I learned of the apparent death of Syrian musician Ibrahim Kashoush on Freemuse, the invaluable website about music censorship around the world. In the 70s Victor Jara and Fela Kuti faced threats to their lives which put the tribulations of western protest singers in the shade. Now, people are still decrying the dearth of musical dissent in Britain, while musicians across the Arab world are on the frontlines of revolutions: Ibrahim Kashoush’s Yalla Erhal Ya Bashar (It’s Time to Leave, Bashir) is for Syria’s rebels what Ramy Essam’s Leave was for the protesters in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. If confirmed, his murder is a hideous reminder that the situations in which protest music is most potent are usually those in which it carries the greatest risk. The courage necessary to sing out in an environment so brutally intolerant of dissent is hard to imagine. From Freemuse:
The slogans that the demonstrating crowds in Hama have repeated again and again are from a song which was composed by the locally based singer Ibrahim Kashoush — a folklore singer who chanted traditional Aradah tunes as protest songs, adding new lyrics he wrote himself to the old wedding and celebration melodies. His body was found in a river with his throat cut open a few days ago.
Yalla Erhal Ya Bashar gained popularity in recent weeks as thousands of demonstrators have taken the streets of Hama to protest against the violent crackdowns on civilians in the country. News sites claim that at least 13 people were killed and another 67 were injured during the protests in in Hama on 5 July.
Hama is located north of Damascus and is the fourth-largest city in Syria and has a long history of resistance. The city was in 1982 subject to an extremely violent raid by then Syrian President Hafez Al Asad’s forces which left more than 25.000 dead. The raid which was ment to quell a popular uprising by the Sunni Muslim community has since left deep scars in the relationship between citizens of Hama and the regime in Damascus.
The Now Lebanon website translates the full lyrics. I don’t doubt that people will sing these words with fresh intensity now that the man who wrote them has seemingly been murdered:
Bashar, you’re a germ, your statements don’t make sense, your news is that of an owl, and its time you leave Bashar!!
It’s time you leave Bashar!!
Bashar, Maher and Rami are thieves, they’ve stolen from my brothers and uncles, Bashar it’s time you leave!!
Bashar, screw you, and screw any who salute you, it’s time you leave Bashar!!
Bashar, stop going in circles, your blood in Hama “mahdour” (killing you as a form of retribution is acceptable), your crimes here have not been forgiven.
It’s time you leave Bashar!!
Bashar, you’re an agent, screw you and the Baath party. It’s time you leave Bashar.
Bashar, you’re a liar, screw you and your speech. Freedom is near. It’s time you leave Bashar!!
Bashar, you’re damned, you believe you have words over us, we will not forgo our martyr’s blood. It’s time you leave Bashar!!
It’s written on our flag: Bashar is a traitor to our nation.
To die but not to be humiliated.
The people want to bring down the regime!!
Information and links to some other Syrian protest songs in this Los Angeles Times piece from April 5.
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