Lebanese youth turn to music to vent anger
Beirut - Hip-hop and rap have long been hailed as the music of resistance from their origins in African-American communities, with groups such as Black Star and N.W.A., to the modern-day Palestine territories, home of DAM, the first hip-hop group in the occupied territories.
In Lebanon, where the political situation soured long ago, young people resort to this style of music to express anger and frustration. After the fires of social uprising died, new fires ignited to the tune of hip-hop and rap music with heavily politicised lyrics.
Lebanese young people are turning to new outlets to vent frustrations in light of the lack of political and social change. As a result, what would have been previously taboo in the sectarian state — the notion of rap discussing themes of political and religious corruption — is becoming more the norm.
Mazen el-Sayed — commonly known as “el-Rass”, Arabic for “the Head” — and Nasser Deen al-Touffar are increasingly popular rap artists in Lebanon who have been challenging fixed and rigid perceptions.
“I am trying to push back what is imposed upon me, to break away from a silence that I feel occupied me for centuries,” Sayed said. “Most days, I still feel that I am under that silence, in the paralysis of not being able to signify or make sense of anything because you have been so deeply disrupted and uprooted by a pyramid of authorities from colonialism to military juntas and from political Islam to consumerist liberalism.”
With both men aware of the historic and contemporary contexts of the Arab world, their music tackles issues such as sectarian strife and authoritarianism, using local dialects and accents as well as the language and rhythms of classical Arabic poetry.
Even more than the delivery, the content and intent are what remain a true break from what is imagined as Arab culture.
For the hip-hop and rap artists, fighting politics with music is more effective than protests that might turn violent, such as what happened when the forces of Syrian President Bashar Assad attacked protesters in 2011, actions that drove peaceful demonstrations into a long war.
Some of their lyrics tackling the Syrian conflict, for instance, include: “Bashar’s hat is embroidered with threads of massacre and on the back it says in blood, ‘I am the God of secularism’” or “The oppressed do not stay forever oppressed. You can say I won’t be used anymore.”
Touffar said he has been threatened through social and informal channels from supporters of various political parties and militias in Lebanon, proving to him that what he is trying to achieve is slowly blossoming.
“I am ready to take responsibility for my words and the outcome of my words because the intent is not to make good music. What is my concern and what consumes my intent is to make music that will make a clear mark in our daily struggles with the state and the wider Arab context,” Touffar said.
Being first and foremost citizens of Lebanon and the region, the artists said their great concern is to have the history and realities truthfully recorded and recollected through their music.
“My history is something I am trying to understand among the jungles of official lies and ‘lost’ archives,” Sayed said. “So yes, surely I will not avoid a name if I feel I need to call it out and I’ll antagonise concepts of dominant religious narratives to underline the flaws and contradictions at the roots of our continued crisis and I’ll do my best to retrace all the elements of history enabling me to better understand my reality.”
The popularity of hip-hop artists is growing in the region, particularly among the young. To many it is seen as evidence that the roots of the “Arab spring” are still there.