It was the biggest party in Egypt’s history. Between January 25th and February 11th, the people turned Cairo’s Tahrir Square into a cross between Woodstock and a giant soapbox. Music and poetry played a crucial role in breaking the ice and melting the fear of tyrannical decades.
The Barbican is proud to celebrate people power in the Arab world with an exceptional line-up of artists, all of whom helped to create the soundtrack to Egypt’s revolution.
Singer-songwriter Ramy Essam went to join the protestors with his guitar as soon as the uprising started. He became 'the Billy Bragg of Tahrir Square', performing countless times a day on makeshift stages and living down in the square for the entire revolution. His song 'Irhal' ('Leave') became the anthem of the revolt and a huge viral hit on the internet. Egypt’s most famous street music ensemble, El Tanbura, were also Tahrir regulars and their percussion and simsimiyya-driven sound from Suez found great favour with the protestors. 'You cannot imagine the feeling of solidarity between all the people there,' says founder Zakaria Ibrahim.
Ramy Essam - "Leave" live in Tahrir Square
Another fêted presence in the square was that of Egypt’s greatest living poet Ahmed Fouad Negm. Negm has spent 18 of his 82 years in Egyptian jails for his outspoken and often bitingly comical poems and lyrics. He is unable to travel, but his former wife Azza Balba – who has has also had a taste of Mubarak’s jails – will take part; a lifetime of protest lends a unique power to her performances of songs by Negm, Sheik Imam and others. Mustafa Said is an Egyptian singer, composer and virtuoso of the oud, or Arabic lute. His fiery performances during the revolution demonstrated his ability to combine refined instrumental skills and revolutionary passion to immense effect.
'An institution, both in their native Egypt and abroad.' Songlines 5* on El Tanbura's Friends of Bamboute