Known for her allusions to traditional Arab sounds and her hypnotic lyrics and voice, Yasmine Hamdan is a resistive illustration for the West of the complex and rapidly developing world of Arab music after the Arab Spring. With the region usually illustrated as rife with indiscriminable conflict and devoid of any real modern culture, Hamdan proves that culture — and specifically — music thrives and excels under the harshest conditions. In her recent album Ya Nass (2012), the Lebanese singer provides a deeper look at the Middle East. Not only does her music move past the superficial distinctions and remarks of the West, but it also comments on the struggles and pains of love through lyrics that mimic and parallel the great Arab poets before her. Songs such as “Beirut,” from her album Ya Nass, replaces the city’s common narrative of civil war and
physical violence with an illustration of the city’s essence. Hamdan uses objects and actions such as Arak drinking, card playing, and horse racing to culturally illustrate Beirut as she likens the city to a “flower off its terrain.” Like Yasmine Hamdan, other post-Arab Spring artists attempt to resist the archaic narratives and assumptions placed about them and their peoples as they usher in new and more accurate images of their country and region.
The first provocative and inciting music group that rose from the Arab Spring is Arabian Knightz hailing from Egypt, the mother of the Earth, the country that managed to overthrow their former president Hosni Mubarak who remained in office for 30 years. Arabian Knightz is a rap group formed in 2005 featuring Karim Adel (Rush), Hesham Abed (Sphinx) and Ehab Adel (E-Money). They reached their fame and gained their recognition in 2011 when their hit songs “Rebel” and “Prisoner” were released during the height of the Egyptian revolution. Using English and Arabic interchangeably, Arabian Knightz use their bilingual lyrics to reference Egypt’s colonial and occupational past as they attempt to adopt the cultural remains of colonial domination to empower
Offering a similar message in the same genre is Omar Offendum, a Syrian American rapper who uses Arabic-English rap to express his woes and worries for his country’s future. Releasing his newest album in 2010, Offendum raps not only to support
themselves and promote their message. Arabian Knightz is on the forefront of hip hop and rap as they flawlessly fuse the genre with political activism and empower not only Syrians but all of those fighting for democracy in the Middle East. The Syrian-American rapper’s song “Damascus” offers a narrative similar to Hamdan’s “Beirut” as he attempts to push back against the dominating assumptions and images of ruinous Arab cities, and replaces it with ardent expressions of these cities’ previous and present livelihood and culture.
Lastly, the band Mashrou Leila illustrates the conflicting complexities of a developing political music genre as they use music to push more controversial liberalities in a relatively conservative society. Delving into differing genres, styles, and messages, Mashrou Leila is an impeccable band with an amazing sound. With their lead singer, Hamed Sinno, being openly gay, it not only ushered Beirut’s indie music scene to the forefront, but also created controversy as the band has frequently attacked misogyny and homophobia in their songs and concerts.
The Middle East’s post-Arab spring sound is one that is complex, conflicting, and political. Spanning a multitude of genres, the music is well worth diving into and well worth appreciating for its ingenuity and intellect.
Written by Michael Elsanadi