Alex Shams, Archives

From Tehran to Homs: Musical Solidarity & Revolutionary Culture in a Time of Siege

The Syrian Revolution is approaching it’s first anniversary and the situation is looking bloodier by the day. In a not entirely unexpected move, Iran recently sent two ships through the Suez Canal to dock in Tartus for a short time, achieving very little but reminding the world (and Israel) that they intend to stand with the embattled Syrian regime.

It was, then, a rather fitting moment for Iranian rap duo Emad Ghavidel and Hamed Fard to release the video below in support of the people of Homs, a city currently under siege by the Syrian military because of the weekly anti-regime protests that have been occurring there daily for months:

The video of “The Battle of Homs” is just a slideshow (apparently the first picture is actually from Diyala, Iraq) but includes an English translation of the emotionally-charged Persian lyrics (you can find them in full here). Some of the most interesting lines are those that explicitly acknowledge the singer’s Iranian-ness. Although he mentions that his experience of war informs his desire to speak out against the Syrian repression, he avoids mentioning the domestic situation, aiming the majority of his vitriol at Russian President Medvedev, who has argued for patience with Assad’s constitutional reforms. A particular gem are these lines:

“The one I can’t reach is Medvedev

I wanna spit on him, but it’d be a waste of good spit”

ِکسی که دستم بهش می‌رسه مدودف”

ِ”می‌خوام تف به روش بیارم ولی حیف تف

This solidarity video follows a year of unprecedented outburst of cultural productivity of revolutionary music and anthems across the Arab World. The Syrian revolt, perhaps because of its extensive duration, has produced a number of memorable hits, and below is a collection of a few of my favorites:

The first song describes the opening events of the Syrian Revolution, when a group of children in the southern city of Dera’a were arrested and tortured by the police for having written revolutionary slogans on a wall in their neighborhood. The children had heard the slogans on the television and were merely copying the protesters in other Arab countries (as few protests had broken out in Syria yet), but the response ignited national outrage and eventually revolution. The video shows Syrian children drawing graffiti saying “7orreya” (“Freedom”) and leading the way for their village to demand its rights. Given, it’s a rather romanticized take on the actual story, but this one works better with the music!

An interesting phenomenon that has accompanied the revolutions in each Arab country has been the conflicts that have burst out in the public arena as celebrities and cultural icons have taken sides for and against various political actors, after years in which their loyalty to the status quo that enabled their success was taken for granted.

Egypt, the main cultural producer of the Arab World, was the first to be hit. Actors and actresses took to the airwaves, telling protesters to go home and support the regime, and many were subsequently blacklisted as the revolution gained steam. Tamer Hosny, a pop star and teenage heart throb across the Arab World, was humiliated and reduced to tears when protesters in Tahrir attacked him after he tried (belatedly) to apologize for supporting Mubarak. Here’s a video of him crying:

The cultural scene in Syria has similarly been torn apart, as actresses like Fadwa Suleiman and singers like Asala condemn the regime crackdown while others attack them for their lack of patriotism (in this video her brother threatens to set himself and his son alight if Bashar goes). Syria, too, now has a black list up for all of the country’s counter-revolutionary celebrities. In response to these threats, Asala released this excellent song telling Assad to get out some months back, with the great lyric, “Every throne has been smashed; learn your lesson!”

The next song offers a sobering, on-the-ground take on the realities of revolution and street protests in Ba’athist Syria, as the singer describes a young girl telling her father, “They’re Killing People Outside”. In response he tells her not to be afraid and encourages her to join the protests and to stand alongside the people saying “Ra7 nt7eml zolm alzaalem 7eta yr7el” (“We will endure the repression of the oppresser until he leaves [office]”). More lyrics (in Arabic) here.

No post on the music of the Syrian Revolution would be complete without a reference to Ibrahim Qashoush, the famed crooner of Hama who led the masses in a revolutionary dabke with clever lyrics condemning the President in no uncertain terms and demanding Freedom for Syria. The best part of course was the song’s ending, which left the crowd roaring with applause as he yelled “W ya Bashar, toz feek!!!” (“Hey Bashar, Screw you!”). The video below shows him leading a massive crowd in Hama, shortly before regime thugs brutally assaulted him and cut his throat.

The final Syrian clip is another video from Hama, this time of a large crowd of protesters dancing debke, a traditional dance of the mountains of Syria and Lebanon (but with similar variants across the region), in a central square (via HawgBlawg). When you’ve occupied a space in defiance of a brutal regime, got tired of yelling slogans, and the police and regime thugs have yet to come start shooting the place up, sometimes the only thing to do is dance!

I’ll leave you all with an Iranian song, this time a tribute for the 1.5 million people of Gaza. In 3 weeks spanning the end of December 2008 to mid January 2009, Israel bombed the Gaza Strip relentlessly, killing 1400 people in what is considered the first war in history in which fleeing was impossible (Israel has more or less shut Gaza’s borders since 2007). Zedbazi, one of Iran’s most popular and most politicized rappers responded with “Shahre Tarik,” a song telling the people of Gaza, “you are not alone in your dark city, we hear your voices and we fight alongside you.” A powerful message of solidarity from Iran to the still besieged people of Gaza.

About Alex Shams

Alex Shams is bacheye Los Angeles, a fact he has spent years trying to deny but eventually learned to embrace. Raised in the diaspora but with as many summers as possible spent in Tehran, he first became interested in regional politics after being chased out of a history class debate at his evangelical middle school during the Iraq War. After a few years dividing his time between Beirut, Istanbul and, most recently, Boston, he is now working in journalism and is based out of Palestine. His interests include feminism, urbanism and Islamism in Iran and the Arab World. Follow him on twitter: @SeyyedReza He is a co-editor of Ajam Media Collective, a blog focused on Iran, Central Asia, and Diaspora societies and cultures.

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