Performing Dissent

Alongside visual imagery, a variety of slogans have been vocalized aloud in the recent uprisings. The repeated demand “the people want the downfall of the regime” has been chanted in Arabic countless times. Along with its scripted rendition, its vocal utterance is a persistent performance of dissent: with every repetition the demand gains volume and power, and with every beat the slogan unifies people toward a common goal. When the chanting reaches a crescendo the beat often changes to keep the collective momentum growing, while a new demand is exclaimed: “Get out!” (Irhal). During the past few years, this simple imperative has been repeated with vigor and determination across the Arab world.

Like artists, musicians have addressed political and social issues more explicitly in their work. In many countries of the Arab World, releasing songs containing overtly oppositional messages is itself an act of rebellion bearing serious consequences: for example, El General, a Tunisian rapper, was detained and questioned after releasing two anti-government songs, while Syrian singer Ibrahim Kashoush was found murdered.

On a more optimistic note, one of the first songs produced during the Egyptian uprisings, which became an anthem of the revolution, is Amir Eid’s “Sound of Freedom” (Sout al-Horeya). Uploaded to YouTube and seen by over two million viewers, the popular music video includes scenes filmed at Tahrir Square. It captures the anxieties felt at the time but leaves the viewer feeling immense optimism. Most importantly, it invites people to sing along, declaring: “in every street in my country, the voice of freedom is calling.”

 

The cast of "Top Goon." Image courtesy of Masasit Mati, 2013.

The cast of "Top Goon." Image courtesy of Masasit Mati, 2013.

Still from "Benghazi's Banksy" by Kelvin Brown

Still from "Benghazi's Banksy" by Kelvin Brown

Still from “Sout Al Horeya” (The Sound of Freedom) music video.

Still from “Sout Al Horeya” (The Sound of Freedom) music video.