Music has always had the power to incite the masses, both in celebratory joy and in conflict.
Examples abound–the walls of Jericho fell as Israel marched around the ancient city following the trumpeters; African warrior Shaka Zulu incited his warriors with praise songs as they sat around the fires before a battle, the French rallied to the song “La Marseillaise” as volunteers marched into Paris to support the French Revolution.
African American spirits were shored up by the refrains of such songs as “We Shall Overcome” during the Civil Rights Movement.
Music has always shown the power to aid the overthrow of regimes, and such is the case of the pro-democracy uprisings known as the Arab Spring, where repressive governments have been falling almost like dominoes.
Oddly, music from the streets of America’s inner city, has played a key part in the Islamic revolution.
According to Johnny West, author of the book, “Karama! Journeys Through the Arab Spring,” Rap is a double import from the French Arabs who themselves imported it from African Americans in the 1990s. It has various sub-forms. Its anger, however, is framed in an Islamic get-back-to-our-roots sentiment as opposed to the African American rappers who sing about oppression and being robbed of their roots.
them say/the revolution won’t be televised
Al Jazeera proved them wrong
Twitter has him paralyzed
80 million strong
–Omar “Offendum” Chakaki’s “#Jan25”
As in other countries, the youth of the Middle East and North Africa have been motivated by music in their campaigns for revolution. From the adhans, or a summons for mandatory prayer, recited regularly in mosques to the impromptu songs of the troubadours in places such as Tahrir Square, music has had both a motivational and a unifying effect on those who support the movement of the Arab Spring.
In this modern age, however, there is a need for a musical genre that not only mobilizes activists in the struggle for democracy in those countries, but also unifies the youth living in the Middle East and North Africa with their cultural counterparts living elsewhere in the world, according to Alexandra Dunn, program development officer at the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies.
In particular, she said, the musical genres of Rap and its Hip Hop culture encourage activists in the Middle East and North Africa to work towards the pro-democracy movements. Although each artist has their own unique style, they share certain recurring themes, such as solidarity in basic human rights and protests against corrupt regimes.
For example, Khaled M., a rapper and the son of a Libyan dissident, is well known for his single, “Can’t Take Our Freedom.” One line in particular stands out:
Can’t take our freedom and take our soul
you are not the one that’s in control
Khaled M. utilized the theme of common humanity among the Arab peoples to undermine the Gaddafi regime. He also wrote the song as an open letter from Libyans within and outside the country to the Gaddafi regime, asserting that such a government has no place in the modern world. Another possible factor to Khaled M.’s success in spreading the message of his song is his dual identity.
The Libyans who opposed the Gaddafi regime may have been mobilized and motivated by the song because it resonated so strongly with them. However, it resonated just as powerfully with Libyans who had fled to other countries for various reasons. Even if they had never set foot in Libya, they had the chance to change history in the country that belonged to their ancestors. Arab observers believe the fact that Khaled M. is Libyan-American was cause enough for his works to be accepted and adopted by Libyan communities around the world.
It is believed that the encompassing and mobilizing natures of Rap and the culture of Hip Hop in the Arab Spring are most apparent in a collaborative work by Omar “Offendum” Chakaki (Syrian-American), The Narcicyst (Iraqi-Canadian), Sami Matar (Palestinian-American), Ayah (Palestinian-Canadian), Amir Sulaiman (African-American), and MC Freeway (African-American). These artists from various cultural backgrounds banded together to make one song centered on the date of January 25, when the Egyptian protests, the demands for the removal of Hosni Mubarak, and the celebrations of shared humanity were at their loudest. The song itself is merely called “#Jan25.”
Many of the younger generation living outside of the Middle East and North Africa do not necessarily speak Arabic fluently, but they created a smooth flow between the English and Arabic lyrics while simultaneously preserving the song’s meaning. In addition, Omar Offendum used the ideas of unity and action to his advantage in the song lyrics, particularly this line:
From Tunis to Khan Younis
the new moon shines bright
as The Man’s spoon was
as masses demand rights
and dispel rumors of disunity
communally removing the tumors
Behind the influential role of Hip Hop and Rap in the Arab Spring is the power of language and communication. For example, the Egyptian protest prominently featured flags and banners with the following message: “The people want to bring down the regime.”
For years, the Egyptian people engaged in little, if any, significant political activity on their own, nor were they strong enough to create a collective moral self, at least, until the rise of Hip Hop and Rap as social mediums for the dissenters.
Language also holds a unifying component between the protesters who speak only either English and Arabic. Even in this age of information, the differences between the two cultures in their language make it much more difficult for them to communicate ideas between each other. The musicians responsible for bilingual songs like “#Jan25” kept their audience in mind during the production phase. As a result, they garnered many more fans from around the globe in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. Essentially, their musical works were also social commentaries on their views on the Middle East as it is today.
Although Hip Hop can be traced back to the early 1970s, 1980 is the year most people recognize as the emergence of the phenomenon, or the start of the Ronald Reagan administration, led by a president many African American rappers felt did not care about people of color.
Oddly, many have referred to Reagan the first Hip Hop president. Reagan’s legacy in Hip Hop music is unquestioned because the policies implemented in his two-term presidency, and the effects they had on minority communities, were said to have created an atmosphere in the inner cities that birthed some of the most controversial music in American history.
During the Reagan presidency, social programs and policies that were created to aid the urban poor were severely cut, leaving underprivileged minorities without much-needed federal assistance. The economic program that Reagan introduced, known as Reaganomics, drastically increased the divide between the rich and the poor and wreaked havoc on Black and Hispanic communities. This is what many sociologists and political scientists feel took place in the Middle East under the rule of harsh dictators causing the Arab Spring.
But not everyone considered rap a good influence. Such Washington, D.C., personages as Tipper Gore helped form the Parents Music Resource Center, which voiced strong concerns about morals and the negative influence Rap had on the youth, according to rock musician Frank Zappa who strongly opposed such censorship. Such concerns are still voiced by the clergy, educators, sociologists and therapists who cite the negative behavior they believe Hip Hop and Rap causes.
On Monday night, an event was put on by Inter Public Group’s Black Employee Network and Viacom’s Black Employee Affinity Team titled, “Black Music’s Impact on Advertising and Pop Culture,” that featured a panel of professionals. Ernie Singleton, CEO of Singleton Entertainment, summed up the power of Rap by discussing the power of Black artists and Rap music and how it influences the world.
Singleton believes if rappers were more conscientious they could empower Black youth with positive thoughts as opposed to simply inciting a lust for sex, drugs, cars and money. Just as the Arab Spring has awakened the Middle East, he feels, such conscious artists could awaken American youth.
But there are two sides to the Rap phenomenon.
In Greek mythology, the Sirens were often depicted as female creatures that lured sailors off course with seductive singing. According to Homer’s “The Illiad,” these creatures caused mariners, enchanted by the Sirens’ sounds, to disregard navigation and thus become shipwrecked as the singing drew them closer to the music and their death.
The mesmerizing voices of the sirens, although fictional, were more than likely the first example of so-called “acoustic weapons.” Music as a weapon was first officially reported in 1989 by the BBC when the U.S. Army blasted Manuel Noriega with music (acoustic bombardment) as he hid in the Vatican Embassy of Panama. Noriega surrendered on Jan. 3, 1990.
As the celebration of African American Music Appreciation Month [June] comes to an end, an examination of acoustic bombardment seems in order, especially as it involves Black music’s youngest sibling–Rap–and its geopolitical influence in the Middle East.
“When we look at Rap music and its association with the Middle East’s Arab Spring we see Rap music being used in a variety of ways by the United States as an acoustic weapon in Iraq and Afghanistan, and as a instrument of torture in the CIA’s no-touch-torture process on prisoners from the Middle East that are currently incarcerated at Guantanamo Bay,” said New York music historian Suzanne G. Cusick. “And we see it used by the common man in the Middle East pursuing freedom. Rap partnered with social media has been used as a voice of the Arab people, a poetic musical propaganda of the oppressed rallying millions through protest and inspiring civil war.”
Cusick sees Rap following in the footsteps of such revolutionary anti-establishment songs as France’s “La Marseillaise.”
The Arab Spring surprised everyone, including the CIA and Great Britain’s Mi-5. Who would have thought that Hip Hop culture of Rap music would be instrumental in changing the geopolitical makeup of the Middle East? Cusick asks.
According to Hip Hop blog, Rap selections from Dr. Dre, Lil Kim, Eminem (“Kim, Slim Shady, White America”), and Tupac (“All Eyez on Me”) were staples of the no-touch torture tactic. Even though songs like Eminem’s ” White America” are ironically critical of American politics, the Bush administration approved the track as a part of the futility technique, which seeks to show torture victims the hopelessness of their situation. Dr. Dre and a group of other musical artists threatened to sue the United States government if they continued to use rap as a form of torture of detainees.
Daniel Levitin, a psychology professor at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, and author of the book “This Is Your Brain on Music,” contends that our brains automatically process music and try to figure what comes next. Any Western music would have done the trick as torture. It doesn’t have to be Rap. These were tonal structures the detainees’ brains could not figure out. They kept trying, and they kept failing, just as if an American was made to listen to Chinese opera over and over.
Pan African Film Festival CEO, Ayuko Babu, had a completely different experience with an Arab female shopkeeper in Paris. He remembers visiting her shop a few times and hearing the same Rap music with sexually explicit lyrics. He finally approached the young woman and asked if she knew what the music was saying. She smiled and responded: “No, I just like the beat.”
University of Wisconsin Professor Alfred McCoy, author of “A Question of Torture: CIA Interrogation from Cold War to the War on Terror,” explains how one could take that same female shopkeeper, increase the volume of the beat she loves and add sleep deprivation, strobe lights, and within four days, using the no-touch torture methods, the subject would be talking.
The CIA’s psychological methodology for no-touch torture consists of two parts: sensory disorientation and self-inflicted pain. The combination, in theory, causes victims to feel responsible for their own suffering and thus cease to resist their torturers. Refined through years of practice, sensory disorientation relies on a mix of sensory overload and sensory deprivation involving basic procedures, i.e., isolation, intense interrogation, heat and cold, light and dark, loud music and silence, as a systematic attack on all human stimuli.
The fusion of these two techniques–sensory disorientation and self-inflicted pain–creates a synergy of physical and psychological trauma whose sum is a hammer blow to personal identity.
One eventually starts to feel responsible for their own torture and becomes submissive.
This style of music that has become popular with protest has helped to bring revolution in the Middle East, blind-siding government think tanks assigned to monitor the Middle East just as Wall street was blind-sided prior to the financial disaster of 2007-2008. One of the most amazing aspects of Hip Hop, a music that originated during the ”70s in New York City to be the voice of the voiceless has left its footprint all across the globe.