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by World Music Network March 28, 2011


Egypt: Singing Out For Freedom

In Egypt monumental change is afoot. Hosini Mubarak has been ousted. Parliamentary and Presidential elections are to be held within the next six months. During the run-up to the events of January 25th 2011, Tahrir Square became a site of Egyptian expression. Expression of a deep discontent, a penetrating hope and of a live and vibrant musical culture.  

A truly 21st century movement, the Egyptian revolution of January 2011 was televised, tweeted, texted, and sung. Protest songs roused the crowds in Tahir Square, communicated their sentiments worldwide and helped raise the simmering revolutionary brew to boiling point.

Internet Sensations

Musician, Ramy Essam took up residence in Tahrir Square for the duration of the revolution and performed to the crowds almost non-stop. The lyrics of his song Leave were compiled by stitching together the anti-Mubarak slogans that were being chanted in the square. The song spread like wildfire over the internet and across the international media. Leave has been viewed over 25,000 times on YouTube. Essam uses a Phrygian mode that is heavily related to Arabic modes and also used heavily in heavy metal music. 

The song Ezzay (How Come?) by Mohamed Mounir is another internet sensation that coarsed through the cables and wires of Egypt and inspired the nation to unite and stand up against the Mubarak regime. The sentiment of the song communicates a love for Egypt whilst highlighting the need for change. Urgent guitar solos, a stomping beat and a YouTube video of composite revolution scenes make for inspiring listening.

Arabian Knightz, a rap collective from Cairo, recorded the song, Rebel on the eve of 27th January 2011. The song was swiftly released via the internet and is a direct and powerful soundtrack to the rebellion. A live Lauryn Hill sample is juxtaposed against flowing incendiary rhymes. Arabian Knightz illustrate an Egyptian nation that is ‘rising up against the birds of darkness’.

Another high profile song, Sout Al Horeya (The Sound of Freedom)by Amir Eid provides a reflective and positive soundtrack to the victorious rebellion. The lyrics to the chorus sing out, ‘In every street of my country, the voice of freedom is calling’.

On The Ground

Such songs, demonstrate a positive example of the immeasurable power of the internet. The web was effectively harnessed as a tool of mass communication and liberation. But music was also heard throughout the protests on the ground of Tahrir Square.

In this clip protestors dance to Egyptian frame drums, clapping and sung chants.

Here the Egyptian folk ensemble, El Tanbura perform their music during an evening concert at Tahrir Square.

International Response

Some international responses to the revolution include the hugely popular track, #25. The hip-hop anthem was written by a group of musicians including American rappers Omar Offendum, Freeway, The Narcicyst and Canadian R & B vocalist Ayah.

Haitian born international superstar, Wyclef Jean has also contributed his own gentle ode to freedom released via YouTube. With a stripped-down and acoustic approach, Wyclef’s ballad intones ‘This is the beginning of Freedom, Cairo wants Freedom’.

International responses are certainly due tributes to the remarkable swathes of Egyptian citizens who have overthrown Mubarak. As a high profile musician Wyclef Jean's effort is a welcome display of solidarity to the Egyptian cause. But the really powerful music comes from deep within the revolution. For, the real voice of any revolution is the voice of the people.

Evidently, the seeping and visceral power of music played a key role in the historic Egyptian revolution of January 2011. Victorious, the nation of Egypt now sings true songs of freedom and anthems of hope for the future.