Syria: One voice less
I’ve often deplored the death of the protest song. So it was stunning to see how big a role music and chanting is playing in the Arab Spring. Shots of men chanting and punching the air in Arabic all sounded alike to me. The horrific murder of Ibrahim Qashoush, however, puts a face and a voice on the aspirations of millions of people.
Qashoush was a Syrian whose incredible powerful chanting galvanised crowds of up to 200,000 with his performances. The chants are simple rhythmic couplets known as dabke, to which the audience replies with gusto. In the hands of the right singer, it’s simple and hugely effective. Qashoush played with the genre by adding couplets where least expected and then breaking into known songs. The words are blunt and, given the level of oppression in Syria, courageous to say the least. The chant that has gained the most popularity is “Yalla Irhal Ya Bashar (Depart Bashar)”.
You lost all your legitimacy
Depart depart, Bashar
Bashar, you are not one of us
Take Mahir [Basher’s brother] and depart from here
Depart depart, Bashar
Bashar, you are lying
You had bad speech
Freedom is very near
Depart? depart, Bashar
Ibrahim Qashoush was found dead in the river near his home town of Hama on July 4. He had been tortured by the authorities and his throat cut, perhaps symbolically. Hama has been the location of previous atrocities by the Syrian regime, but is refusing to bow to the current attacks.
The American ambassador Robert Ford and French Ambassador Eric Chevallier traveled to Hama recently to show solidarity with its residents. The visits have been interpreted as a strong diplomatic warning against escalating violence in the central city, which has been surrounded by tanks for a week.
It would be nice to think that Qashoush’s death caused outrage. But the sheer number of people dying in Syria at the moment makes grief for individual cases almost impossible.
However, as a lyricist I can only salute an electrifying performer who paid for his singing and commitment with his life. His chants will clearly outlive him.
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