Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 19 November 2019

Beyond the Headlines: The musicians contributing to the Lebanese protests

We speak to musicians in Lebanon about why they joined the protests and their hopes for the future

Chanting and singing by the crowds. Dancing in the streets. Music as a tool.

Music has played a dominant role in this week's protests in Lebanon.

And despite the fact that uncertain times are facing the country, for many Lebanese, this week has proved they could find a sense of unity that has seemingly eluded them over recent decades.

At least, that is the prevailing takeaway from many independent Lebanese musicians who took to the streets with thousands of other activists in the ongoing protests across the country.

We spoke to seven musicians who have been vocal in the campaigns over the past week. This is what they had to say, in their own words, about why they're protesting:

Tania Saleh: an influential singer and songwriter viewed as an elder stateswoman of Lebanon’s independent music scene

No one predicted something like this would happen.

It was not something that we even dreamt about because, to us, we felt that the Lebanese people were a lazy and passive people living off money family members send from abroad.

So we have always had this view that the Lebanese people will never form a revolution. But the reason why this happened is because the economic situation in Beirut has really deteriorated over the last two months. There was also the fires which destroyed our forests. We were seeing our country literally burning in front of our eyes. Then there was that stupid decision from a minister to place a tax on WhatsApp and that was the last straw. We were fed up. We have nothing to lose. We have no money, the country was taken away from us by its leaders and we all went down to the street naturally.

When I look at the street today and I hear the national anthem, it sounds different. It is as if we are listening to it with new ears. Every word of it now has meaning and it is real. Before I listened to the anthem and I felt that they were big words that we didn’t deserve. The flag now is more beautiful to me. It is more vivid. Now we look at the Cedar Tree, which before was seen as the cliche symbol of Lebanon, with love. This is magical.

Zeid Hamdan is an influential Lebanese singer and producer. Courtesy Tania Traboulsi
Zeid Hamdan is an influential Lebanese singer and producer. Courtesy Tania Traboulsi

Zeid Hamdan: a singer and ground-breaking producer behind the former Lebanese trip-hop duo Soap Kills

I am protesting every day because I am hoping we can remove a corrupt political elite that have been there since before I was born. They stole a lot of the country’s wealth and have not provided people their basic means.

I have been at Martyrs' Square to protest. This has been my fourth and fifth time to protest there. This is the place where we rallied to remove the Syrian Army from Lebanon. This is the first time since then that I feel people just can’t stand another day with the same situation. Walking with people here, I sense a strong unity, a despair and anger.

The main thing I want to see change in my country is an end to sectarianism and being ruled by warlords affiliated to religious parties. This is one of the main obstacles to my country’s emancipation. We need to believe in the power of constructive thoughts and projects instead of building on the fear of each other.

Wael Koudaih: a rapper who goes under the name Rayess Bek, and is also a DJ for electro group Love and Revenge

I am here protesting as a Lebanese citizen first and foremost. I am asking for my fundamental rights. I have done many protests here at Martyrs' Square and I must say that this the first time that I have seen so many people [here]. It is very festive, people are happy, chanting and shouting. I have never seen such a happy protest.

We have 2 million people on the street. We disagree on a lot of things but we are united in that we cannot stand what is happening in Lebanon anymore: the corruption, the unemployment and poverty. We want a decent life in the country. This is what we all agree on.

I feel that this freedom that we are living in right now will give freedom to artists to express themselves and to make more music and to have hope in everything and be creative again.

Anthony Khoury, singer and pianist for the band Adonis

As Adonis is currently on tour, I cannot be out there with the people in Beirut. Following the coverage and speaking to people, what stands out about the turnout is the social and political diversity of the people on the street.

As a musician, I find it beautiful that music seems to be the drive behind the protests. We have had raves in the street in very conservative areas. Now, I am not saying that this is the best method to get your ideas across, but I find it beautiful that in every street or square where there is a protest, the energy of the people comes from the music. Songs are being played everywhere, old and new nationalistic songs.

The whole artistic scene is deeply affected and moved by the protests. Such protests give us more value in society. It gives us a sense of purpose in what we are doing. In our case, we are out touring and we make sure whatever city we go we try to bring some of that fresh and new revolutionary spirit and tell people what is going on in our city.

Georges Richa, also known as DJ Jay-R

I have been protesting everywhere. When the road is open, I go to downtown Beirut to Martyrs' Square. When it is blocked, I go to nearby places like Zouk or Jal El Dib.

What stood out for me in the revolution is how women are worth a thousand men. Women were protecting protestors from security forces. I saw women leading the revolution. I saw people from all religions chanting after them.

I want to see Lebanon in the same way that my grandma told me. I want to see Lebanon as they say it is, the Switzerland of the East. I want to see Lebanon succeed. We have a lot talented and qualified people that can make real change. I want to see these people reach the government and run the country. Because the last couple of years I have seen [the government] running their own agenda in our country to fill their own pockets. We need to eliminate sectarianism from people’s mind and to break the barrier of fear between the people and leaders.

Lana Moussa, singer and songwriter

I have been protesting in Beirut and on social media. What stood out the most is the unity that people have come to. You can see it in their eyes. They came for Lebanon and that’s because they are tired. They care no more about separate parties. We are just holding the Lebanese flag.

I want all the leaders gone, from the tiniest of them to the well-rooted. All of them need to go away and apologise to their people. Because they all follow foreign agendas. None of them have been true to their people. They not only stole money from their people but they stole their happiness and safety. If I were to be a happier citizen I want to see new, young and educated (leaders). People who have no experience in previous parties and who can come clean with fresh economic and political solutions.

Mayssa Jallad, singer of indie-pop group Safar

I’ve been protesting in Beirut’s city centre, which was, before the war, the meeting place and transport hub of all Lebanese. The place became a no man's land splitting the divided city during the war, but it was later expropriated by real-estate company Solidere and turned into a luxury enclave catering to rich tourists and diaspora in times of “peace”. It looks pretty, but if you look up, you realise: nobody lives here.

Who has the right to the city? We are protesting to let them know that we have the right to the city. Regardless of our income, our education, our sect. We are finally sitting on your luxury grass, we are selling kaak on your granite sidewalks, we are holding classrooms in the cultural theatres you were holding hostage, we are singing and dancing in the parking lots you created from destroying our historic buildings. The balad (country) is ours.

Abolishing sectarianism in Lebanon is a dream I’ve had ever since I first encountered religious discrimination when I was eight years old. I dream of a time when we stop depriving ourselves of each other. I’m less interested in homogeneous cliques and more interested in listening to people that are different than me and actually investigating the differences in our histories.

I’ve been meeting some incredible strangers in the past few days. People I never thought I’d have a conversation with. People who have admitted to me that they are affiliated to certain political parties, but that are willing to renounce them if the entire political class falls. They were asking if they could take a picture with my “Abolish Corrupt Sectarian Politics” poster. This blew my mind. People in Lebanon rely on political parties for protection and community, but imagine if actual security forces could protect them and if they can find community in their neighbours who breathe the same air and live the same struggles regardless of their inborn differences.

If you’d like to understand more about this revolution, come visit.

Updated: October 29, 2019 08:48 AM

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