Mobilizing Poetry in Protest Songs of the Arab World

Songs like “This Land is Your Land” pop into my head when I hear someone talking about protest songs. If you don’t like Woody Guthrie, then perhaps you think of hippies sitting in a park singing “Give Peace a Chance.” Regardless of musical preference, we all feel these songs carry universal messages surrounding the idea that people can come together and change the world. Throughout history and around the world, we can see how visual art and music disseminate ideas and act as a catalyst for social change. Some of the messages conveyed in past paintings or songs still remain relevant to today.

On Tuesday, April 17, from 7­–9 p.m., the museum is hosting an event to showcase poetry and songs that have helped unify and mobilize cultural revolutions in the Middle East. Put into the context of the “Arab Spring,” it is interesting to consider that many of these mobilizing songs have been around for centuries. During the event, Dr. David McDonald and the Salaam Musical Ensemble will explore the many ways in which Arab poetry has been set to music in the service of popular protest, and our 2nd floor gallery will be open for a self-guided tour.

Knowing very little about Middle Eastern music and poetry, I decided to call Dena El Saffar, who plays in the band Salaam that will be performing at the event on Tuesday evening. El Saffar says her band normally plays love songs, but she knew of several songs in Salaam’s repertoire that aligned with the event, including music from several Egyptian composers whose songs were sang by protestors in Tahrir Square.

I’m no expert on Middle Eastern music, but I have done a little “research” via YouTube and found that a lot of current protest songs were in the form of rap songs. Deeb “Mashrah Deeb” is one of my favorites. In the short time I have been “researching”, I’ve found several videos that suddenly disappear, and it makes me consider how lucky Americans are to be able to speak their mind, be it in the form of speech, protest, or in the form of song.

Ann Fields, Guest Contributor
Event Support Coordinator