Egypt: Band stopped performing “in a kind of limbo”
The Egyptian band Sandouk Eldonia stopped playing their political songs after the revolution broke out. “Before we have come further in Egypt, we cannot make art,” told lead singer Omar Essam to the Danish newspaper Information.
The idea that the word is free now, and that the Middle Eastern and North African artists are allowed to express themselves as they want, is already an old lie. At least if you ask 25-year-old Omar Essam, lead singer of the Egyptian music group Sandouk Eldonia. He sings about politics and values. But the group has not appeared on stage since the revolution in February 2011.
Journalist Rasmus Elmelund from the Danish newspaper Information met him at a coffee shop in Downtown Cairo, a few hundred meters from Tahrir Square:
“Under Mubarak we wrote lots of songs. At that time, one could not say anything directly, but we needed to express our protests, so we expressed ourselves through metaphors. Mubarak is now gone, but the same is our vision. We are in a kind of limbo along with the rest of the Egyptian people. Is it better now? No one knows,” he told Rasmus Elmelund.
Back in 2010, the band regularly had concerts. Impulsively they performed at street corners, and from time to time, they were booked to play for major events. Today, Sandouk Eldonia is not disintegrated, and the young men have not stopped playing music. But they don’t write new songs.
“It makes no sense to demonstrate, when one does not know what we are demonstrating against,” said Omar Essam.
“The art has not evolved; it is a Western construction. Just like before, most songs are about Egypt, but where they previously sang ‘Long live the regime’, they now sing ‘Long live the revolution’,” said 27-year-old Hamid Abdel, who plays the tambourine, and who, along with his brother, writes the lyrics for the band.
Electro-shaabi The Egyptian journalist Ali Abdel Mohsen, who has covered Egyptian cultural life of the newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm over several years, have difficulty in understanding the statements from Sandouk Eldonia.
“Of course there are many who are depressed about the way things are, and therefore find it difficult to produce art. But I think … If not a situation such as this inspires artists to express themselves, then what would?” he asks and points out that although the revolution has not yet brought forward what Sandouk Eldonia had expected, it has created new musical achievements:
“In the past year we have seen an incredible and inspiring uprising of new genres, popularly known as electro-shaabi. Shaab means ‘the people’ as in El shaab yoreed iskat el-nizam: ‘The people demands the regime’s fall.’ A popular cry during the revolution, which also has found its way into many song lyrics,” he said.
Before the revolution you would only hear Western-inspired music in taxis or at weddings in poor neighborhoods. But the day before Information talked with Abdel Mohsen, he had been at a reception of an EU Ambassador in Cairo, where the electro-shaabi band Islam Chipsy appeared.
“Today electro-shaabi is everywhere, and 99 percent of the lyrics smash the former president and his cronies with an enthusiasm and freedom that we have never heard before,” he said.
“The revolution has caused the older audience to become more responsive to younger artists because of a newfound respect for the younger generation: the Facebook-kids, who kickstarted the revolution. It is good for art. But we must recognise that the revolution is far from over. We must think differently. It is not enough to get rid of the leaders — we must get rid of all the poisonous ideas and destructive beliefs which leaders have planted in us. Until now we can only se hints in the music of thinking this way. I hope that it will also soon be seen in literature and film, but it is still too early to predict.”
The revolutionary songs which were most successful came from young, independent musicians, who did not have many fans before the revolution. Among these Cairokee, a rock band with songs such as ‘Sawt el-Horria’ (Freedom’s Voice) and ‘El-Midan’ (The Square), reported Rasmus Elmelund.