Protest music is shifting shape in Egypt, as artists and bands from all walks of life challenge power and prejudice.

Protest music is shifting shape in Egypt, as artists and bands from all walks of life challenge power and prejudice.

“The revolution mattered in everything! It wasn’t only important to untie the chains of the musical field. It was crucial to retaining freedom in other fields like health, education, economy but most importantly freedom of speech,” says Sherif Tarek, founder of Egyptian metal band Origin.

Youth music has had a rough time in Egypt over the years and metal is a genre that has suffered more than most. Throughout the 1990s, bands were hounded by authorities and labeled social deviants; in 1997 twenty members of various metal bands were arrested on charges of ‘Satanism’.

But times have changed. Egyptian musicians flung themselves into the unfolding events as crowds descended on Tahrir Square to demand a democratic Egypt from 2011 onwards.

Accordionist and singer/songwriter Youssra El Hawary released ‘Al Soor’ as anti-Mubarak protests erupted and it couldn’t have been better timed. “It struck a chord with people because it reflected their growing anguish with the failing system.” Youssraa says. “What made it more enthralling is that it’s a very cheerful and simple song but deep at the same time. I love the idea of talking about problems in a cheerful way. It just shows you are strong.”

Young Egyptian musicians continue to play a prominent role in events. In this playlist, we give you a taste of three acts who are using their music to encourage positive change in today’s Egypt.

Youssraa El Hawary

Photo by David Degman

Photo by David Degner

If Egypt is a country in transition, musicians like Youssra El Hawary are the chainlike link between its future and its past. Armed with an accordion and gamut of socially conscious songs, Youssra is reawakening a traditional folk sound for a new generation.

After only playing the accordion for a couple of years, classically trained Youssra found herself at the centre of a viral whirlwind when, against the backdrop of the Arab Spring, her 2012 video for ‘Al Soor’ (‘The Wall’) became an internet sensation. Shot by a friend, the DIY video captures a rabble of boys clambering on top of an anti-riot barricade and dancing around nonchalantly as Youssra softly sings about an old man urinating on the wall: “In front of the wall / In front of the ones who erected it /And in front of the one who guards it as well / A poor man stopped to pee.”

Find out more about Youssraa El Hawary.

Origin

Photo by Mennatullah Hossam

Photo by Mennatullah Hossam

Metal band Origin played shows and shared music throughout the revolt, despite threats they could be arrested at any time. “I do believe this genre of music made a difference and helped massively in letting more Egyptians show solidarity to the cause.” says Origin’s founder Sherif Tarek. “It was everywhere! I personally saw people humming uprising songs in stores as well as at work.”

But like most metal bands, politics isn’t always necessarily at the fore. “We actually aren’t political. Nonetheless, each one of us is on the same page when it comes to understanding the complexity of any difficult situation facing our people,” Sherif says. “We didn’t hesitate a moment when we were all grounded at Tahrir Square.”

Find out more about Origin.

Massive Scar Era

Photo by David Degner.

Photo by David Degner.

Sherine Amr is not afraid to say what she thinks – especially from the raised height of a stage. It may not be a common sight in Egypt, seeing women sing and perform without restraint, but as the founder of Massive Scar Era (or Mascara for short), Egypt’s first female-fronted metal band, Sherine is challenging patriarchal mindsets by raising her voice.

Sherine is trying to affect change with Massive Scar Era, which now boasts two male members. On their last tour, the band collected money for Harassment Map, a campaign to raise awareness about sexual harassment in Egypt. “I’ve always felt insecure living in this country. It’s mostly sexual harassment. So, the issue isn’t about what I do. Rather, it’s for who I am – I’m a female!” says Sherin. “Our band supports women’s rights generally and our newest release, ‘My Ground’, talks about oppression and how badly the Muslim Brotherhood perceives women. Most importantly, how the metal scene perceives this band of ours. All in all, our songs are our frustration outlet. Having a female front is a real problem here in Egypt. For some reason, I think they still don’t want to accept the fact that we exist.”

Find out more about Massive Scar Era.

To read more from Egypt Now: youth, music, street art and revolution in today’s Egypt, pick up a copy of Huck 43 – Street Photography With Boogie.