (the melody was originally used in a TV advertising campaign for Etisalat, one of the three Egyptian mobile telephone service providers)
- Khalid Al Sawy, an Egyptian actor, re-released a 2004 rap song – Al Ghadab (Anger) – and dedicated it to the Egyptian revolution
- Egyptian Intifada – using in the background a classic Sheikh Imam song by the poet Ahmed Fouad Negm – the lyrics of which are relevant again decades after it was originally recorded
- Egyptian rappers, Arabian Knightz (mixing in Lauren Hill) song Rebel - recorded during the first week of the revolution but released a few days later because of government internet shutdown
- A thank you from the Egyptian people to the international media
And there were also tributes from other parts of the world:
- Sami Yusuf’s I’m Your Hope (Tribute to Egypt -English/Arabic lyrics)
- Haitian singer Wyclef Jean’s Freedom (song for Egypt)
- Tahrir Revolution by Jay Samel
- This tribute by German songwriter Prinz Chaos II
- Children of Liberty – from Israel “in support of our Egyptian brothers and sisters”
- Million Man March
- From Moroccan hip hop artist, Master Mimz, Back Down Mubarak!
- 3 songs from the same singer: Stop Lying , Western Governments Wake Up and Hey Thugs
- Hannah Magar, an Egyptian-Australian student, says she’s “not a professional,” but her song – We Are Egyptians – sounds good to me (lyrics below video)
- From Lebanon’s Mashrou’ Leila is this “Clint Eastwood cover” – Ghadan Yawmon Afdal (Tomorrow will be Better) – that has been rededicated to the Egyptian revolution
- Basha Beats & Natacha Atlas remixed an earlier song – Egypt: Rise to Freedom - juxtaposed it with images of the protests and dedicated it to the people of Egypt
- From India, BlaaZe and Romey Rome send Revolution Son – A Song for Egypt
Finally, in a constant battle for my designation of “favorite” (against Sout Al-Houriya – by Hany Adel and Amir Eid – and the spontaneous ‘slogan’ song [Updated: learned on Feb 28 that the singer's name is Ramy Essam. He's from Mansoura Egypt and what I called the 'slogan song' is actually entitled "Leave".]) comes Tehia Masr (Long Live Egypt). Watch these three one after the other and you won’t know whether to shout with joy or cry your eyes out for the people who died.
There may be more “anthems” out there, so if you know of others please feel free to comment, provide me a link and I’ll add it to the post here.
( ♪ Just in case anyone missed the post title’s reference to “you say you want a revolution,” it’s the first line in the 1968 Beatles’ song Revolution, inspired by political protests against the Vietnam War earlier that year. ♪ )
Jan Diggs is Arabia Inform’s Global Business Development Manager and has been based in Cairo for more than 5 years.
UPDATE February 14: As I get new links, I’ll be adding them into the body of the post. However, this tribute video posted on YouTube February 11 by Egyptian singer Tamer Hosny required a further explanation. Tamer did a TV interview during the height of the demonstrations and urged protesters to go home. He fawningly referred to Mubarak as his father, saying that a father wants what’s best for his children. A few days later when it was clear the protesters were winning, he went to Tahrir Square and (supposedly) sincerely tried to show regret for his original statements and support for the revolutionary cause. He was booed out of Tahrir Square and then filmed crying about why they wouldn’t welcome him. A sign in Tahrir Square that night read “Down with Hosni Mubarak….and Tamer Hosny”. It remains to be seen whether or not his musical “apology” will be accepted. Will all be forgiven or is his career over?
UPDATE: February 16. Several more songs have been added above, so take a listen to whatever you haven’t heard already. There’s another song I’ve been looking for and just found today. It also needs further explanation (video has English subtitles). It was recorded by an all-star cast of Egyptian celebrities. Misr Moftah Al Haya – Egypt is the Key of Life was actually released in mid-January to foster Christian/Muslim national unity after the Alexandria church bombing on New Year’s eve (according to some reports, there may be evidence to suggest that the Ministry of the Interior was directly connected and there is an investigation ongoing). The reason I include it in this “Anthems” post is that – at the height of the protests and after 2 days of violence against the protesters – Mehwar TV brought its viewers a “surprise” and broadcast this video during a very popular politically-focused talk show. Although the message is beautiful – rejecting any enemy of life and bringing all Egyptians together – it was controversial because the independent Mehwar generally has a strongly pro-government stance and several of the celebrities involved had come out publicly during the protests, supported Hosni Mubarak and encouraged the protesters to go home. Airing the video during the protests was considered by some to be sponsoring propaganda that might have been interpreted to mean “we’re all Egyptians who support Hosni Mubarak”.
Other posts about the Egyptian revolution: