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Minstrels of the Arab Revolution

Musicians follow tradition of supporting fighters through lyrics

  • Amateur musician Masoud Abu Assir plays the guitar to entertain rebel fighters
    Amateur musician Masoud Abu Assir plays the guitar to entertain rebel fighters, one of whom fires in the air iImage Credit: AP
  • Amateur musician Masoud Abu Assir plays the guitar to entertain rebel fighters
    Khalid M and Noy Alooshe. Image Credit: Supplied
Gulf News

Dubai: Even before American singer Bob Dylan sang Like a Rolling Stone in 1965 to protest against the Vietnam War, people were using music as a tool for expressing their emotions. In medieval times, minstrels, or singers and poets, travelled all over the world to sing and share their words with people.

Much like minstrels, modern day musicians and singers realised that they could do more than just entertain the public with their talent and fame. Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Johnny Clegg, and Tracy Chapman are some of the many performers who have used music as a form of protest.

In 1964, Dylan released The Times Are a-Changin' to support the US Civil Rights movement. Tracy Chapman sang Talkin' ‘Bout a Revolution in 1988, which has also been played repeatedly on Tunisian radio stations in the recent months.

Similar to Dylan and Chapman, in the current wave of revolutions and political upheavals in the Arab world, citizens have voiced their demand for constitutional changes using music as their instrument.

People from Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Tunisia, and the rest of the world have taken on the role of today's minstrels as they become YouTube and internet heroes of the revolution for their powerful and encouraging lyrics.

Zenga Zenga is one such song that has become popular with the Libyan opposition party as a parody of Muammar Gaddafi, though it was originally created by Noy Alooshe, an Israeli journalist and musician.


One of the first protesters and rebel fighters to use their music to fight for the Jasmine Revolution is Libyan guitarist, Masoud Abu Assir. Although the rest of the 38-year-old's band is separated now, he has been singing and performing for rebels in the battlefield in support of Libya's revolution. "We rebels. We come from the east. We are determined to do what we want," is one of his motivational lyrics.

Another Libyan protesting singer is Khalid M., a rapper and hip hop performer.

Although he had lived in America for most of his life, Khalid decided to rise up against the politicians and use his music to unite Libyans. With the hope that his fellow citizens would feel less suppressed and demeaned by their government, he decided to take action.

But if the people in Egypt and Tunis could do this, decide their fate… then why wouldn't we? is a line from Khalid's song called Can't Take our Freedom where he sings about revolutions and changes for the good of his people. Til we have got freedom… we are willing to bleed and even stop breathing, he sings.

Emel Mathlouthi, a Tunisian musician is yet another protester who asks for equality and tranquility in her native country: The morphine we've been injected with for 23 years is no longer enough to dull our pain. She had always said that one of the artists that she looked up to the most was Bob Dylan, she considered him to be her idol.

Expressing a wish

Mathlouthi's songs expresses the grief that the Tunisian people have experienced. In her song, My Word is Free she expresses what she wishes for her nation to become: I am those who are free and never fear. I am the secrets that will never die. I am the voice of those who would not give in.

From Egypt, Ramy Donjewan has used his talent and love of rap music to create a song for the Egyptian revolution that has become popular on the internet.

Titled Against the Government, Donjewan's rap gives the Egyptian revolution a loud and powerful beat to sing to as he chants that he is against the government.

On his website, Donjewan explains that he considers "rap as a means of expressing a felt point of view", which is why he chose it to deliver his message. With his music he "hopes to influence the change of the current situation of our people… by rapping about things that affect the lives of the Arab people."

Singing about the Arab revolutions has not just been limited to people living and experiencing the waves of protest.

Medic context

Irishman Declan O'Sullivan, a Dubai resident of six years, has written an anti-Gaddafi song in support of the Libyan people.

O'Sullivan wrote and performs the song in a comedic context because he believes humour is a great theme to deal with any subject. He told Gulf News: "I am not trying to preach. I'm an ordinary singer, singing my opinion."

He considers himself a voice for the revolution even if he's not involved, stating that the The Gaddafi Song is "a rebel song against oppression".


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