Hip hop and the Arab Spring

The censorship of media during the Arab Spring called for new ways of communicating dissatisfaction with the nations’ leaders, and has by many been called a “revolution of the young.” One example of this is the role that hip hop, a music genre often associated with youth, played in spreading messages and provoking protests during the Arab Spring.

For example, in Tunisia, twenty-year-old Hamada Ben Amor, also known under his rapper name El General, published the song “Rayes Le Bled”, in which he directly addressed the former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali on behalf of the Tunisian people.

The song deals with the President’s lack of attention to his people, and begins with a clip of the President asking a scared child what is bothering him. The next scene shows El General standing by the wall of a worn down house as melancholic music starts playing and his rapping begins.

In the song, El General boldly criticizes the malfunctioning systems in Tunisia, such as corruption, famine, and unemployment. Expressing this, El General for example raps: “we live in suffering, like dogs.” Towards the end, he moves on to symbolically put the blame on Ben Ali’s neglect and ignorance by saying: “you call Tunisia ‘the green’, but look President, Tunisia became a desert.” Also, in addition to using hostile lines, his rapping style is quite aggressive and his angry voice and gestures enhance the dissatisfied message of the song.

The lyrics are mostly in Tunisian colloquial Arabic, and occasionally use words, such as “souffrance” (suffering), in French. Using such spoken language increases the feeling of him truthfully signifying the “simple” Tunisian people, making it powerful and relatable to those that he is representing.

El General published his video online and was arrested soon thereafter. However, his simple but sharp lines and aggressive tone of rapping are often seen as one of the sparks that helped start the revolution.

Watch his video with basic English subtitles here.

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One Response to Hip hop and the Arab Spring

  1. I really wasn’t expecting to hear something so aggressive and strong but that is exactly what this song is. You can immediately hear the aggressiveness in the beat from the beginning and the way he emphasizes the last syllable of his lines. Do you think there is any significance to the use of French in his lyrics other than just simple cultural influence? This actually reminds me a bit of the style of Eminem because of its rawness.

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