The Aljazeera website recently ran an article which suggested the Arab Spring has also realised the magical power of music, so much so that it is voicing its protest through different styles of music, from folk music to Hip Hop. This is how a singer like Hamada “El General” Ben Amor gets hundreds of thousands of hits for his clip on youtube and attracts the world attention to another way of revolution and struggle; what they call “protest songs” in my country.
Article by: Sepideh Jodeyri
Translated into English by: Potkin Azarmehr
If singers like El General, Emel Mathlouthi and Ramy Assam have turned the Arab Spring into musical notes and take it forward from there, the Green Movement has also registered in the musical world, a young singer with a great voice and great courage. Although his audience is not as widespread as that of the Arab speaking world, amongst Persian speakers he is well known for his exceptional courage and innovative style in singing “Protest Songs”.
Arya Aramnjead is 28 years old and was born in Babol, a small town in North Iran. If Tunisian revolutionary songs by Emel Mathlouthi are reincarnations of songs by Joan Baez and Bob Dylan during the anti-war and civil rights movements of the sixties and seventies in America, Arya Aramnejad can be compared, in many ways, with Victor Jara, the poet, song writer and famous revolutionary singer from Chile.
Arya Aramnjead in court
First and foremost what is true with both, is that their political and artistic life have merged and point in the same direction, standing up to tyranny. They both believe in the struggle through music and have dedicated their talents to serve the aspirations of their people. Thus Victor Jara in his famous Manifesto, which is his last song and in a way his last will, speaks of his philosophy in singing and song writing in this way:
“ni por tener buena voz, canto porque la guitarra tiene sentido y razón. Tiene corazón de tierra y alas de palomita. Es como el agua bendita, santigua glorias y penas…”
“I don’t sing for love of singing or to show off my voice but for the statements made by my honest guitar for its heart is of the earth and like the dove it goes flying…. endlessly as holy water blessing the brave and the dying”
Secondly his songs and lyrics are both full of hope for future and a blossoming spring:
“guitarra trabajadora con olor a primavera, Que no es guitarra de ricos, ni cosa que se parezca, mi canto es de los andamios para alcanzar las estrellas…”
“Yes, my guitar is a worker shining and smelling of spring my guitar is not for killers greedy for money and power but for the people who labour so that the future may flower…”
– Jara Manifesto 1973 –
“On my lips there is a lock And in my throat there is an explosion No one knows how my heart feels these days Under the curtains of censorship in this suffocating city I still believe the spring season is ahead… Time will come when you and I will not be in prison And the answer to a simple question will not be with bullets and blood And that no one will be crushed in public for his beliefs And no one’s head will hang from the rope and scaffoldings”
– ‘A Nice Day’ by Arya Aramnejad – on the occasion of protests on Feb 14th 2011
Their third common ground is the trust they have in the solidarity of their people and the hope that this will bring about victory:
“pero del suelo me paro, porque me prestan las manos, porque ahora no estoy solo, porque ahora somos tantos”
“But I will pick myself up For there will be helping hands For I am no longer alone For we are now many”
– Man is Creative – Jara 1972
“There will be a day when this nightmare Will pass through this insomnia One day this nation’s hands Will pass through these prisons A day that you know will come and is not far All the world is my witness That tyranny will not last”
– ‘Nostalgia’ by Arya Aramnejad – for Mir Hussein Moussavi, 2011
And last but not least, they stand and fight for the same goal, freedom:
“Mi canto es un canto libre que se quiere regalar mi canto es un canto libre a quien le estreche su mano a quien quiera disparar mi canto es un canto libre Mi canto es una cadena mi canto es una cadena mi canto es una cadena sin comienzo ni final y en cada eslabon se encuentra el canto de los demas el canto de los demas”
“My song is a song of freedom Which dedicates To he who has stood up To he who aims to fly to the heights of immortality My song is a chain with no beginning and no end In my song you will find all the people”
– My Song – Jara 1970
“I long badly to touch the freedom All my thoughts are just short of a bullet You despise the beautiful eyes of the city’s women Pull the trigger and let go of the chip on your shoulder Pull for you think you have the right to”
– Arya Aramnejad in protest of the killing of Haleh Sahabi, 2011
At the same time both see their commitment in using their talents, in the middle of an election campaign, in support of their favorite candidate.
In 1969, the Communist Party, Socialists and other Leftist groups in Chile form a coalition called “popular unity” which one year later puts up Salvador Allende as its candidate. Jara holds a huge concert in support of Allende in Chile stadium in Santiago.
Arya Aramnejad too, during the election campaign in 2009, sang the song, ‘Saviour of Iran’ in support of Mir Hussein Moussavi. After the election fraud by Ahmadinejad and his coup in changing the election results, Arya continued to use his talents in support of the popular protests and Moussavi. When Moussavi was put under house arrest, Arya sang ‘Nostalgia’.
Both Jara and Arya were incarcerated for using their art for their humanitarian goals, they were tortured but they stand to the end.
This is how Jara’s story is told, in 1973 after Pinochet’s coup, many revolutionaries including Salvador Allende are killed and many more arrested. Jara was also arrested along with students from Santiago’s Technical University and are taken to the Santiago stadium. There they break his hands and fingers and mockingly tell him to sing a song and he sings ‘Venceremos’ (We Will Win), the anthem of Popular Unity. They found his bullet riddled body on 16th September by the roadside.
Arya’s defence in court explains what happened to him in the Autumn of 2010:
“He is mocked, humiliated and insulted. They threaten to arrest his wife who had no part in his political activities. His war veteran brother is also insulted and they threaten to arrest him too if Arya does not co-operate with his interrogators. The intelligence ministry guards threaten to kill Arya and the prison guards threaten to hang him. He is kept in a 1.5 x 2 metre cell with no sanitary facilities. His skin becomes festered with infectious blisters as a lack of hygiene facilities in his cell. He is denied his medicines for his heart condition and he is kept in a cell next to an AIDS sufferer. Arya is forced to walk with bare feet over the blood spilled on the floor by the AIDS sufferer prisoner. They make up lies about his wife and insult her. He is forced to take his clothes off and strip searched while the guards take pictures with their cameras. Arya is beaten severely when he asks for a doctor. His hands and feet are chained for long periods in his cell… and the story goes on because Arya is re-arrested again on 8th of November 2011. He is kept in the same prison as before under the same inhumane conditions.”
Victor Jara’s voice was extinguished by Pinochet’s henchmen, lets not allow our own Victor Jara’s voice to be extinguished.
Sepideh Jodeyri is an Iranian poet, journalist and the founder of Iranian Women’s Poetry Prize (Khorshid). She is an ICORN guest writer staying in Italy.
Potkin Azarmehr is an award-winning and well-known Iranian pro-democracy activist living in London.