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Hip hop and the Arab Spring

In keeping with our recent discussions on the power of song, it’s worth checking out Foreign Policy‘s recent piece “Rapping the Revolution.” It talks briefly about the history of rap in North Africa and its role during the Arab Spring:

There is nothing new about Arab hip-hop. Scholars point to its nexus in Moroccan youth political dissent manifested in the vibrant cultural movement known as Nayda, which means “get up on your feet,” or “wake up” in Darija, the Arab dialect spoken in the Maghreb. Dissident rappers like H-Kayne and Donn Bigg, who called on Moroccans back in 2007 to “quit fear,” captured youth while rhyming about ubiquitous corruption and misery in Moroccan suburbs. Next-door in Algeria, famous (and banned) rapper Rabah started rapping during the civil war in 1994 with his group Le Micro Brise le Silence (LBS), “The Microphone Breaks the Silence.” Palestine’s Da Arab MCs (DAM) has produced a stream of powerfully political rap since their 1998 debut.

[…]

But there is no denying the outpour of creative, intensely politicized hip-hop that has accompanied the Arab uprisings. In Egypt, Adel Eissa, known as “A-Rush” from Cairo’s group “Arabian Knightz,” recorded a song on the night of January 27 called “Rebel,” which he quickly released on Facebook and MediaFire. Mohamed El-Deeb, known as MC Deeb, dropped a track ‘Masrah Deeb’ on February 3 in the heat of the Tahrir uprisings. #Jan25, a song spearheaded by titans of the genre Syrian-American Omar Offendum (Omar Chakaki) and Iraqi-Canadian The Narcicyst (Yassin Alsalman) generated hundreds of thousands of hits on YouTube. Over in Libya, Milad Faraway, a 20-year-old Libyan who created the rap group Music Masters with another young friend in 2010 tells Qaddafi to leave in “Youth of the Revolution;” in a track titled “17 February” by the group “Revolution Beat” (formerly called “Street Beat,” though their songs — due to fear of punishment — never did hit the streets) tells Qaddafi the fear barrier is broken.

“Arab rap is finally on the map,” says Amor. “And we’re blowing up the world.”

The rest of the piece is devoted to an interview with 21-year-old Tunisian rap star Hamada Ben Amor, better known as El General, who was arrested and tortured by the Ben Ali regime. TIME magazine has since placed him on its 2011 Most Influential People list. In answer to the question of what’s next for Tunisia, he had this to say:

The next revolution. We need a new revolution. We will protest again, we will take to the streets if we do not see change. There’s no magic button to press and start a new revolution, but it’s a national issue.I know my role is limited singing rap. But I’m ready to go to the streets and organize protests. And make people understand how dangerous the Tunisian situation is right now. I need support from scientists, politicians, educators. Everyone. We need massive participation.

I was invited to the American embassy in Tunis to arrange a meeting with the Essebsi and I will tell him the things that are wrong.

I’ll continue to speak my mind. And continue to watch everything around the region. Me, Tunisia, we inspired other nations. It’s not a competition. But it’s revolution time.