Posted by on February 18, 2011 in Blog

Music and politics have always gone hand in hand. From Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony (originally titled “Bonaparte”) to Public Enemy’s Fight the Power, artists have used music to echo the hopes, dreams, and frustrations of the people. The Arab world is no exception; it’s no coincidence that the Egyptian revolution of 1952 coincided with the rise of Arab greats such as Abdel Halim Hafez, Umm Qultum, and Mohammed Abdel Wahab. Umm Qultum rose to fame partly through songs inspired by the political revolution of Gamal Abdel-Nasser. Famed composer Mohammad Abdel Wahab produced a number of Arab nationalist songs in his time, including Watani Habibi Al-Watan Al-Akbar (My Beloved Homeland is the Greater Homeland), a soaring ode to the growing pan-Arab consciousness, sung by Abdel Halim Hafez, Warda Al-Jazaira, and Najat Al-Saghira.

As revolution once again convulses the Middle East, its artists and musicians are not far behind. Though many of the old greats have been revived for the occasion – including Umm Qultum and a number of Abdel Wahab songs –artists are taking advantage of their governments’ disorganization (or outright collapse) to create a safe space to produce new works of their own.

One of these emerging groups is Arabian Knightz, a hip-hop group in Cairo that recently released the revolutionary anthem, Rebel, which describes both the hardships and the determination of the protestors. “Mubarak’s government has always told us we can’t sing about certain things,” they explained in an interview with the Los Angeles Times, “But…in Tahrir, we could rap about it. We could spark the revolution in people.”

Another immensely popular song, Amir Eid’s Sout Al-Horeya, features a music video filmed on the scene at Tahrir Square. Dozens of protestors – some wounded but all radiating hope and energy – sing along to the catchy melody, demanding rights and freedom.

Of course, the upsurge of new revolutionary music is by no means limited to Egypt. Algeria’s flourishing hip-hop scene, alive since the country’s devastating civil war, has produced a number of scathing critiques on the state of their country. Lofti Double-Kanon’s single, Khalli Nahder (Let Me Speak), expresses the frustration of living under suffocating repression. In neighboring Tunisia, rapper El General’s song Reyes Lebled (Head of State) landed him in prison, for speaking on behalf of all Tunisians asking Ben Ali to leave.

Though these artists may not set the pace of the revolutions sweeping through their homes, they may well frame its narrative. “Music is a revolutionary force,” writes Wided Khadraoui, editor of the popular North African blog Live from the Casbah, and though music alone does not cause people to topple their governments, it is a natural embodiment of one of their deepest desires: the yearning for a voice.