For any hiphop artist getting started in the rap game, it is a great feat to make it to Sway Calloway’s radio show Sway In The Morning. During the pandemic, Sway started giving rappers and lyricists from around the world a chance to step onto his virtual stage and show their talents. One of these rappers comes all the way from India and his name is Armaan Yadav. We here at Shouts are familiar with Armaan as we have been following his protest rap for a while.
Armaan seems to always feel compelled to pen down words about the injustice he constantly witnesses in his home country of India, which he then shares with the rest of the world. For the outside world, it is a great thing; that there are artists that journal what is going on so we can all become more informed, more empathetic humans.
Armaan’s latest offering is a full steam protest tune available for anyone looking for some energy boost during their resistance.
Music genres such as rap have become the primary artistic means for expressing the discontent and aspirations of a new generation of activists in Tunisia. But the heritage of protest songs from decades before is still held in the collective memory of young leftists.
From the mid-1970s and throughout the 1980s, during the regime of Habib Bourguiba, the protest song in Tunisia developed as a countercultural music scene. This is a period characterised by economic instability and waves of protest and political contestation.
The protest song was the product of the cultural work of Tunisian leftist parties and organisations, which were particularly active in the student movement and influential among grassroot unionists.
Why was such a popular art form important for the cultural work of the Tunisian left? In my research I argue that leftist activists found in popular culture – and in songs in particular – a powerful tool. It could raise awareness among young people, galvanise activists and spread socialist revolutionary ideas. These songs become a link in the longer chain of resistant cultural practices in the country.
Art and politics
In Tunisia, the protest song is called al-ughniya al-multazima in Arabic, or chanson engagée in French. Both literally mean “committed song” and put an emphasis on the political and social aim of this genre. Art, in this case music and poetry, was a vehicle to convey a message.
In the 1970s and 1980s protest song groups formed and artists were increasingly visible. Among the pioneers of this genre there were the songwriter Hédi Guella and the group Imazighen. They performed on university campuses and at unionist venues, animating political gatherings and events. They exhibited in cultural centres and some participated in important cultural festivals. Their songs were rarely broadcast on TV or radio, but tape recordings circulated widely among activists and students.
The songs were mostly typical of the Arabic musical tradition, created on instruments such as the oud, the nay and the darbuka.
Their political and cultural framework distinguishes these songs from previous popular chants of protest (for example against colonialism) as well as from patriotic songs (praising the nationalist regime).
A new popular culture
The 1970s and 1980s protest songs were expression of a counterculture that was at odds with the ideology propagated by the regime of Bourguiba, who died in 1987.
Bourguiba had come to power in 1956 as the leader of the nationalist movement against French colonialism. Educated, middle-class and rather Western-oriented, he promoted a modernist and reformist ideology. In the last two decades of his regime, he was losing consensus among the population at large and among the new cultural and intellectual elite.
The Tunisian radical left was increasingly influenced by Maoism and Arab Nationalism. They recognised that a connection with the working class would be impossible without an appreciation of the Arab-Muslim identity of the Tunisian people.
The left engaged in cultural work for the creation of a new national-popular culture. This needed to be rooted in the people’s culture but also be an expression of a progressive and socialist ideology. Marxist theorists such as Antonio Gramsci had become influential. His ideas on cultural work, hegemony (the dominance of one group over another) and common sense had penetrated the Arab intellectual world.
Songs were one of the most efficient tools for implementing this project. They were easy to propagate with the new and cheap technology of audio cassette. Concerts were organised on a small budget, attracting hundreds of people.
The oasis and the mine
Among the many interpreters of the protest song in Tunisia, two popular singing groups stand out.
Al-Bahth al-Musiqi (The Musical Research Group) hailed from the southern Mediterranean city of Gabes, which lies beside an oasis and has, since the 1970s, hosted a massive chemical industry complex. Awlad al-Manajim (The Children of the Mines) were from Moulares, a village near Gafsa, situated in a phosphate mining basin.
Both groups, still active in Tunisia today, were born from places where industrialisation and the exploitation of natural resources deeply transformed the once rural environment. This industry would ultimately impoverish and harm the resident population.
The members of al-Bahth al-Musiqi were university students active in the student movement. The members of Awlad al-Manajim were workers who supported the workers’ struggles in their hometown.
Both groups were cherished by leftist activists and unionists for their performances and for the strong revolutionary message of their songs.
Both groups created a popular yet revolutionary cultural product. To do so they drew from modern Arabic poetry, for example singing poems by Mahmoud Darwish supporting the Palestinian people. But in particular they drew on themes and styles typical of Tunisian folklore and vernacular poetry. They responded in an original manner to the need to create a new, popular, socialist culture for the masses.
They took inspiration from other Arab experiences. Composer and singer Marcel Khalife (Lebanon), experimental musical group Nass el-Ghiwane (Morocco) and especially the duo of musician Sheikh Imam and vernacular poet Ahmed Fouad Negm (Egypt). This musical production represented a new, revolutionary and genuinely popular culture.
Hence, al-Bahth al-Musiqi produced songs like Hela Hela Ya Matar (Come Down O Rain), Nekhlat Wad el-Bey (The Palm Tree of Wad El Bey) or Bsisa (a traditional southern dish). These juxtapose rural imagery with national symbolism and revolutionary slogans.
Similarly, Awlad al-Manajim’s repertoire includes local songs about the harshness of life in the mining region, like Ya Damus (The Tunnel), and songs calling for workers’ solidarity and Arab unity against imperialism, like Nashid el-Sha’b (The Hymn of the People).
A heritage of resistance
The popular protest song scene in Tunisia declined with the rise of the Ben Ali dictatorship in the 1990s. But it never disappeared. After the 2011 revolution forced Ben Ali from power, some of the old singing groups reunited and claimed their space in the newly democratised cultural scene.
In Tunisia today, protest music takes many forms, from rap to electro. However, the old protest songs are still chanted at political gatherings, commemorations and festivals.
Despite being scarcely documented and studied, the Tunisian protest song of the 1970s and 1980s is an integral part of a resistant collective memory. It is loaded with emotional and political meaning for a generation of political activists and unionists.
The study of this experience may offer a new perspective on Tunisia’s cultural and political life under authoritarianism. It sheds light on the continuing and constant presence of dissent and revolutionary culture in the country – one that paved the way for the events that, in 2011, eventually overthrew dictatorship.
Mass protests have been taking place across Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) since the country’s military seized power in a coup d’état on February 1st, 2021.
The military junta took the reins of power following a general election which Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy (NLD) won by a landslide. The elected leader is under “house arrest” in an unknown location ever since.
Sen. General Min Aung Hlaing, under whom the military intensified the crackdown on the (Muslim) Rohingya ethnic minority in Rakhine State in recent years, declared a one-year-long state of emergency and assumed all state power for this period.
It’s worth noting that Myanmar was a military dictatorship from 1962 until 2011.
The Ongoing Protest Movement
A strong movement of civil disobedience emerged in the first days of February in a vocal opposition to the new regime. The protests over the coup have been the largest since the so-called Saffron Revolution in 2007, when thousands of monks rose up against the previous military rule.
At first, spearheaded by medical workers, nurses and doctors, the movement started to grow with people from all walks of life joining in.
On February 6th, people finally took their protests onto the streets of Yangon and other cities across the South East Asian country. It’s estimated that around 100,000 people participated on this day alone in the protests in Yangon, Myanmar’s biggest city.
The protests were supported by several organizations, including student unions, labour unions, and a wide range of social justice activist groups. Among the social justice groups supporting the protests is the Yangon chapter of the international Food Not Bombs movement.
In 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit Myanmar, the punks organized a huge support network for the people in need. Food Not Bombs also organized protests and mutual-aid campaigns in support of garment factory workers and labour unions as the factories shut down without any compensation to the workers.
Now, the Food Not Bombs activists are on the frontlines of the anti-coup movement, supporting protestors with medical masks, water, food and protection gear. As the protests intensify, the military is tightening their grip even more. Armoured vehicles rolled out onto the streets and the army cut off the state media TV & radios, local phone lines and access to internet.
Water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets and live rounds were used against the protestors. Reports have shown civilians being dragged out of their houses at night and arrested by the police. More than 500 people, including many children, have been killed by the police & military, according to various reports.
100% Three Fingers in the Air Punk Rock: A Benefit Compilation
A benefit hardcore punk / crust compilation was organized by Bristol, UK’s F.O.T.K. band and Death Pint Records in coordination with Organize and Arise. The aim of the fundraiser is to set up a support network of solidarity with the work of Food Not Bombs Yangon during the now ongoing protests.
The money will be used to further support the protestors and people in need. Food Not Bombs Yangon is also teaming up with other activist organizations like labour and student unions.
This new compilation features tracks by Myanmar’s own The Rebel Riot and 24 other bands across the globe, including unreleased tracks by F.O.T.K (UK)., Nightfeeder (US), and Japanese ‘Burning Spirits’ originators Death Side, alongside tracks by the likes of Doom (UK), Exit-Stance (UK), Forward (Japan), War//Plague (US), Visions of War (Belgium), Cliterati (US), Phane (Canada), Orphanage Named Earth (Poland), Carburetor Dung (Malaysia), Detractors (US), Bratakus (Scotland), Genöme (Sweden), Crutches (Sweden), Zero Again (UK), and many more.
To support the cause, follow the Bandcamp link and donate $10 or more.