Slate.com asked Dorian Lynskey, author of 33 Revolutions Per Minute, a history of the protest song, to name the 5 most effective protest songs.
I had not heard the fifth song he picked, "Rais Le Bled" (2011) by the Tunisian rapper Hamada Ben Amor a.k.a. El Général. I'm not really a hip-hop fan, and my Arabic is not good enough for me to distinguish any phrases, but the song gives me chills. Here's a YouTube version with English subtitles:
It's an open letter to the authorities, calling them out on how they treat the Tunisian people. In the lyrics to the song, El Général correctly predicts that he will be jailed:
Mr President, you told me to speak without fear
But I know that eventually I will take just slaps
I see too much injustice and so I decided to send this message even though the people told me that my end is death
Adam Jones, a professor of Political Science in Canada, wrote about the song in his blog, including an excerpt from a Time Magazine report about protestors in Bahrain assembling in the streets:
A reedy female voice shouted out, several times, the first line of "Rais Lebled," a song written by the Tunisian rapper known as El Général. "Mr. President, your people are dying," the woman sang. Then others joined in.
Amazingly, El Général was only jailed (handcuffed in his cell and interrogated) for three days before protests against his arrest led to his release. (Here's Time's report on his arrest.) And of course, we now know that his President, Ben Ali (shown at the beginning of the video encouraging a school boy to speak his mind), has fled the country.
How's that for the voice of a generation? El Général, a 21 year old who wrote and disseminated his protest song with full knowledge that he was going to be arrested, probably tortured and possibly killed.
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Jack Cheng directs the Clemente Course in Dorchester, excavates in the Middle East, and writes in Waban, MA.