The songs of the Lebanese revolution
From great classics to new pop hits, the Lebanese have chosen an outstanding revolutionary playlist to accompany their protest movement. A dozen songs have been repeated on loop since October 17 throughout all public squares and streets.
Each revolution has its own hymn or song. The popular revolt that has shaken the country since October 17 is no exception. Lebanon is a country that many patriotic songs have been written and composed about. So it is only natural that the protest movement hasn’t settled on one single anthem, but instead has a whole playlist. The call for change is also coming from music. Here is an overview of some of the key songs that continue to liven up the 2019 revolution and its crowds.
The return of Julia
No one would have thought that the famous Julia would be the most notable singers of the revolution. He husband, former Defense Minister Elias Bou Saab, is one of the leading figures of the ruling class that the protesters are denouncing with changes of “Kellon yaani kellon” (all of them means all of them). Yet Julia’s patriotic repertoire, usually played in the context of resistance against Israel or even by Syrian nationalists, is being given broader meanings and new significance.
“Ana Betnaffas Horriye” (I breathe freedom) became the anthem of protests across Lebanon closely followed by Nehna el-Sawra wel-Ghadab (We are the revolution and the anger). Written by the brilliant Nabil Abu Abdo, and composed by Julia’s brother Ziad Boutros, these two song titles are not about to die off anytime soon because their messages are still extremely up to date with the current situation.
Another title composed by the same duo more than 35 years ago, “Ghabet Shams el-Hak” (The sun of justice has gone down), has also been revived. At only 17, and still unknown to the public, Julia performed this song to denounce the occupation of South Lebanon, with a shout that is still hard to forget: “Ya Habibi Ya Jnoub” (My beloved South Lebanon). More than a week ago, the protesters at el-Nour Square in Tripoli started chanting this song while extending their hands: a gesture from the Sunni capital of north Lebanon to their Shiites compatriots in the south.
Another hit tune about the revolution, and one of the most recent patriotic songs, is “Lebnan Rah Yerjaa” (Lebanon will return) from the young Joseph Attieh. Released 10 years ago, it’s a hope laden tune that states that justice will prevail and the Lebanese will remain attached to their land "even if they had only five houses left".
In Jal el-Dib, a song by Najwa Karam and Melhem Barakat, (who died in 2016) has made a comeback. Entitled “We Byebaa el-Watan” (And the homeland will remain), it says: "Those who left for the cause did not leave in vain, and that faith remains the weapon of Lebanon". “Lebnani” (Lebanese), Assi el-Hellani’s song, has also accompanied the Lebanese during many events since 2008. And el-Hellani’s latest hit, “Ouwetna Bwehdetna” (Our strength in our union), is also among the titles accompanying this revolution, for obvious reasons.
Popular slogans... and curses!
Besides the traditional songs, the October 17 uprising unleashed the deep resentment and anger of many Lebanese against most figures of the ruling class. Lebanon will not soon forget that slogan about Nabih Berri being a thief that has been sung with gusto on all television channels, from Nabatieh to Tripoli. As for the Foreign Minister, Gibran Bassil, he has been the target of what has become the symbolic hymn of this revolution: Hela Hela Ho, an insult directed at his mother, inspired by Bob Azzam’s song “Ya Mustapha”.
And if the misfortune of some causes happiness of others, the former crooner Fadel Chaker is in his heyday. His song “Faker Lamma Tkolli” (Do you remember when you told me), which came out in 2009, was re-released from the archives and revised by the protesters. The song is originally about a breakup in which the artist tells his beloved that he no longer cares for her and that she can go away. The young protestors are now singing it every night while flavoring it with a finger of honor between every two verses.
"Bella Ciao", the revolutionary classic, is also present in the streets. An Italian resistance song, it is sung by the protesters along with the latest title by the Moroccan singer Saad Lamjarred, “Ensay” (Forget me). The “yalla bye” (bye bye) of the chorus has naturally become a call for the departure of a ruling class deemed corrupt to the core. A video of the crowd singing this hit in Tripoli has been widely shared on social networks.
Finally, Mohamad Iskandar’s title “Men Ayna Laka Haza” (From where did you get all of this), in reference to the rampant corruption, released a few months ago, came just in time. In his song, Iskandar questions a leader about the origin of all his millions, asking him what underprivileged person has he stolen from.
Missing performers and a nursery rhyme
The music of the Rahbani brothers has been noticeably absent from this revolution. But the Rahbani canon––a school in its own right––holds a number of unforgettable patriotic hits that are worth remembering: “Lamaaet Abwak el-Thawra” (The horns of the revolution have sounded), “Lazem Ghayer el-Nizam” (I must change the regime), “Ya Ahl el-Ard” (O sons of the earth), “Tloona Aala el-Daw” (We came out into the light), and the famous “Bhebak Ya Lebnan” (I love you, O Lebanon).
Hiba Tawaji's anthem “Bghanilak Ya Watani” (I sing for you my country) was shared in full force to show the results of the dramatic fires that devastated Lebanon shortly before the outbreak of the revolt. In the song, Tawaji complains that officials have turned the country into a giant garbage bin, saying, "One hundred years of rain will not erase your misdeeds.”
Against this patriotic backdrop, a scene that we are not about to forget has traveled around the world: the image of a car stuck on a road blocked by protesters in Beirut with a scared baby sitting in the front seat. In order to calm him down, the protesters came together and started singing “Baby Shark”, one of YouTube’s most popular children's nursery rhymes. Since then, this song has become––rather unusually––part of the playlist of protesters and still resounds on the streets. It suggests that the children of Lebanon are also at the heart of this revolution, that their future is at stake, and that the revolution is also led through song.
(This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour on the 31rst of October)